Top 5 Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials
3.) “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland”
Now I had to re-watch these specials (or in some cases watch for the first time) to make a fair assessment. At first I was going to put the original “Frosty the Snowman” special in this spot. Somehow I had always missed this sequel. I remember the sorta-sequel “Frosty Returns” (but it actually wasn’t Rankin/Bass) and the crossover special “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.” Somehow this special just seemed to elude me over the years. While it can be just as all over the place like the first special I suppose I just like the world-building in it. The goal of the first “Frosty” special was to make it look like a Christmas card come to life. They keep that visual style here with some slight design alterations. We also get an interesting (for the Rankin/Bass cannon) villain with Jack Frost. He would later get his very own special as a hero. The designs are similar enough in both that you could argue they’re the same, but with how inconsistent these kid shows were back then who knows. What I do know is they once again perfectly capture Frosty’s innocence and just have a perfect voice. My only real complaint since this is most definitely the same town, they even run into the same cop to do the same accidentally swallowing the whistle gag. Where is Karen? After Frosty and her went through so much in the last one, I would have like a little reunion between the two.
2. “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus”)
How to describe this one? Well I guess I’ll start off by mentioning that this was Rankin/Bass’ final stop-motion Christmas special. I don’t know if they knew that going in, but this is a very good special to go out on. What’s interesting is that this one junks the inter-connectiveness of the previous specials. No Mickey Rooney as Santa in this one. However, they had to do this as it is a different take on the Santa origin story. It’s based on a book of the same name by L. Frank Baum. Yes THAT L. Frank Baum. Despite that it doesn’t feel very “Oz” like, though that may have to do with 2 aspects. One apparently is that this 40 minute special could only cover a small amount of the book. What’s really funny is that the character who feels the most like something Baum would have written was entirely created for the special. Another thing I really like about this film is the way everything seem so important. Even the act of the fairy deciding she wants to be mother to the baby Santa. I’d say the tone of the story feels more like JRR Tolkien. Which is very possibly due to the fact aside from these stop-motion specials their other most famous creation would be their animated adaptations of “The Hobbit” and “Return of the King.” It doesn’t help when the choir sounds the exact same during some of the songs. You know as a kid I had no idea they were made by the same people, but on a subconscious level I must have noticed a connection between the two because I always imagined what it would be like if someone did a version of “The Hobbit” in the same way as these specials. So this was like seeing young Eric’s fantasy film.
1.) “The Year Without A Santa Claus”
Now when I was a young kid this was NOT a special that played in heavy rotation. I was actually first introduced to it during “Batman and Robin” so if you ever wanted me to say something positive about that film, there it is. Apparently this is based on a book. I’d be curious to see how accurate it is. Of course we all remember the Heat Miser and Cold Miser parts which are a ton of fun. It has that Rankin/Bass weirdness we all know and love. Where it really shines is in Santa himself and his relationship with Christmas. First, we have a very bitter man who really only gets involved in the story because he has to. There’s the part where he befriends a young disbelieving boy and convinces him to believe again with what I think is the best original song that ever came out of the Rankin/Bass specials. Then, when you’d think the story is winding down we get their best use of a preexisting song, “Blue Christmas.” As Santa finally sees what he’s worth to the world we get an incredibly triumphant return of Santa. It’s moments like that when I re-watch this each year that remind me what I love about the holidays.
Merry Christmas everyone!