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HBO presents
'Twas the Night: A Holiday Celebration (2003)

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight..."

- from the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," sung by Judy Garland

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: November 25, 2003

Stars: songs by Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Macy Gray, Nat King Cole, Bette Midler, Los Lobos, The Drifters, Doris Day
Director: Amy Schatz

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 28m:25s
Release Date: October 07, 2003
UPC: 026359196720
Genre: holiday

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-B+ D-

DVD Review

Never underestimate the power of simplicity, charm, and children. All three can go a long way, especially during the frenetic holiday season. Such an idea must have crossed the collective mind of HBO's creative crew when it began planning its original special, 'Twas the Night: A Holiday Celebration. In a mere 28 minutes, this warm-hearted trifle refreshes our holiday spirit and crystallizes the meaning of the season by focusing on such diverse topics as peace, goodwill, Santa, and snow. It's all done with grace and style by pairing classic and contemporary holiday songs with different animated styles to form a series of festive vignettes, all of which are framed by delightful off-the-cuff comments from children of various races and social backgrounds. We see, through their wide eyes, a yuletide season of humor, wonder, hope, and even sorrow—ideas that beautifully compliment the animated artistry.

Although Christmas grabs the lion's share of attention, 'Twas the Night salutes Chanukah and Kwanzaa, too. Bette Midler's sprightly rendition of Chanukah, o Chanukah honors the former, while the latter receives a nod via clips of an authentic celebration. In addition, Los Lobos covers Hispanic culture with Feliz Navidad, and recordings by Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Macy Gray, and a few others take care of traditional Christmas favorites.

'Twas the Night begins lightheartedly, with the children discussing their favorite aspects of the holidays. Their palpable and contagious enthusiasm inspires the kind of adorably hilarious moments only kids can produce. Yet after a while, a more serious mood takes over, as we hear about being separated from relatives by distance and even death. Somehow, though, the children put a positive spin on these stories. One little girl mentions how much she misses her grandmother at Christmas, but then joyfully announces, "But I still see her in my heart." We also follow the recovery of a young cancer victim whose fondest wish is to be well enough to come home for Christmas. Forgive me for spoiling the suspense, but...she makes it. The segment segues into Louis Armstrong's lovely What A Wonderful World, and the program concludes with Satchmo reading a slightly abbreviated version of Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas, set to the paintings of Grandma Moses.

Director Amy Schatz marvelously molds art, music, and juvenile perspective into a cohesive whole that embraces all holidays and faiths. And when kids talk about peace and love, the concepts lose the syrupy, preachy quality that often results when the same thoughts come from adult mouths. Innocence and youth help the ideas resonate and make 'Twas the Night a breath of fresh seasonal air.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The animated colors run the gamut from muted to full-blown bright and this transfer handles them all with aplomb. The interview segments are clear and vivid, and nary a speck or fleck mars the print. A good effort from HBO.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Both English and Spanish Dolby stereo tracks are included and provide clean, warm sound that nicely fills the room. A few of the songs hearken back to the 1940s, but only Bing Crosby's Jingle Bells exhibits any noticeable surface noise. The rest of the music enjoys good fidelity, yet never overpowers the animation or disrupts the intimate mood.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There's a lot of wasted space on this disc. As only snippets of some songs were used, an audio-only collection featuring full-length versions of all the songs would have been nice, as well as a director's commentary discussing the animation, music selections, and juvenile interviews. Maybe next Christmas...

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Anyone who loves animation, music, and children will find 'Twas the Night: A Holiday Celebration a seasonal treasure. For a simple jolt of yuletide spirit, this funny, touching, festive program is a made-to-order prescription for the whole family. Recommended.


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