Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's That Rankin-Bass Time of Year Again

Heat Miser does battle with brother Snow Miser in the Rankin-Bass holiday classic The Year Without a Santa Claus
It's well into time of year where I re-package my Rankin-Bass obsession. But since there's still time to catch the specials on TV (check schedule below), I humbly give you an updated version of this yearly recycled piece. Holidays are for re-gifting!

There's a whole generation of us who grew up on Rankin-Bass' stop-motion animated holiday specials that are now of an age in control, so it's no wonder the specials have been an anchor of ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas schedule going back to 1996, when it was still FOX Family. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin' To Town, and the cult favorite The Year Without a Santa Claus were always required viewing growing up in my household this time of year, and I continue to find myself searching these titles on the TV schedule, to rekindle that old magic.

Early on, these holiday productions of Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass were certainly magic, but the pressure to catch lightning in a bottle over and over again made for a lot of misfires, like the long forgotten Rudolph And Frosty's Christmas In July, or The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold (video) and the LOTR inspired The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus (now conveniently packaged with Nestor the Christmas Donkey!), which puts Claus in the fantasy drama, pitting him against characters like The Gnome King and the Commander of the Wind Demons. (See trailer below.)

While most of the Rankin-Bass titles were based on existing Christmas songs, many original songs were written for these specials that quickly became part of the holiday tradition. For instance, Johnny Marks, who had written "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," was brought in to write seven more songs for the Rankin-Bass production of the same name, and much like Vince Guaraldi did for A Charlie Brown Christmas (which airs tonight, December 15, @8PM), these songs elevate the animated special to holiday classic.

I've ranked my top five favorite Rankin-Bass holiday musical memories below, and as expected, Rudolph's nabbed the majority. You'll also notice, these are all original songs for the specials, so no pre-existing classics like "Rudolph," "Frosty," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Blue Christmas" here.

5. "Silver & Gold" - Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) [video]

It's probably surprising that it's not ranked higher, as the song is undoubtedly the most recognizable of the bunch here. But having the narrator Sam the Snowman singing it separates it a bit from the Rudolph story, and even beyond that, when you hear it, a visual of Burl Ives comes to mind more than his animated character, Sam. To tell the truth, I'm creeped out by both visuals, as Sam was one ugly snowman. Apparently, he was drawn to look like scriptwriter Romeo Muller, who at least as a snowman, was certainly no Romeo.

Already aired -- before Thanksgiving, November 23rd on CBS :(

4. "We're a Couple of Misfits" - Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards) and Hermey the Elf (Paul Soles) / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) [video]

When Rudolph met Hermey: Rudolph is a tale of alienation, with the underlying message that it's okay to be different. I get the feeling if Hermey D.D.S. was introduced today, the Christian right would wrongfully target him like Tinky Winky and SpongeBob Squarepants. Thankfully, no one wants to sully our memories in political correctness. Oh, wait, I guess they do. Looking at it again, Hermey and Rudolph are kind of gay -- and by gay, I of course mean happy.

Already aired -- before Thanksgiving, November 23rd on CBS :(

3. "Put One Foot In Front of the Other" - Kris Kringle (Mickey Rooney) and Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn) / Santa Claus is Comin' To Town (1972) [videos all taken down]

Besides "Silver & Gold," this has to be the other most memorable song in the Rankin-Bass canon. I've always found myself singing its ridiculously catchy chorus, but it's the verses that still stand the test of time. It's no wonder some identify it with AA's 12-step process.
If you want to change your direction
If you're time of life is at hand
Well don't be the rule -- be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.
Airs Christmas Eve - Saturday, December 24th at 7PM (ABC Family) -- see schedule below for more

2. "There's Always Tomorrow" - Clarice (Janet Orenstein) sings to Rudolph / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) [video]

This is probably the most underrated Johnny Marks song, and easily the best ballad from the Rankin-Bass collection. This tune really should rank up there with Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star," but it's never truly been given its due. Red Red Meat covered it majestically a few years back, and when I find myself singing it as a lullaby to one of my boys, it never fails to give me goosebumps.

Already aired -- before Thanksgiving, November 23rd on CBS :(

1. "Snow Miser / Heat Miser" (Dick Shawn, George S. Irving) - The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974) [video]

Really, the only reason TYWASC achieved cult classic status is because of this song and the dueling half-bros Snow and Heat Miser. It's the snappy delivery from Dick Shawn (as Snow) and George S. Irving (as Heat) that make it a classic, and this song will always be the one I think of whenever Rankin-Bass comes up. Sadly, there's never been a digital release of the soundtrack, so no song is technically available to download or stream. A remake that aired in 2006 nearly ruined the legacy of TYWASC (Just watch what they did to the miser bros duel to see what I mean. Thankfully, disappeared from everyone's memory quicker than The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold. An ABC Family original sequel entitled A Miser Brothers Christmas did nothing to alleviate the damage (video), instead merely piled on. Lesson learned -- the miser legacy should be left well enough alone.

Airs Christmas Eve - Saturday, December 24th at 7PM (ABC Family)

Bonus playlist: Here's a collection of artists who grew up with Rankin-Bass doing covers of songs from the animated specials:
Rankin-Bass Holiday Covers

Previously: Miser in Reverse ("A Miser Brothers Christmas"), Ranking the Music of Rankin-Bass (Tracklisting)

1 comment:

Shawn Anderson said...

Tracklisting for "Rankin-Bass Holiday Covers" Playlist
1. There's Always Tomorrow - Red Red Meat
2. Frosty The Snowman - Fiona Apple
3. Holly Jolly Christmas - Martin Sexton
4. Silver and Gold - Calla - Calla
5. Snow Miser, Heat Miser - The HellBlinki Sextet
6. We're A Couple Of Misfits - moe.
7. Put One Foot in Front of the Other - Miami Relatives - Miami Relatives
8. Boot-Off (Aka Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer) - Bootsy Collins
9. There's Always Tomorrow - Coastal Drag - Coastal Drag
10. Blue Christmas - the Hissyfits - The Hissyfits
11. Heat Miser - the Great Shakes - The Great Shakes
12. We're a Couple of Misfits - The Inflatable Men - The Inflatablemen