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?
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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

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Why High School Musicals Should Be As Respected As Sports Programs Are

The arts are important, too.
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When I was in middle school and high school, I felt like I lived for the musicals that my school orchestrated.

For those of you who don't know, a musical is an onstage performance wherein actors take on roles that involve singing, and often dancing, to progress the plot of the story. While it may sound a little bit nerdy to get up in front of an audience to perform in this manner, this is something you cannot knock until you try it.

For some reason, though, many public schools have de-funded arts programs that would allow these musicals to occur, while increasing the funding for sports teams. There are a few things that are being forgotten when sports are valued more than musical programs in high schools.

Much like athletic hobbies, an actor must try-out, or audition, to participate in a musical. Those best suited for each role will be cast, and those who would not fit well are not given a part. While this may sound similar to trying out for say, basketball, it is an apples to oranges comparison.

At a basketball try-out, those who have the most experience doing a lay-up or shooting a foul shot will be more likely to succeed, no questions asked. However, for an audition, it is common to have to learn a piece of choreography upon walking in, and a potential cast member will be required to sing a selected piece with only a few days of preparation.

There are many more variables involved with an audition that makes it that much more nerve-racking.

The cast of a school musical will often rehearse for several months to perfect their roles, with only several nights of performance at the end. Many sports practice for three or four days between each of their respective competitions. While this may seem to make sports more grueling, this is not always the case.

Musicals have very little pay-off for a large amount of effort, while athletic activities have more frequent displays of their efforts.

Athletes are not encouraged to but are allowed to make mistakes. This is simply not allowed for someone in a musical, because certain lines or entrances may be integral to the plot.

Sometimes, because of all the quick changes and the sweat from big dance numbers, the stage makeup just starts to smear. Despite this, an actor must smile through it all. This is the part of musicals that no sport has: introspection.

An actor must think about how he or she would respond in a given situation, be it saddening, maddening, frightening, or delightful. There is no sport that requires the knowledge of human emotion, and there is especially no sport that requires an athlete to mimic such emotion. This type of emotional exercise helps with communications and relationships.

Sports are great, don't get me wrong. I loved playing volleyball, basketball, track, and swimming, but there were no experiences quite like those from a musical. Sports challenge the body with slight amounts of tactic, while musicals require much physical and mental endurance.

The next time you hear someone say that it's “just a musical," just remember that musicals deserve as much respect as sports, since they are just as, if not more demanding.

Cover Image Credit: Cincinnati Arts

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10 Shows To Watch If You're Sick Of 'The Office'

You can only watch it so many times...

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"The Office" is a great show, and is super easy to binge watch over and over again! But if you're like me and you're looking for something new to binge, why not give some of these a try? These comedies (or unintentional comedies) are a great way to branch out and watch something new.

1. "New Girl"

A show about a group of friends living in an apartment in a big city? Sound familiar? But seriously, this show is original and fresh, and Nick Miller is an icon.

2. "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"

Ya'll have been sleeping on this show. It's a musical comedy about a girl that follows her ex boyfriend across the country. I thought it sounded horrible so I put it off for WAY too long, but then I realized how incredible the cast, music, writing, and just EVERYTHING. It really brings important issues to light, and I can't say too much without spoiling it. Rachel Bloom (the creator of the show) is a woman ahead of her time.

3. "Jane the Virgin"

I know... another CW show. But both are so incredible! Jane The Virgin is a tongue-in-cheek comedy and parody of telenovelas. It has so many twists and turns, but somehow you find yourself laughing with the family.

4. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been in popular news lately since its cancellation by Fox and sequential pickup by NBC. It's an amazing show about cops in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. Created by the amazing Michael Schur, it's a safe bet that if you loved "The Office" you'll also love his series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine".

5. "The Good Place"

Another series created by the talented Micael Schur, it's safe to say you've probably already heard about this fantasy-comedy series. With a wonderful cast and writing that will keep you on your toes, the show is another safe bet.

6. "Fresh Off The Boat"

Seriously, I don't know why more people don't watch this show. "Fresh Off The Boat" focuses on an Asian family living in Orlando in the mid 90s. Randall Parks plays a character who is the polar opposite of his character in "The Interview" (Yeah, remember that horrifying movie?) and Constance Wu is wonderful as always.

7. "Full House"

Why not go back to the basics? If you're looking for a nostalgic comedy, go back all the way to the early days of Full House. If you're a '98-'00 baby like me, you probably grew up watching the Tanner family on Nick at Night. The entire series is available on Hulu, so if all else fails just watch Uncle Jesse and Rebecca fall in love again or Michelle fall off a horse and somehow lose her memory.

8. "Secret Life of the American Teenager"

Okay, this show is not a comedy, but I have never laughed so hard in my life. It's off Netflix but it's still on Hulu, so you can watch this masterpiece there. Watch the terrible acting and nonsense plot twists drive this show into the ground. Somehow everyone in this school dates each other? And also has a baby? You just have to watch. It might be my favorite show of all time.

9. "Scrubs"

Another old show that is worth watching. If you ignore the last season, Scrubs is a worthwhile medical comedy about doctors in both their personal and medical life. JD and Turk's relationship is one to be jealous of, and one hilarious to watch. Emotional at times, this medical drama is superior to any medical drama that's out now.

10. "Superstore"

I was resistant to watch this one at first, because it looked cheesy. But once I started watching I loved it! The show is a workplace comedy, one you're sure to love if you can relate to working in retail. If you liked the Office, you'll like Superstore!

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