Tag Archives: rankin/bass

Dec. 25 – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Original air date December 6, 1964.

Welcome to Christmas Day 2022! We made it another year and another long year is ahead of us until we make it back, but right now, it’s time to celebrate! And in keeping with the theme of this year’s countdown, we are once again looking at another much beloved Christmas special on this day. Before we start, here’s a pop quiz: What is considered the first televised Christmas Special? If you said Rudolph or Charlie Brown you are incorrect because it’s actually Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. I don’t have any particular affection for Mr. Magoo or that special, but I give credit where it’s due. The special I think that is most responsible for the specials to follow though is the one we’re talking about today and that’s the stop-motion, Rankin/Bass, classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

When I was a kid, Rudolph was the favorite special of most of the children my age, myself included. Over the years it has fallen some for me, but I still acknowledge it as the titan of Christmas that it is. It’s basically outlasted its peers in that it’s still broadcast annually on a major network, a distinction only Frosty can lay claim to now that the Peanuts gang has been banished to streaming. It popularized the special format and it’s likely we wouldn’t have a lot of what followed had it failed and I wonder if we would even know the name Rankin/Bass. When the special went into production, the company was feeling pretty tapped out thanks to its Tales of the Wizard of Oz television series and TV special Return to Oz. NBC and General Electric wanted a Christmas special for 1964 though, and Rankin/Bass was selected to make that happen. Romeo Muller, who is a name that appears many times in Rankin/Bass credits, wrote the teleplay for this one based on the Johnny Marks song which was itself based on a concept created by his brother-in-law, Robert L. May. The story for how May ended up getting the rights to Rudolph is an interesting one, but to keep things brief since we have another hour long special to cover, he created the character for the department store Montgomery Ward and they ended up giving him the rights for free when they thought the fad had passed. It’s a rare example of a big corporation being nice to one of its employees, but I bet in corporate circles it’s relayed as a cautionary tale to stress the importance of not having a conscience when dealing with work-for-hire creations.

For one final time this year, I’m turning to my 1987 VHS for the screen caps which means I get to share with you one of the bumpers from that broadcast.

The special was produced in 1964 using stop-motion technology. The Burl Ives character of Sam the Snowman would be the last thing added as the network wanted a recognizable name to attach to the project. Since no one really predicted the impact this would have, or the rise of video at home, a lot of the puppets and sets were lost or destroyed. As was some of the footage as the special would go through changes and edits over the years. In 1965, the song “Fame and Fortune” was added at the expense of “We’re a Couple of Misfits” and the resolution of the film which answers what character Yukon Cornelius is looking for is cut in favor of a new scene showing Santa Claus visiting the Island of Misfit Toys. Some of these things have been added back, some have not, and some have been, but also kind of half-assed. I’ll try to cover it as we go. And just like several entries this year, my screen shots and write-up are based on the 1987 broadcast of the special preserved for all time on my beloved Christmas Tape. I probably have several thousand words still ahead of me, so let’s stop with the preamble and get right down to it.

Uh oh, looks like Christmas is in peril once again!

The special begins with a bunch of newspapers on the screen and a blizzard effect over them. Some big storm has taken place or will, and it undoubtedly features into the plot of this one because the last headline we see is “Foul Weather May Postpone Christmas!” After it dissipates some serene music filters in and we see a far less harsh environment before us. It’s a snow-covered setting and several trees dot the landscape. Waddling, sliding, shuffling, whatever – in comes Sam Snowman (Burl Ives). It’s difficult to describe how he moves because he has no legs. He’s like a snowman you would construct yourself out of three, large, snowballs. Though he still looks better than any snowman I’ve ever made. He’s also undoubtedly made to resemble Ives who also was the only actor in this thing to receive residuals based on it since the rest were a bunch of no-names from Canada. Ives made a lot of money off of Rudolph, while the actual voice of Rudolph basically got a check and a “thanks!”

The first celebrity narrator for a Rankin/Bass Christmas special is Burl Ives as Sam Snowman.

