Well, Holiday is upon us again. (Boy! It sure seems to get here faster each year.) And I thought I’d look at three Rankin/Bass Christmas special classics. Two of which I love, one… not so much.
As with most of us younger Boomers, I really looked forward to all the Christmas specials that would grace our television sets each Christmas season in the late ’60s and early ’70s. When they started showing up it meant that we were inching our way closer to Santa’s visit and all those presents. The specials had the same effect on me as those countdown to Christmas calendars, with each day having a door to open to expose a piece of candy and/or a holiday themed scene. The daily routine of opening each calendar door helped to built the anticipation and to make the time seem to go by a little faster. So, when those Christmas specials started showing on TV my excitement grew and grew.
I even liked the ads for Norelco products featuring a stop-motion animated Santa gliding along the snow in the head of one of their electric shavers.
I’m just covering Rankin/Bass specials here. I won’t be talking about the Grinch (my all time favorite) and Charlie Brown. Let’s look at those three, shall we?
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970)
There is something special about the stop motion animation Rankin/Bass would do. The characters and objects took up space. They had presence and substance. It’s not that I don’t like two dimensional animation, I’m a cartoonist, I love that stuff. But the stop motion had a certain something.
This special tells the origin of Santa Claus. It uses a letter carrier, voiced wonderfully by Fred Astaire, answering questions children all over the world send to the jolly old fella. We get all the dope on an orphan boy left to a family of toy makers and how he grew up to be the world’s greatest gift giver.
Along the way he meets his wife, whose cold heart he melts, an evil warlock, whose cold heart he melts, and a penguin that somehow ended up in the arctic. Santa is voiced by Mickey Rooney and that evil warlock is played by Keenan Wynn and they’re both great. Especially Wynn. He does menacing and humble equally well.
I’ve never been big on musicals, but all of these specials contain songs. I like most of them. In this special, Put One Foot In Front Of The Other is the best song. However, If You Sit On My Lap Today, given it has Santa instructing children to get on his lap and give him a kiss in exchange for a toy, is a little creepy.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
People have begun to point out, in recent years, the horrible message of this show. A message that strongly implies those who don’t conform with what is considered normal by society should be shunned and shamed mercilessly; unless, that is, the difference can be made use of and the formally shunned had better be grateful for finally being accepted. Even Santa is a complete jerk in his treatment of Rudolph’s parents for having the audacity of having a child that doesn’t fit in. And Hermy the elf is treated harshly for not wanting to make toys. He’d rather be a dentist.
Despite all this, I love the special.
I love its look and the songs. The songs really are great in this one, even the ballad There’s Always Tomorrow. My favorites are Silver And Gold and Holly Jolly Christmas which are sung by the narrator Burl Ives. I also like the Island of Misfit Toys and its king. However, would someone really object to a Charlie in a box? And there’s the great character of Yukon Cornelius.
Also great about this special and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town is both effectively make the villains-turned-allies (spoilers) very scary when they are introduced. Both the Abominable Snowman and Winter Warlock are so well done when shown as impending menaces to our heroes. They were genuinely scary to me when I was a boy.
As an adult I see the flaws, but I forgive them and enjoy them to this day. This next special is a different story.
Frosty The Snow (1969)
This is a two dimensional animation special that just hasn’t aged well for me. I like the cartooning style, but the story is pretty thin, especially when compared to my two previous choices. I know it’s for kids, but it’s pretty lame.
My main problem, though, is the song. Song. One song. The other shows on this list half at least a half a dozen songs each. Yes, they are both hour long shows and this is a 30 minute special, but couldn’t they come up with a couple more songs? Instead we get the title song. Over and over and over. The kids sing it, Jimmy Durante the narrator sings it. He sings it at its regular tempo. He sings it slow. There are snippets of it throughout the show. A verse here, a chorus there.
Over and over and over.
And if you don’t care for the song, it’s a chore to get through. I don’t care for the song.
Also, the pedant in me wonders why it was so urgent to get Frosty to the north pole. It’s just before Christmas. It’s winter. There’s snow all over the place, how warm can it be? And it gets colder right after Christmas, not warmer. Frosty has time. There’s no need to risk little Karen’s life and commit the crimes of jumping a train and trespassing in a greenhouse in order to get Frosty to colder climes.
It just doesn’t hold up. Not for me, anyway.
May you have a terrific holiday season!
Feel free to comment and share.
Images used under Fair Use.
Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.