The Wonderfully Weird Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials

rankinbassHoliday greetings, lovely readers! Before you get to sipping eggnog, snogging under the mistletoe, and overdosing on tinsel, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas! And what does Christmas mean? That’s right, Christmas specials! Every Christmas since I was a kid I would park myself directly in front of my television and watch a never-ending series of stop-animation Christmas specials. I recently realized that the storyline for each special was actually pretty strange. Some were weirder than others. I’m going to cover the more memorable of these specials, beginning with the greatest reindeer of all.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Santa berating a fawn

Santa berating a fawn

This special is the world’s longest-running and highest-rated television special of all time; if you haven’t seen it by now I don’t know how to help you. What bothered me about this special was not only the strange closed-mindedness of flying reindeer and the singing elves’ hatred of tooth care professionals; what bothered me most was that jolly old Santa Clause was a total jerk. He was not only mean to a baby reindeer with a phosphorescent snout, but he was also dismissive to the hard-working man and lady elves that put together a song and dance routine about their enslavement to please their white-bearded master. The only time he is nice is when Rudolph is the only one who can help him save Christmas. He is a total user. If Rudolph had a bum leg he would have shot that deer out by the shed and wouldn’t have thought anything of it. What I do like about the special is the Island of Misfit Toys—we all feel like misfits sometimes and it was good to see these silly toys gain homes at last. The flying lion King Moonracer and the scary Abominable Snowmonster were also pretty awesome.

Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

What the hell is going on here?

What is going on here?

This sequel to Rudolph involving Father Time and Happy, the Baby New Year, is technically a New Years’ special. This special is all over the place. Happy runs away because people make fun of his big ears, so Rudolph and some other folks run off to find him. They meet a whale named Big Ben, a caveman, a knight, the Three Bears from Goldilocks and a whole bunch of other confusing and unrelated characters from different times, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales. Also Benjamin Franklin makes an appearance because, why the hell not? I watched this pretty recently and I still am not quite sure what was going on. At the end I guess the New Year started? Yeah, that sounds good.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Baby Clause

Why Twinkle my toes I see a baby’s nose, and there is a whole baby attached to it!

Rankin/Bass has done two origin stories trying to answer one burning question: Where did Santa Claus come from? In this special Claus is an abandoned baby left in the woods. Some forest animals find him and bring him to the Kringles who are little toy makers. They adopt him and name him Kris. Kris grows up and brings some toys to Sombertown, a crappy place run by the Burgermeister Meisterburger, a stereotypical angry German. After he’d slipped on a toy duck and broken his funny bone, the Burgermeister outlawed toys in Sombertown. Kris meets Jessica (the future Mrs. Claus), becomes an outlaw, and devises different ways to hide and deliver toys. Along the way he adopts a penguin named Topper and melts the heart of the Winter Warlock with a toy choo-choo train, who helps him make reindeer fly. What’s weird about this special is that there is no final battle between Burgermeister Meisterburger and Claus. The reason Santa can finally deliver toys is that the Burgermeister Meisterburger ultimately dies. No redemption, no change of heart, no ultimate showdown, or revolution from the Sombertown folks, just death from natural causes. Also while Jessica sings the typical “I wuv him so vewy much” song there is this weird psychedelic trip background as shown in the video below:

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

Boy Clause

This is from a Christmas Movie

This was another origin story. Once again baby Santa Claus is left in the woods. Unlike the other stories, this is rooted in more natural or pagan elements based on a book by Wizard of Oz series author L. Frank Baum. This time Claus is picked up by the Great Ak, an immortal. He entrusts the child to Shiegra, a lioness, and Necile, a fairy. As he grows, Claus is educated by the other immortals. Once Santa Claus grows up, he leaves the forest and settles down in a small village with other mortals. He sets up a workshop and makes a little wooden black kitten toy. The children lose their minds over it and love Claus. The immortal council come together to discuss whether they should make Claus immortal, they eventually do and therefore that is why he is still alive. This one was weird if only due to the immortals and the discussion of suffering, pain, and mortality, which is unusual in a children’s’ Christmas special.

The Year Without a Santa Claus

Sleepy Clause

Is he… dead?

Santa catches a cold and decides to cancel Christmas so he can have a good rest, citing that no one cares about him or Christmas anyway. A disagreeing Mrs. Clause assigns two blundering elves, Jingle and Jangle Bells, to find a town where they can drum up some Christmas cheer. Along the way they have their reindeer, Vixen, captured, are attacked by the Heat Miser, and manage to make a mess of the whole thing. After he finds out the trouble they’re in, a still-sick Santa dashes on Dasher to Southtown to save his helpless helpers. He meets a boy named Ignatius who met the pair earlier in the day and is invited into his home. Ignatius father sings a song about believing in Santa Claus and unknowingly helps raise Santa’s spirits. Santa goes off to help Jingle and Jangle who are trying to convince the Mayor of Southtown to believe in their elf status. The Mayor cuts a deal where if they make it snow in their very sunny little town, they will believe in Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas. Mrs. Claus and the elves, along with Ignatius, visit both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser in order to convince them to allow snow in Southtown and heat for at the North Pole for one day a year. The Miser brothers initially refuse, but after a chat with their mother, Mother Nature, they finally agree. Eventually the children of Earth rally and bring presents to Santa Claus. After receiving a “Blue Christmas” card from a sad little girl, Santa decides to have Christmas after all and everything is well. This one was weird, but ultimately fun. This Mrs. Claus, unlike the other ones, actually has a true significant part in her old age. The Miser Brothers are the best part of the special. The song and dances are wonderful, and it is the catchiest tune that most of you will be whistling well into January.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Merii Kurisumasu, Happy Saturnalia Festival, Happy Christmas, and Happy Holidays to one and all!