Sam welcomes us to Christmas Town and wants to tell us about how lovely it is. As he makes his way through the scenery, the trees go from being covered with snow to being covered with snow, ornaments, and garland. It’s a Christmas tree forest, and apparently we’re supposed to think they grow like this? I’m not sure. There’s also some seals playing with wrapped presents that are just hanging around. He mentions how the number one residents up here are the Clauses, and points out a castle on the left where the couple apparently resides. We get a peek in there too of a skinny Santa (Stan Francis) sitting at a long table with some rather unappetizing purple food before him. Mrs. Claus (Peg Dixon) is encouraging him to eat and apparently Christmas for Santa is sort of like the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. He’s force-fed like a Christmas goose by his wife so as to present a jolly, fat, man come the big day which really makes no sense since he’s not supposed to be seen.

An unusual sight for a Christmas special: skinny Santa.

Sam assures us that we shouldn’t worry, Santa will be plenty fat for Christmas, but I’m honestly more worried about the guy’s health. That sort of yo-yo effect with his weight can’t be healthy. Sam then mentions how he loves this time of year and the fact that it’s going so smoothly, not like the year of the big blizzard. He mentions offhand that he doesn’t know what they would have done without Rudolph that year and then stops himself as-if the viewer interrupted him. This is the same technique we will eventually see with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, only in that one they actually dubbed in the voices of kids so it makes more sense. Watching this in 2022, when Sam says with some surprise that we’ve never heard the story of Rudolph I’m forced to yell at my screen, “Of course I know who Rudolph is you stupid snowman!” It doesn’t matter what you scream at your TV, laptop, or other device, he’s going to tell you all about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I can’t imagine 7Up having the funds to pony up for a sponsorship of Rudolph in 2022.

Sam then goes into the song we all know which brings about the opening credits. He basically only sings the intro as the rest of the credits unfold with instrumental music. It’s basically a medley of all of the songs we’re about to hear throughout this one. And in case you’re curious, in 1987 the major sponsor for this broadcast was 7Up. When the credits are done, Sam starts the actual story. We find out that Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards) is the son of reindeer Donner (Paul Kligman) and his unnamed wife (Dixon). We come upon the trio in a cave setting where Donner gives the kid his name. As he looks up and opens his eyes for the first time, he says “Papa” followed by “Mama.” As he does, his nose glows. Or rather, it lights up like a light bulb, or as Donner phrases it, “…a blinkin’ beacon.”

Baby Rudolph, before he becomes a tremendous disappointment to his father.

Donner is clearly concerned about this development, but before the discussion can continue they get a surprise visit from Santa. It seems he’s all up to speed on who is pregnant amongst his reindeer and has come to meet the newest, potential, member of his team. When he comes over to greet Rudolph, he’s initially impressed since the kid even knows his name. And then the nose glows once more. Santa reacts with a “Great bouncing icebergs!” while Donner quickly intercedes to assure Santa this is something the little fawn will grow out of. Santa says he hopes so, because apparently the color of one’s nose is of great concern to him and a shiny, red, nose will immediately disqualify Rudolph from the team. Remember that folks, Santa is a bigot. I mean, his reaction of surprise is certainly warranted. Imagine finding any woodland creature with a nose that behaves like a light bulb, that would certainly shock me! It would not, however, discourage me from viewing that creature favorably. If anything, quite the opposite. That’s freaking remarkable!

Rudolph’s nose, brought to you by General Electric!

Santa then goes into his dumb song, “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” which is just him boasting about how wonderful his team of reindeer are, but screw this guy! He sucks. When the song is over, he takes off and I say good riddance. Rudolph, on the other hand, adorably just says “bye bye.” I should also point out, that it’s clear they had two Rudolph puppets for the production, one with a matte, red, nose and the other with the actual bulb nose. Sometimes the texture looks completely different and I am assuming it’s because the one that could actually light was less poseable since it needed to be wired up somehow. Anyway, once Santa is gone Donner decides that he agrees with the old man and declares that Rudolph will never make the team because of its weird nose bias. He scrapes up some mud and rubs it on his son’s nose to hide it. The little guy loves his dad despite his love apparently being conditional upon his nose, while his mother just wipes, or sucks, off the fake nose as she apparently loves him just the way he is. Good for you, mom!

Sam then tells us that the Donners were able to successfully hide Rudoph’s “non-conformity” throughout his early childhood. We see a little montage of him and Donner playing that’s interrupted by the presence of the abominable snowman (Bernard Cowan). As they hide behind a snowdrift, a giant, hairy, foot passes by that will not make much sense when we finally meet the “bumble.”

