"So, yes, this is Bride of Frankenstein with Christmas characters."
December 24, 2014 11:22 AM   Subscribe

"Rankin/Bass made 18 specials, of varying length and ambition, between 1964 and 1985. Nearly all of these films revolve around the performance of some Christmas song or another. Nearly all of them deal with the crippling scars of childhood shame. And nearly all of them are completely off the rails insane." Vox's Todd VanDerWerff watches, and ranks, all 18 Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (31 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Frosty the Snowman: "Yeah, this is one of the Rankin/Bass big three, but even as a kid, I could tell its story was lacking. There's this pitfall so many of these specials fall into, where the story basically amounts to a kid sitting down with you and saying, 'And then this happened! And this happened!' This is by far one of the biggest offenders. It earns points, though, for Jimmy Durante's performance of the title song and Jackie Vernon's hyper-earnest portrayal of the lead."

Yep. Not to mention that "Frosty the Snowman" is about as annoying a Christmas song as there is. Rankin/Bass specials creeped me out and terrified me in alternation as a kid, and I avoid them like the bubonic plague now.
posted by blucevalo at 11:29 AM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


In like a bullet (well not really) at number 11:
11) 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)

Love this one even though the animation is a bit unappealing and, well, crap.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:31 AM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Burgermeister Meisterberger.

Merry Christmas!
posted by parki at 11:35 AM on December 24, 2014 [11 favorites]


It's a difficult responsibility...
posted by ogooglebar at 11:39 AM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is thanks to the blue and Rankin-Bass that I learned of this.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:41 AM on December 24, 2014 [12 favorites]


Some of my friends hold a Winter Carnival every year with an elaborate Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer drinking game. The rules are so complicated that everybody gets a challenge flag (a mini Snickers wrapped in a red napkin) to throw at any time. Loss of a challenge (Santa was not mean in this instance; googly eyes did not go all the way around, etc.) compels you to finish your drink.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:44 AM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


How apropos. My kids have just finished watched Frosty, and are now sitting through Rudolph... they seem to be enjoying them, although we'll see if one of them wakes up screaming later.
posted by pipeski at 11:52 AM on December 24, 2014


Here's the thing, cause its a ragtime, you can make Heat Miser/Cold Miser into a very suggestive dance number with almost no effort.
posted by The Whelk at 11:54 AM on December 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Evidence or it didn't happen.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:55 AM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I quite liked the Rankin/Bass specials as a kid growing up in the 70's. There's one that I have been looking around for based on that Christmas Carole "I Saw Three Ships on Christmas Day" or something. Maybe it's here.
posted by Nevin at 11:59 AM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Year Without a Santa Claus is one of those pieces of pop culture that I somehow completely missed out on, but everyone else seems to know. As far as I could tell, it was about Coach McGuirk and the villain from Care Bears fighting over who sang their song better, and maybe Santa had to defeat them to save Christmas or something? It probably makes sense to everyone else, though. It feels like the real-life version of that fake "90s kid" listicle on BuzzFeed from last year.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:08 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Love this post, love Rankin/Bass, thank you!
posted by Melismata at 12:15 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jack Frost is actually pretty great. That one is a standard in our house.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:24 PM on December 24, 2014


I haven't seen all of these. But 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' is the best of what I've seen. It deserves the number 1 rating.
RtRNR... is awful after a few viewings. Santa and Rudolph's dad are total jerks. They only like Rudolph after they realize they can exploit him.

'Rudolph's Shiny New Year' could have been good. But there's a whole thing about every year having an Island. On island/year 1000 AD or something, they have all the fairy tales. Which gives them a chance to REENACT FAIRYTALES. Hey Rankin/Bass would it kill you to make the show 1/2 hour?
posted by hot_monster at 12:54 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Looking at the cartoon ones, particularly Frosty's Winter Wonderland and 'Twas theNight Before Christmas, I'm struck by the realization of what the Schoolhouse Rock artists were doing the rest of the time.

