Rankin-Bass; A Traditional Television Event

Rankin-Bass; A Traditional Television Event

The classic claymation specials have stood the test of time - so how is that possible?

Christmas has come and gone (well it will have by the time you read this), and among the many cultural traditions around the nation, the television special is one of the most iconic. We all know the classics, from airings of movies like A Christmas Story and It's A Wonderful Life to the animated ones like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, but the most famous and often parodied are the claymation specials produced by Rankin-Bass, a film studio who would go onto specializing in this method. Their specials are still aired to this day, and are usually considered some of the best. So how did they get that way?

The company was founded in 1960 by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, as Videocraft, a name that would change to the more well-known Rankin-Bass by the end of the decade. However, as with many companies at the time (and even now), their entire productions were actually produced in Japan by animation companies based there, including Toei. Under the supervision of Rankin and Bass, animators created a method of stop motion animation called “Animagic,” using special made puppets with varying expressions and movement capabilities. Meanwhile, the popular song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was playing heavily on the radio, leading to Rankin-Bass and NBC commissioning a script based on the song in order to cash in and produce something to air during the Christmas season. It should be noted that the poem that the song is based on was previously adapted by Max Fleischer, best known for his World War II era Superman cartoons. Romeo Muller was hired on, and the production work began in Japan, creating several unique models for the show. Singer Burl Ives was brought in to narrate the special and sing select songs, and Johnny Marks, who wrote the song, co-wrote the special's music with Ives. As with many icons of the screen, nobody knew how popular said special would be, so many of the puppets were destroyed after production. When Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer finally aired in 1964 , it was an instant hit, and Rankin-Bass made a name for themselves in the animation industry.

After their surprise hit, the company began looking for more songs and stories to adapt for television, figuring if one worked, they all would. After four years of production, Little Drummer Boy aired in 1968, being a religion-based special – a major contrast to their usual Santas and the like. Despite their successes with claymation, Rankin-Bass returned to traditional animation in 1969 with an animated adaptation of the song “Frosty the Snowman,” which in turn spawned several sequels of varying quality (the same cannot be said about Rudolph, because none of the sequels were even bearable let alone good). Following Frosty, the company began work on a project involving a young Santa Claus, a concept that at the time was new and pretty much a clean slate to work on. In Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the origin of the jolly man in the red suit is presented, with Mickey Rooney providing the voice of Kris Kringle. Each one of these specials was very well received, instantly becoming classics aired every year. Critics and audiences loved them, along with the new style of animation that made them stand apart from Grinch and Charlie Brown. Strangely enough, their followup was not a Christmas special, rather an Easter one based on what is quite literally the only Easter song people know, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, which did about as well as you would think, considering it's rarely on television these days – though it did get a sequel in Easter Bunny is Coming to Town in 1977.

Taking a small three year break, Rankin-Bass returned with what many consider their last shining special, Year Without a Santa Claus, based on a book rather than a song – and Mickey Rooney returned to the role of Santa Claus, thus making it a direct sequel to the previous specials. Also in that year was another traditionally animated special, Twas the Night Before Christmas, which went on to be one of the most parodied and referenced specials of the era (most notably in the South Park episode “A Very Crappy Christmas”). Following this was an era not unlike Disney in the early 2000s. The company switched to primarily doing sequels to their past shows, quality not really being a concern. Among them were The Little Drummer Boy, Book II, and the so-bad-it's-good crossover nobody wanted but we all got, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, itself continuing off from Frosty's Winter Wonderland and Rudolph's Shiny New Year and yet again featuring Mickey Rooney The company also acquired the animation rights to the J.R.R. Tolkien novel The Hobbit, and all their effort was put into that rather than quality Christmas specials – the movie would be aired on television in 1977 and only followed up with Return of the King in 1980, as there was already a full animated production of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi, who would never finish his adaptation past the ending of The Two Towers. The final Rankin-Bass claymation Christmas special was The Life and Times of Santa Claus (an adaptation of the L. Frank Baum book) in 1985, thus ending an era of television and tradition. They would attempt to make television shows to compete during the 1980s, including ThunderCats, but most of these failed and the company went under in 1987, Rankin and Bass themselves going on to do other things in the industry.