And here is our other misfit of the special: Hermey the elf.

Sam then directs our attention to a new setting: the workshop. It’s Christmas Eve, and the elves are hard at work making toys. Everything they’re making is purple, it’s a weird trait of this special that almost everything that isn’t a character is depicted in this gray-purple shade. Anyway, the male elves are all in blue and look the same while the females are dressed in a pink outfit and they all look the same. Only two elves stand out, a head elf (Carl Banas) who is taller, has a goatee, and is in a green costume and a little blonde elf named Hermey (Paul Soles). Hermey is apparently well behind the rest of the group in his toy construction, and when the head elf inquires what’s up he responds with “Not happy in my work, I guess.” This is unheard of apparently as all of the elves react with shock and some mixture of outrage which only intensifies when Hermey tells the head elf that what he really wants to be is a dentist! A whistle sounds for a 10 minute break, but the head elf tells Hermey it’s not for him. Apparently, the elves have a terrible union. He’s then given an ultimatum to finish the job or face termination. Once left alone, Hermey stops painting and pulls out a dentistry book, singing to himself, “Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. You can’t fire me, I quit! See, I don’t fit in.”

Poor, sad, Rudolph. All over a nose.

After witnessing that, Sam just dismisses Hermey’s problems as the life of an elf. We then check-in on Rudolph who appears to be much older, and more rebellious. He hates the false nose his father keeps making him wear, but Donner isn’t standing for any back-talk while mother is just staying out of it all together. He slaps the mud on his kid’s face who tells him it’s not very comfortable, but Donner retorts with “There are more important things than comfort – self respect!” Man, he is such an unlikable dick. Rudolph wanders out of the cave and plops down in the snow looking rather sad. He pops the fake nose off and sings a similar refrain to what we just heard from Hermey, “Why am I such a misfit? I am not such a nitwit. Just because my nose glows, why don’t I fit in?”

Looks like he doesn’t have any issues making friends.

Sam comes back to inform us that Christmas came and went that year without incident. We’re jumping forward to April when all of the new fawns come out to show off and be inspected by Santa. It sounds kind of gross when put it that way, but these are the “reindeer games” from the song, essentially. Rudolph seems hesitant to mix it up with the others, but his dad tries to be encouraging even though he’s spent Rudolph’s whole life denigrating him for the color of his nose. Talk about your mixed messages. Rudolph gets pushed into the group and immediately starts up a friendship with a welcoming fawn named Fireball (Alfie Scopp). Fireball is also apparently a little horn-ball because he encourages Rudolph to participate in the games so he can show off in front of the does.

Imagine telling an employee they’ll never fit in. This guy is a grade A asshole.

Time to check-in on Hermey. It would seem he’s all talk and has actually stayed on as a toymaker, for now, with the other elves. We find him by himself working on some dolls apparently adding teeth. It looks like he’s found a way to marry his love of dentistry with his job as a toymaker – case closed! Or not, for soon the head elf comes barging in demanding to know why Hermey wasn’t at elf practice (that scene was cut from the broadcast frequently and was in 1987). When Hermey shows the head elf what he’s been working on instead, he just gets met with more ridicule. This asshole isn’t willing to meet Hermey halfway and instead tells him they already have dolls that can “cry, talk, walk, blink, and run a temperature – we don’t need any chewing dolls!” After feeling he successfully shut down that little business, the head elf tells him to come join the others so he can learn how to wiggle his ears and chuckle, which sounds rather useless to me, but what do I know about elf culture? Remarking, “A dentist – good grief,” he slams the door leaving Hermey all alone once again. Only this time, he’s had enough. Grabbing his dentistry book, he opens the window and slips out declaring he’s on his own now.

Santa’s pay is so bad that Comet had to take a second job.

Back at the games, Fireball still seems preoccupied with the presence of does. He suggests to Rudolph that one in particular seems to have her eye on him. Rudolph seems interested, but before things can go further they’re interrupted by their Coach, Comet (Kligman). Comet both looks and sounds just like Donner, only he has a stylish cap and whistle around his neck. He says he’s here to teach them how to be reindeer, but also he wants to be their pal – how sweet? He announces that they’re going to practice flying and calls on Dasher’s little boy to start them off. The little fawn runs, jumps, and faceplants into the snow to much laughter. Comet is encouraging though and tells him it was good for a first try. As he moves on to another fawn, Fireball encourages Rudolph to go over and talk to the doe that has her eye on him.

