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The popular Rankin-Bass Christmas special starring Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney tells the origin of Santa Claus with memorable songs and classic Animagic storytelling. It’s now released on UHD for the first time in 4K, either alone or as part of a set with other beloved holiday specials.

Read my earlier Blu-ray review for a more detailed synopsis of Santa Claus is Coming’ To Town.

Video

Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town runs a tidy 51 minutes, designed to fill its original one-hour television broadcast slot. The 1970 Rankin-Bass special is shown at its proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Extremely generous bitrates on a dual-layer UHD make for a perfect HEVC encode. Universal has done excellent work porting the beloved Christmas special onto UHD, outshining fellow Rankin-Bass cohorts like Frosty The Snowman in video quality.

Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town benefits a great deal in the expanded colorspace of HDR over its lesser Blu-ray siblings

Most importantly, a new 4K remaster from original film elements and a pitch-perfect HDR color grading provides a significant boost in picture quality. Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town has never looked better by leaps and bounds. The elements are in superb shape and the generous 4K resolution shines a light on the fine puppet craftsmanship by Rankin-Bass. The ultra-sharp close-ups and superior definition reveal never-before-seen texture visible in the puppets’ clothing.

Black levels are flawless and saturation levels neatly dialed-in by the uncanny HDR pass. The colorist has done remarkable work bringing the special’s diverse palette to life without going overboard or altering the intended aesthetic. Kris Kringle’s brightly-colored santa suit is vibrantly rendered. The contrast is on point, neither too hot nor too cold.

The one sore spot for some may be the lack of visible grain. Given how Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town was cleanly filmed with stop-motion puppetry and a few animated overlays, the grain structure has always been less than expected. I imagine some temporal DNR has been applied, though I can’t say it produces any negative side effects. Unlike WB on some of their older projects, Universal hasn’t gone back and digitally erased the occasionally visible monofilament wires used to position the puppets.

Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town benefits a great deal in the expanded colorspace of HDR over its lesser Blu-ray siblings. Considering this set brings nothing new to the table in terms of audio or special features, fans demanding the best video quality will require this UHD.

Audio

Perfectionists should decry the continued absence of the original monaural soundtrack on Blu-ray and now UHD, which isn’t rectified here by Universal. The spiffy 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack delivers crisp, fairly open sound quality with pristine dialogue. It’s a basic mix mostly constructed around the impressive musical numbers.

Catchy songs like “The First Toymakers To The King” written by Jules Bass and Maury Laws have nice dynamics, offering up pleasant fidelity. There are a litany of memorable musical sequences, including a strangely psychedelic animated segment for Jessica’s solo song.

The semi-musical Christmas special’s music and recording hold up quite well with newer productions. The master tapes are not in worn condition. Hiss and other age-related anomalies aren’t present.

If the audio has been remastered, audible differences are negligible from earlier Blu-ray releases. This appear to be the identical 5.1 surround mix released before.

Optional English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles play in a white font. A Spanish dub in 2.0 mono DTS is included.

Extras

Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town has been released on UHD as an individual release by itself and paired with two other similar Rankin-Bass classics, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as part of The Classic Christmas Specials Collection. The individual release arrives with a slipcover, while the set with all three specials comes in a slipcase. Universal has included companion BDs for all three specials.

A Movies Anywhere digital copy is included which redeems in UHD.

It should be noted these are the exact same special features found on Universal’s earlier deluxe edition Blu-ray. My opinion of them hasn’t changed over the years. The commentary is a waste of time, while the documentary is essential for all fans who grew up on Rankin-Bass.

The Animagic World of Rankin/Bass (47:00 in HD)

Commentary with Animation Historian Greg Ehrbar

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page.

Santa Claus is Comin' To Town
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras

Movie

It’s an upgrade only a videophile could love for the Rankin-Bass Christmas special, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

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4 (2 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 46 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: