To me, the Rankin/Bass television specials are the Holy Grail of Christmas viewing.
Though the production company may be defunct now, nothing screams Christmas to me like the wonderful stop-motion animation, often endearing tales of winter and wonderful music of these specials. The holiday season doesn’t officially begin until I watch at least one of them, and they’re all considered mandatory viewing in my house every December.
The following are my three favorite Rankin/Bass specials, though I love them all!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
First airing in 1964 as part of The General Electric Fantasy Hour, this Rankin/Bass special tells the classic tale of that red-nosed creature born to guide the Christmas sleigh. A holiday favorite for just about everyone, this special continues to air every year (though in a re-cut version) on CBS and has also been released for home viewing.
I have fond memories of watching this just about every year of my life. As a child I was mildly terrified of the Abominable Snow Monster and would shake in a mix of fear and anticipation as those beloved misfits – the red-nosed reindeer, the elf who wants to be a dentist, and the literally gold-digging Yukon Cornelius – battled against him.
Bumble doesn’t scare me quite so much anymore. After all, Bumbles bounce! But this film (which I now own on DVD) is still a staple every December, and it’s still high on emotional impact, though fear is no longer one of those emotions. It’s very heart-warming.
Favorite song: “We’re a Couple of Misfits”
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
Moving to ABC, Rankin/Bass came up with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, first airing in 1970.Like Rudolph, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is still aired every year, though on ABC and ABC Family rather than CBS. It has, as well, been released for home viewing.
This one boasts wonderful voice talents including Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney. It tells the tale of how Santa became Santa after being left, orphaned, on the doorstep of a family of toy makers.
The foes this time around are not enormous snow monsters, but the fierce, weather-altering Winter Warlock and the toy-outlawing Burgermeister Meisterburger. These enemies aren’t quite as intimidating and one of them eventually changes heart and breaks out in song, but this special is every bit as enjoyable as Rudolph.
Favorite song: “One Foot in Front of the Other”
I’ve been watching Rudolph and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town for pretty much my entire life, but Jack Frost is a relatively recent discovery for me, watched for the first time only a few years ago. This one is the newest of my favorites, first airing in 1979. It continues to air on ABC Family and has also been released on DVD.
This special follows Jack Frost, the winter sprite who has taken a liking to a human woman. He asks his father if he can turn human for a while to pursue this romance, with the help of two friends who have also gone human temporarily. But of course, everything doesn’t go quite as planned.
One of the most delightful aspects of this special for me is the fact that it’s narrated by a groundhog, which gives the whole thing a bit sillier of a tone than the rest of the specials. I’m entirely too easily amused by talking animals, animated or not. But it still has its serious moments that really keep the viewer drawn into the story (while still remaining quite hopeful and family-friendly, of course).
Favorite song: “Me and My Shadow”
What are your favorite Rankin/Bass specials? Have you watched any yet this year, or do you save them for Christmas eve/day?