R.I.P. Arthur Rankin, Jr.
February 1, 2014 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Arthur Rankin Jr., the animator behind holiday classics such as Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town passed away on Thursday, January 30.

Arthur Rankin, Jr. was born in New York City in 1924 into a showbiz family. His father was prolific actor Arthur Rankin, whose career spanned the silent era to the early 1940s, and his grandfather Harry Davenport co-founded Actors Equity and appeared in "Gone With the Wind"

He began his career in the early 1940s as a cameraman for RKO. In 1948, he moved to the newly formed ABC studios as an art director. He left ABC in 1952 to start his own company, through which he met Jules Bass.

In late 1960, Arthur and Jules formed Videocraft International, which was renamed Rankin/Bass in 1961. Although you likely remember them most for their stop-motion features which utilise doll-like characters with spheroid body parts and ubiquitous powdery snow using an animation technique called "Animagic", Rankin/Bass has a much broader portfolio.

The pair worked together on the 1977 animated telling of The Hobbit, for which they won a Peabody award, as well as the 1980 animated version of The Return of the King.

The pair are also responsible for The Last Unicorn, ThunderCats, and The Wind In The Willows.
posted by dotgirl (35 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

As a graduate with a degree in animation, this makes me very, very sad. Much love to you, Mr. Rankin. You made a third of my favorite movies from when I was a child.

posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:22 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]

posted by Stoatfarm at 8:24 PM on February 1

posted by gemmy at 8:34 PM on February 1

Of course, now that I'm going through the Youtube videos of some of their work, I realize that he and his counterpart made somepretty racist stuff on occasion, and that makes me even more sad.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:39 PM on February 1

Rudolph got a LOT of play on VHS when my daughter was 2-6 or so. A lot. I mean, a lot of play. I have no idea why the tape had any magnetic particles left on it. I know nothing of the rest of his work, but somehow, despite cringing every time she said "Rudolph!" I still found I had little favorite moments I just never got tired of, no matter how hokey it seemed. Thanks for being a part of my family, Mr. Rankin.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:41 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

Everybody needs to see The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, one of their lesser-known works. Based on a L. Frank Baum book, it has a council of immortals who act as the boy Santa's mentors. A very strange movie.

In this household, we tend to sing the Heat Miser / Cold Miser songs at least once a week, to the delight of our toddler.
posted by benzenedream at 9:11 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

Do NOT forget Mad Monster Party(?) (one of Boris Karloff's last roles)

And Frosty the Snowman (with comedian Jackie Vernon in the title role)

The Jackson 5ive Saturday Morning cartoon (and they did one for The Osmonds too)

And I was damned impressed with the quality of the animation on Thundercats in 1985, which was outsourced to Japan where "many of the artists went on to be in Studio Ghibli". A good start, guys.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:13 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

The inventor of the uncanny valley! (Not the phrase but the actual thing.)
posted by msalt at 9:14 PM on February 1

posted by Kevin Street at 9:17 PM on February 1

posted by oceanjesse at 9:18 PM on February 1

In this household, we tend to sing the Heat Miser / Cold Miser songs yt at least once a week, to the delight of our toddler.

Before he became a star, Elliot Smith was in a Portland indie rock band called Heatmiser. So Rankin can take credit for him, too.
posted by msalt at 9:18 PM on February 1

. indeed.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:23 PM on February 1

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is so the best Christmas special (all due respect to Peanuts and the Grinch). All of your questions are answered! Mickey Rooney and Fred Astaire! Foxy young future Mrs. Claus! Bugermeister Meisterburger!

♪ Put one foot in front of the other. And soon you'll be walking 'cross the floor. Put one foot in front of the other. And soon you'll be walking out the door. ♪

posted by Chrysostom at 9:30 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

posted by Token Meme at 9:56 PM on February 1

The Rankin/Bass animated Hobbit is much more faithful adaptation of the book in tone than Peter Jackson's ongoing trilogy can ever hope to be. And I have always thought that The Last Unicorn is one of the best meetings of story and image ever put on film.

posted by KingEdRa at 10:50 PM on February 1

As long as we're naming favorites, I'll put The Flight of Dragons out there.

And as oneswellfoop alluded to: Topcraft, the Japanese animation studio that produced a number of Rankin/Bass films, was bought out in 1985 and renamed Studio Ghibli.
posted by teraflop at 11:26 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]

posted by longdaysjourney at 11:42 PM on February 1

posted by Mezentian at 12:08 AM on February 2

posted by radwolf76 at 12:38 AM on February 2

Damnit. A huge chunk of my childhood is here.

I have some deeply entrenched Christmas memories around one of his specials, either Rudolph or Frosty, that I don't remember clearly enough to hunt down, but I do so love stopmotion.

I only had a chance to see his Hobbit/RotK a few years back after decades of trying (top and tailing Bashki's Lord of the Rings -- it really doesn't work) and I am now very sad.
posted by Mezentian at 12:45 AM on February 2

posted by buzzman at 1:17 AM on February 2

And don't forget the King Kong cartoons. "Ten times as big as a man..."
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:27 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]

posted by Splunge at 3:33 AM on February 2

posted by Thorzdad at 5:19 AM on February 2

Two of their earliest shows: The New Adventures of Pinocchio Tales of the Wizard of Oz - These aired in Canada well into the 80s due to their Canadian voice actors (and Wizard of Oz was animated in Canada as well)

This obit thread is incomplete without some variation of this

Obit link
posted by evilcolonel at 5:24 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]

posted by mikelieman at 6:28 AM on February 2

posted by condour75 at 6:37 AM on February 2

I will remember this guy for the Abominable Snowman in the Rudolph cartoon, which I found to be utterly, traumatically terrifying. (Don't even get me started on the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz; I STILL haven't seen that all the way through...)
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:11 AM on February 2

Rudolph (and A Charlie Brown Christmas--not to be confused with a Chuck Brown Christmas) were the formative Xmas specials of my youth. Interestingly, they both have the same message--L'enfer, c'est les autres--which, itself, is unusual for a holiday children's special, but one which really resonated with this little sobsister. Also, SPOILER ALERT, extracting all of the Abominable Snowmen's teeth just seems really brutal as a pre-emptive measure.

posted by the sobsister at 9:43 AM on February 2


Phooey. For me, his interpretation of Santa Claus IS Santa Claus.
posted by Melismata at 10:26 AM on February 2

posted by detachd at 3:21 PM on February 2

posted by homunculus at 2:28 PM on February 3

Speaking of The Last Unicorn, here's a link which might cheer folks up: What Happened When The Author Of Game Of Thrones Met The Author Of The Last Unicorn?
posted by homunculus at 2:36 PM on February 3

Oh man, so late to see this!
That's my childhood right there. I just loved that stop-motion weirdness; it defines Christmas for me. I remember getting totally excited and freaked out for those xmas shows (RUDOLPH IS ON TONIGHT!) and they'd have this whole animation before the show that said "SPECIAL!!!"
Who gets excited about that shit anymore?

Here's my .
And here's my heartfelt tribute, from a few years ago.
posted by chococat at 4:18 PM on February 3

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