Young love.

Rudolph does as he’s instructed and we’re introduced to Clarice (Janis Orenstein). Rudolph is bashful, and we learn his nose apparently operates like a dog’s tail might as it glows from underneath his fake one making him appear to blush, which is a pretty clever idea and effect. Clarice picks up on his voice sounding unnatural, but Rudolph thinks she’s making fun of the way he talks. She clarifies she meant no harm. Meanwhile, Comet is trying to get Rudolph’s attention because it’s his turn to try flying. Rudolph is trying to work up some courage and before he runs back he asks Clarice if she would walk home with him after practice. She replies that she would, and then tells the reindeer she thinks he’s cute!

Imagine being mean to this adorable, little, guy.

Well, that went over well with Rudolph! Cheering that she thinks he’s cute, Rudolph bounds up into the air and flies over to Comet. Comet is impressed, but Rudolph doesn’t care because a doe just called him cute. As he keeps shouting this fact, he jumps up into the air again and soars over the gathering amazing all in attendance, including Santa. Rudolph comes to land by Fireball and repeats the good news and he gets excited for his friend. They play scuffle, and in the process Rudolph’s false nose pops off. He’s pretty giddy right now, so that nose is on full blast underneath. Fireball is immediately freaked out and starts backing away telling Rudolph to get away from him. Santa admonishes Donner, like he did something wrong. Given how Santa reacted to Rudolph’s nose in the winter, I don’t think he’s disappointed in Donner’s attempt to hide the nose, but in his failure to adequately do so. Comet tries to calm everyone down, but upon seeing Rudolph’s nose declares that he should go home with his folks and that they won’t be inviting Rudolph to join any of their reindeer games going forward. I have a sudden urge to hunt these reindeer into extinction.

At least there’s one decent deer in Christmas Town.

Rudolph dramatically runs off, upset at the way he’s been treated. And he should be upset, though at the same time who needs those clowns? Clarice comes running after him and Rudolph seems to think she’s coming to make fun of him too. Clarice tells him she’s not and prefers this red nose to the silly false one he had been wearing. Rudolph won’t hear it as he hates his nose for making him different, but Clarice thinks that’s what makes it special and she’s not wrong. She then breaks into song, “There’s Always Tomorrow,” which is the slow ballad number of the special that I’m guessing is the favorite of few. The sentiment is sweet and it’s appropriate for Clarice, though her dad (Cowan) apparently didn’t hear the message of the song for when it’s over he comes running over to retrieve his daughter declaring that “No daughter of mine is going to be seen with a red-nosed reindeer!”

What exactly was Hermey doing in that snowbank anyway?

Feeling defeated, Rudolph wanders over to the base of a tree and sits down by a snowbank. Up from out of the snowbank pops the head of Hermey. He asks if this snowbank belongs to Rudolph, but Rudolph is rather confused by the situation. Hermey introduces himself to Rudolph as a dentist, and he has no idea what a dentist is. Hermey then corrects himself as he wants to be a dentist, but isn’t one yet. For now, he’s just an elf, but he declares that he doesn’t need anybody else and he’s independent! Rudolph doesn’t really seem to know what the word means, and I’m not so sure Hermey does since he proposes that they be independent together. Rudolph is onboard though so long as Hermey doesn’t mind his nose, and Hermey is fine with the arrangement as long as Rudolph doesn’t mind him being a dentist. They shake on it, then break into song.

Pictured: a couple of Misfits not named Glenn Danzig or Jerry Only.

For the 1987 broadcast, the song is “Fame and Fortune.” It’s a weird number to hear these two sing about becoming rich and famous as that’s something neither character really expresses a desire for outside of this song which is partly why few seem to like it. The original 1964 broadcast featured the song “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” which thematically makes far more sense and builds on how the two characters had already been singing their own verse of the song earlier. That song was basically dropped just to change things up in 1965 and possibly to shorten the sequence. It wouldn’t be added back until the 1990s. Both can be found on the DVD release, though the current CBS broadcast does something different in that it uses the animation for “Fame and Fortune,” but dubs it with the more popular song sped up. It looks and sounds terrible that way and I’m guessing it’s only done to squeeze in more commercials. As for the song itself, it’s fine, I guess. It’s catchy, but the subject matter makes no sense to me so for that reason I’d rather “We’re a Couple of Misfits” instead, though the CBS solution is way worse.

Everyone is convinced this little, tiny, light of a nose is able to draw-in a snow monster from seemingly anywhere.

When the song is over, Hermey and Rudolph are off wandering in the darkness with the snow falling hard. A voiceover from Sam informs us that the world is a dangerous place and soon the rumbles of the bumble can be heard! Hermey encourages Rudolph to douse the light of his nose as he thinks the bumble can see it, while we cut back to Sam cowering in fear under his umbrella. What a wimp! Dousing the light seems to work though as the bumble doesn’t attack, and instead a prospector upon a dogsled happens along to find the two misfits.

Introducing Yukon Cornelius, another rare, decent, person in this special. He also carries a gun, but seems unwilling to use it when faced with danger.

Hearing the dogsled, Rudolph and Hermey jump into a snowbank so just their butts are hanging out which is how Yukon Cornelius (Larry Mann) finds them. He’s rather puzzled by the sight of a deer ass pointing at him and an elf one beside it. I could make some rather crude jokes right now, but I’ll settle with just saying I’m sure the adult movie parody includes a similar scene. Yukon yanks the two out and introduces himself as the greatest prospector in the north. The land is rich with silver and gold, according to him, and he’s rather fond of tossing his pickaxe in the air which seems rather dangerous. When he retrieves it he always licks it and remarks, “Nothing.” This is because Yukon is in search of a peppermint mine, but you would only know that if you watched the original 1964 broadcast because the special ended with him stumbling upon one. That scene was cut in favor of another that we’ll get to when we get to it. I must say, I bet the animators absolutely hated that Yukon was written to be driving a dogsled because that thing must have been a pain to animate. And honestly, they didn’t do a very good job with it, but they had some pretty tight deadlines so I’m not surprised it looks the way it does.

One thing this special struggles with is forced perspective shots, and putting the bumble on a mountain like this doesn’t help.

After Yukon introduces himself in grandiose fashion, Sam feels inspired to sing us a song. “Silver and Gold” is it’s name and it’s a pleasant little number, but it feels like it’s placed too close to Clarice’s song which is also rather slow and melancholy. He looks like he’s playing a banjo while performing the song, which is interesting because I don’t hear any trace of a banjo in the actual song. When it’s done, Yukon indicates he’s off for more supplies, but before they can get to know each other the bumble strikes! He’s presented standing on the mountains, which looks pretty goofy because the mountains look like we’re supposed to assume they’re off in the distance and not just really tiny mountains.

It may not look like water, but I love this shot anyway.

Yukon ushers Rudolph and Hermey onto the sleigh. He also gets the dogs to do the same because there’s no way those animators were going to do a chase sequence between a hairy monster and some characters in a dogsled. Instead, Yukon just pulls it while the bumble gives chase. He stumbles, which is enough of an opening for Yukon to reach the water’s edge and hammer out a “do-it-yourself iceberg!” As they float away, Yukon is able to prove to the others that he knows the bumble’s one weakness: he sinks. He steps into the water, and drops like a rock. It’s deep enough to be over his head, but apparently not so deep that he can’t get out, which he does and is left scratching his head. The water effects for stop-motion are always of interest to me, and the transition of bumble to underwater is rather interesting to look at. It doesn’t look even remotely convincing, but it’s one of those things that just looks neat to me so it doesn’t bother me. I do think they could have done a more convincing job at making the bumble look wet when he emerges from the water though.

Nothing on the horizon. They escaped the bumble, but this seems like a bad place to be.

With the bumble a safe distance away, Rudolph and Hermey are able to ask where they’re off to now. Yukon doesn’t exactly know, but he tells them they’re with him now and they can all get rich off of silver. When Hermey says he thought Yukon was after gold, he simply replies with “I changed my mind.” I’m not sure I would trust this guy’s business acumen. They’re shown floating off into the night while Sam comes in to tell us the Donners are worried about Rudolph. First, Donner takes off to go find Rudolph. Sam tells us he feels bad about how he treated his son, and he should! After he leaves, Clarice shows up and she and Mrs. Donner go out in search of Rudolph as well. We learn all of this via Sam’s narration as the characters say nothing to each other.

A rough landing, but as we saw in that last shot, I’d say they were pretty lucky to make any landing.

Out on the floating iceberg, the fog has set in. Yukon remarks it’s as thick as peanut butter and Hermey tries to correct him by saying “I think you mean pea soup.” Yukon responds with “You eat what you like and I’ll eat…” though he doesn’t finish the clever little line because they strike land. And to emphasize that, Yukon shouts at the top of his lungs “Land ho!” even though they’re all very much aware of that. As they wander further inland, Rudolph wonders where they are as the three take note of a castle. It’s supposed to be off in the distance, but the perspective isn’t very convincing. Yukon then points out a curious sight: a flying lion!

Wait! Where did all of these presents come from?

Soon the three are confronted by an unusual sentry. It’s a Jack-In-the-Box, only come to find out, his name isn’t Jack. It’s Charlie. Charlie (Scopp) explains they’re on the Island of Misfit Toys, and pretty much starts to sob upon the admission of his name. Rudolph kind of stuck it to him unintentionally by assuming his name was Jack, but that’s why he’s a misfit. Soon, the other toys begin to come out of a bunch of presents they were hiding in and singing a rather haunting tune. It’s actually a bit unsettling, but then perks up. The song is “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” and it’s all about Christmas.

Most of these toys seem fine to me.

The song also has a secondary function: to introduce these freaks and weirdos. The song is played straight, until an elephant comes in to ask rhetorically “How would you like to be a spotted elephant?” like it’s some great disability. Other toys chime in with their problems, most of which seem rather superficial. A train with square wheels on its caboose and a boat that sinks seem like some pretty significant quality control errors. A bird that doesn’t fly, but swims? That’s just a penguin. A cowboy that rides an ostrich? Sounds fun to me! A water pistol that shoots jelly? Just don’t load the damn thing with jelly! Yeah, I’m being rather hard on the sequence, but it’s not like they had to come up with a lot of odd toys. They could have done better. Oh, and if you’re wondering, the “dolly for Sue” that no one can figure out what’s wrong with is apparently just suffering from depression. Yeah, the explanation reads like a retcon, but that’s because she was a late addition to the special and some of her lines were added over the years. It’s from Arthur Rankin himself though, so I guess it’s canon.

Who appointed this guy of an island of unwanted toys? He is a lion, so maybe he just took it?

When the song is over, the boys apparently didn’t find it at all depressing because they want to live here too! Charlie informs them that if they wish to remain on the island, they need to get permission from King Moonracer who just so happens to be holding court in his castle at this very moment. If you couldn’t have guessed, King Moonracer (Francis) is the flying lion from before. I can’t imagine he has much to do on this island if he just lords over some toys which likely explains how Rudolph and the gang are granted an audience immediately. When they ask for permission to remain on the island on account of them being misfits as well, their request is denied. “How do you like that?” says Yukon, “Even among misfits you’re misfits.”

At least they have some accommodations for non-toys.

Moonracer explains that since they’re living things (apparently those toys are not considered alive) they can’t run away from their problems and hide out on an island intended for toys. Harsh, but fair. He does permit them to stay the night though and they even have some lodgings for living beings who happen to turn up on their island. Before court is adjourned though, Moonracer makes a request of them. Should they ever return to Christmas Town, he would like them to tell Santa about their island to see if he can find homes for all of the misfit toys. Rudolph agrees to do so, but I’m left wondering why Moonracer, who can fly, doesn’t just go do that himself? Does he really have better things he could be doing? Maybe he tried and Santa was freaked out by the presence of a lion and had his guards, assuming he has guards, attack the beast?

Geez Rudolph, don’t you think you might be overreacting here?

The three are shown to their quarters and are all getting settled-in for a good night’s sleep. The quarters look rather tight, but at least everyone can fit in the frame. Hermey says they’ll all leave tomorrow together, but Rudolph is rather insistent that he should go it alone from here on out on account of his nose. He seems to think it’s how the bumble finds them and views traveling with him as being too dangerous for the other two. Yukon will hear no talk of him going it alone and basically tells him to zip it. Rudolph stops and waits for the other two to fall asleep, which since this is television, is immediately upon turning off the light. He’s convinced he needs to go it alone, so he sneaks out. Somehow, he’s able to create another floating iceberg for himself, or maybe he found the one they came in on. As he floats away, he wishes his friends success in their various quests. And as we watch him sail away, the roar of the bumble can be heard. Chilling!

We linger on Rudolph’s ass for what feels like a long time.

When we come back from a break, Sam starts telling us what Rudolph did off on his own. He says “time passed slowly,” but it sure looks like it’s moving pretty fast to me! The bumble kept him on the run, but he also made friends here and there. We get to see him play with some polar bear cubs, but then the mama bear kind of chases him off. He should be glad he didn’t get eaten. That’s the last we see of cute, adolescent, Rudolph. Our next shot is a long one centered on Rudolph’s ass. As Sam tells us he went through some changes, Rudolph picks his head up and we see he’s all grown up. And the mere act of growing up is apparently all it took to convince him that he couldn’t run away from his problems, so it’s time for Rudolph to head home.

Find your dad or I’ll be having you for Christmas dinner, Bulb-face!

Rudolph happens upon a group of reindeer. One of the three remarks “Hey! Look who’s back – old neon nose!” they laugh and Rudolph gets pissed. He runs back to his family’s cave, but finds it empty. Santa soon comes in to tell him that his parents are gone and Clarice too. They left months ago to go look for him. Is Santa happy to see Rudolph safe and sound? If he is, he doesn’t sound like it. Instead, he’s just worried about his damn sleigh and insists he can’t get it off the ground without Donner. Rudolph vows to find them and takes off, but that’s when it hits – that blizzard we were told about at the beginning. We’re shown the storm slam into the North Pole tearing shingles off of Santa’s castle, knocking ornaments off of trees, and sending elves rolling through the snow. Rudolph can only put his head down to push through it and he knows where he needs to look first: the cave of the abominable snow monster!

He’s just been spending the past few months trying to decide which one to eat first.

Rudolph enters the foreboding structure and finds his parents and Clarice. Clarice is in the bumble’s clutches while the other two just look on helplessly. I’m not sure what two deer could do to a beast like the bumble, but they can at least try! And how long have they been here? Rudolph is no coward though as he charges in demanding the bumble put her down! He does and then makes a play for Rudolph who deftly avoids the lunging beast. With him on his belly, Rudolph goes for the crotch, but apparently this bumble is either castrated or female as it doesn’t seem bothered. Rather it simply stands up, and ripping a stalagmite from the cave ceiling, smashes Rudolph over the head knocking the deer unconscious. He then unleashes a hearty, sinister, laugh.

The brave are always the first to die.

We return to Sam, once again cowering in terror under his umbrella, who then informs us he’s the real hero of the story. Well, not his words exactly, but he takes credit for sending Yukon and Hermey after Rudolph. The two come upon the cave and spy the bumble inside with Rudolph and the others. Clarice is in tears and asking aloud “Why doesn’t he get it over with?” A good thought, but also a dark one, as she’s admitting they’ve basically given up. Rudolph is still unconscious, but he starts to come to. Meanwhile, Yukon has a plan, but since he whispers it to Hermey we don’t know exactly what it is, but it involves Yukon climbing above the cave while Hermey oinks like a pig.

This seems like a setback, sure, but I don’t think I’d go charging at this guy just because he lacks teeth now.

The bumble heads out to investigate the oinking as Yukon insists a bumble would never choose deer over pork. When he reaches the cave’s exit, Yukon drops a giant rock on his head knocking him out. Yukon is then able to run into the cave to bask in some hero worship. The deer are happy to be saved, but then alarmed when the bumble emerges from behind Yukon. Hermey then enters to tell them not to worry. He’s got some dental equipment in his hands and it becomes clear he’s pulled out all of the bumble’s teeth. He encourages them to just walk on by, seemingly ignoring that the bumble is still a massive, clawed, beast. Would you have no fear of a toothless grizzly bear? I think not.

Stop what you’re doing, Yukon! Listen to the big, hairy, monster!