There should be a name for this 1970s cartooning style; I never realized how distinctive it was.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:00 PM on December 24, 2014


The name is 'low budget'
posted by empath at 1:25 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the creators would have grown up during the WWI/Depression/WWII eras. Little wonder they were working out their childhood issues through their art.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:31 PM on December 24, 2014


Where's Mad Monster Party?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:36 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


The name is 'low budget'

That's just the abbreviation: the full-name is "low budget pre-Korean-offshoring". Or do you honestly think they're spending more on animators now than in the 1970s?

In any event I was referring to the drawing style not the business model.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:46 PM on December 24, 2014


related and very recent
posted by philip-random at 2:16 PM on December 24, 2014


Writers are overusing "completely off the walls insane" to describe anything from the past that has a little bit of personality.

Just 'cause it was sponsored by a corporation doesn't mean it was made by humorless robots following focus-grouped scripts.
posted by subdee at 3:04 PM on December 24, 2014 [9 favorites]


I try and catch at least one or two childhood favorite specials every December. This year I realized that what I really want is to watch them with the CBS Special Presentation intro and late '70s/early '80s Christmas commercials intact.
posted by usonian at 3:38 PM on December 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


"There's one that I have been looking around for based on that Christmas Carole "I Saw Three Ships on Christmas Day" or something."

I think that's The Christmas Messenger, a live action/animation short from 1975 starring Richard Chamberlain. "I Saw Three Ships" is one of the animated parts.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:32 PM on December 24, 2014


Cosmic Christmas would have to rate as my fave forgotten Christmas masterpiece. Weird and ultimately heartwarming -- it really deserves resurrection.
posted by philip-random at 5:47 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Here's the thing, cause its a ragtime, you can make Heat Miser/Cold Miser into a very suggestive dance number with almost no effort.

I'm Mister White Christmas
I'm Mister Snow
I'm Mister Icicle
I'm Mister Ten Below
Friends call me Snow Miser,
What ever I touch
Turns to snow in my clutch
I'm too much!

I'm Mister Green Christmas
I'm Mister Sun
I'm Mister Heat Blister
I'm Mister Hundred and One
They call me Heat Miser,
What ever I touch
Starts to melt in my clutch
I'm too much!


The right costumes, some shimmies, you've definitely got something there, Whelk.
posted by emjaybee at 9:31 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


There was a band in the 90s called Heatmiser, fronted by a lovely man named Elliot Smith. I saw them at a free outdoor concert in the Japanese Gardens. My drunken friend yelled " play some hard stuff!", which amused Elliot. I'm not sure why we thought they were hard rockers.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:05 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Now that Christmas is almost here, I'll admit that Frosty The Snowman always freaked me out as a kid. The whole premise of the story seemed ridiculous, because there was no need to take Frosty to the North Pole. It was obvious that he lived in the hat.

The kids made him of ordinary snow. Sure, Santa said it was Christmas Snow. But come on, it came from the schoolyard! Put the hat on the snowman and you invoke Frosty, take the hat off and it's just inanimate frozen water. Hence Frosty is the hat. If those kids had any imagination they'd have made a second snowman and put the hat on it to see what happened. But we can guess: that snowman would have been Frosty, with the same memories and suicidal attraction to open flame as the original.

So the kids could have played with Frosty all winter, and when the snow started to melt they'd just take the hat off him and put in a closet until next year. Then he'd come to life again each winter and be spared the trauma of repeatedly melting. With safe, airtight storage he might last for many years, entertaining generations of kids.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:09 PM on December 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


In our home we usually end up watching the MST3K Jack Frost, which is of course the superior version of that tale.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:18 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cosmic Christmas would have to rate as my fave forgotten Christmas masterpiece. Weird and ultimately heartwarming -- it really deserves resurrection.


Oh man, I remember that one! It was so unusual for a Christmas special, but very good.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:58 PM on December 24, 2014


There should be a name for this 1970s cartooning style; I never realized how distinctive it was

Well, it was called "Beloved MAD cartoonist Jack Davis, character designer"
posted by biddeford at 4:18 AM on December 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


Jack Davis just retired last week, at age 90.
posted by eye of newt at 7:13 PM on December 25, 2014


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