It's the holidays once again, which means that it's time to break out the DVDs (or VHS tapes, if you still have a VCR) of all the old Christmas specials. Of course, with it being christmas, we musn't forget the old Rankin/Bass specials. Recently, the YouTube channel Screen Junkies did a screamingly funny "Honest Trailer" of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In light of this, it might be time to revisit these specials and see how they hold up.
You truly need to watch the "Honest Trailer". Not only is it hilarious, but this special did kind of deserve it. Apart from being weird (it's hard not to think that the inspiration for Scar from The Lion King came from King Moonracer), it also carries some of the worst traits from the 1960s: bad clay animation, at least one awful song whose sheer amount of treacle borders on self-parody, and weirdly sexist attitudes (there's no reason why the female characters in this are treated/come off so poorly). Clearly not the best of the bunch, but good for some laughs. (And yes, the sequel mentioned in the "Honest Trailer" is just awful.)
In the same class as Rudolph: bad, but it has some laughs to it. Like the former, Frosty is narrated by an old Hollywood star (Burl Ives and Jimmy Durante, respectively). Fortunately, the only song is the eponymous one. And admittedly, the villain is pretty funny. Unfortunately, the sequel doesn't have that same kind of camp, also with much worse animation.
This one is peak Rankin/Bass. More clay animation, another schmaltzy narrator from the olden days of Hollywood (this time, it's Fred Astaire), and more. The female characters are more involved in this one (though one of the main characters in Frosty is Karen, and its sequel also has a female lead character), but it doesn't make it any less silly. Also, this is worth watching if only for possessing the single greatest musical number in the Rankin/Bass catalog. Drippy, psychedelic, and strange to the extreme, it's easily the best and worst scene in any of these Rankin/Bass specials, not to mention the most dated thing ever (it was released in 1970).
Abjectly, given its more religious subject matter and more serious presentation, this is one of the best specials they made. Even the choice of narrator (Academy Award winner Greer Garson) is a more somber choice. Of course, it's not without its silly moments, but if you're suffering from burnout by the other specials, this will be a good antidote. (Warning: There's a version that have some sound effects, such as Aaron drumming in a flashback, and a version that doesn't have those. Be wary of which one you're watching.)
Of the "silly" Rankin/Bass specials, this one's the best, though it's not without a syrupy 1970s musical number. There are a number of reasons why it's the best: a good voice cast (including Mickey Rooney, who also voiced Kris Kringle in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town; and Academy Award winner Shirley Booth as the narrator/Mrs. Claus), some good characters, and of course, the winning combo of Snow Miser and Heat Miser, who lay claim to the best musical number(s) of any of these specials. Though, you could say there's a give-and-take of good and bad in this. On the one hand, the sequence where children around the world are giving Santa Claus a Merry Christmas is horribly racist and stereotypical with its depiction of children from different areas of the world. On the other hand, their version of "Blue Christmas" is actually genuinely sad (or overly 70s, depending on your bent) compared to Elvis Presley's country version. Overall, perhaps it's alright, but worlds better than the others in this bent in terms of quality.
What's your favorite Rankin/Bass special? Please leave your comments below. Until then, permit me to allow Krusty the Clown to send me off.