Rankin-Bass, despite the actual amount of watchable ones not being terribly high, was able to create annual traditions in millions of homes nationwide. Their specials should also be noted for being one of the earliest shared universes in media, with the same Santa castle used in both Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Year Without a Santa Claus, the same actor playing the role, Rudolph and Frosty appearing together, similar designs and concepts, and even music that sounded alike. Since the end of their reign in the late 1970s, their shows have been aired annually, Rudolph being the oldest continuously aired special at fifty-three. DVDs of the specials are sold every year, they're shown on network television and on marathons, and have become staples of the season – characters even being just as much a part of the holiday as Santa himself, such as Frosty and Hermy the Elf. Every year, even if it's on the DVD, I make a point to watch them, and it's not really Christmas until then.

Cover Image Credit: Videocraft International

Popular Right Now

9 Reasons Crocs Are The Only Shoes You Need

Crocs have holes so your swag can breathe.

Do you have fond childhood objects that make you nostalgic just thinking about your favorite Barbie or sequenced purse? Well for me, its my navy Crocs. Those shoes put me through elementary school. I eventually wore them out so much that I had to say goodbye. I tried Airwalks and sandals, but nothing compared. Then on my senior trip in New York City, a four story Crocs store gleamed at me from across the street and I bought another pair of Navy Blue Crocs. The rest is history. I wear them every morning to the lake for practice and then throughout the day to help air out my soaking feet. I love my Crocs so much, that I was in shock when it became apparent to me that people don't feel the same. Here are nine reasons why you should just throw out all of your other shoes and settle on Crocs.

1. They are waterproof.

These bad boys can take on the wettest of water. Nobody is sure what they are made of, though. The debate is still out there on foam vs. rubber. You can wear these bad boys any place water may or may not be: to the lake for practice or to the club where all the thirsty boys are. But honestly who cares because they're buoyant and water proof. Raise the roof.

2. Your most reliable support system

There is a reason nurses and swimming instructors alike swear by Crocs. Comfort. Croc's clogs will make you feel like your are walking on a cloud of Laffy Taffy. They are wide enough that your toes are not squished, and the rubbery material forms perfectly around your foot. Added bonus: The holes let in a nice breeze while riding around on your Razor Scooter.

3. Insane durability

Have you ever been so angry you could throw a Croc 'cause same? Have you ever had a Croc bitten while wrestling a great white shark? Me too. Have you ever had your entire foot rolled like a fruit roll up but had your Crocs still intact? Also me. All I know is that Seal Team 6 may or may not have worn these shoes to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. Just sayin'.

4. Bling, bling, bling

Jibbitz, am I right?! These are basically they're own money in the industry of comfortable footwear. From Spongebob to Christmas to your favorite fossil, Jibbitz has it all. There's nothing more swag-tastic than pimped out crocs. Lady. Killer.

5. So many options

From the classic clog to fashionable sneakers, Crocs offer so many options that are just too good to pass up on. They have fur lined boots, wedges, sandals, loafers, Maryjane's, glow in the dark, Minion themed, and best of all, CAMO! Where did your feet go?!

6. Affordable

Crocs: $30

Feeling like a boss: Priceless

7. Two words: Adventure Straps

Because you know that when you move the strap from casual mode chillin' in the front to behind the heal, it's like using a shell on Mario Cart.

8. Crocs cares

Okay, but for real, Crocs is a great company because they have donated over 3 million pairs of crocs to people in need around the world. Move over Toms, the Croc is in the house.

9. Stylish AF

The boys will be coming for you like Steve Irwin.

Who cares what the haters say, right? Wear with pride, and go forth in style.

Cover Image Credit: Chicago Tribune

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.


Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.

I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.

I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.

As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

Related Content

Facebook Comments