Yukon is not scared. Declaring the bumble nothing without his choppers, he goes right at him. I’m not really sure what he’s trying to accomplish, but the bumble basically just backtracks until it reaches a cliff’s edge. Yukon then appears to tackle him, along with all of his dogs, and the two fall over the side. The others run over yelling “Yukon!” and peer over the edge. Rudolph declares he’s gone, and he quite literally is, because we can see the cliff’s bottom and nothing is there. They probably should have tried painting it black or something, unless this was the desired effect?

This is basically the end of Hermey’s story. I guess it’s a happy ending.

We’re supposed to just think Yukon is dead and Sam conveys that sentiment with his narration. Rather than look for Yukon though, Sam blames the need to “get the women back to town” as reason for them just heading home to Santa’s place. Nah, they just didn’t want to look. There they apparently have a reconciliation with those that treated them as outcasts. I’m not sure why the sudden change of heart. Because they survived an encounter with the abominable? Because their friend is dead? We catch the end of a conversation between Rudolph and Santa with Santa vowing to find homes for all of the misfit toys. The head elf tells Hermey he can open a dentist practice after Christmas and is promptly granted the first appointment when Hermey looks in his mouth. Donner is then shown apologizing to Rudolph and I do hope the buck is sincere. He basically missed his son’s entire childhood! Granted, that appears to be a matter of months, but it’s all the same.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard my dad say, “Looky what he can do!”

From outside, a commanding voice then hollers for the elves to open up on account of it not being a fit night out for man nor beast. When they pull the doors open in comes the man, and it’s Yukon! As for the beast, why, it’s the bumble! He’s leashed and Yukon declares that he’s a reformed bumble in need of a job. The bumble demonstrates his usefulness by placing the star on top of a nearby tree as Yukon exclaims “Looky what he can do!” Rudolph then asks how the pair survived their trip down the side of the cliff and Yukon takes the time to inform him that bumbles bounce! The elves all seem to find this funny. Meanwhile, the bumble has removed his leash so I guess there’s no fear of him going berserk at this point. Maybe the leash was just a fashion choice? Maybe he and Yukon have a thing going on? Yes, I’m shipping this pairing.

The existence of pilot elf here would seem to suggest that there are other professions open to elves beyond toy-making, so all of that mistreatment of Hermey is even worse than we thought!

It’s the day before Christmas Eve though, so they can’t dilly dally. The elves get back to work and we hear a reprise of “We Are Santa’s Elves” as they do so, which is a song that was cut from this broadcast earlier. Santa is then shown back at the dinner table with his awful looking food. He’s still skinny, so he’s going to just gorge until he’s near bursting to fatten up for Christmas apparently. An elf then shows up to hand him a weather report and it’s not good. Regrettably, Santa has to make the announcement that Christmas is cancelled to shock and awe.

Say the line, Santa!

As Santa stands there explaining the situation, Rudolph is apparently excited about something because his nose is going bonkers. It’s distracting Santa, blinding him actually, and as he goes to tell Rudolph to cut it out he stops himself: “That nose! That beautiful, wonderful, nose! Rudolph, Christmas is not off and you’re going to lead my team!” Rudolph is pretty shocked, and then Santa makes it official by quoting the song, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” Rudolph, proving he’s not a petty reindeer, simply says, “It will be an honor, sir.” Donner then gets to insist he knew that nose would be useful some day. What a jerk!

It’s cute that he needs shades to handle Rudolph.

As the elves load up the sleigh, we go into one of the better songs of the special: “Holly, Jolly, Christmas.” Sam sings it while the elves basically just party, their job apparently done. During the events of the song we see Rudolph and Clarice share their first kiss and an elf with sunglasses gets to hook Rudolph up to the sleigh. Here is where we dock this special some points because Rudolph is placed ahead of a team of six instead of eight reindeer. For shame! I’m sure this thing was a pain to animate, especially the take-off sequences to come, but would it have been that much harder with 9 instead of 7?

For everyone that wanted a fat Santa, here you go. I think we should just accept him as he wants to be.

When the song ends we find Santa practicing his laughter and looking plenty plump. He calls for his coat while Mrs. Claus looks on approvingly. As he puts his gear on, we get an instrumental reprise of “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” which is a nice touch. As Santa takes his rightful place in the sleigh, he calls out to ask if Rudolph is ready. When the reindeer responds in the affirmative, Santa informs him their first stop is the Island of Misfit Toys. Up, up, up, and away!

On the Island of Misfit Toys, it would seem spirits are low.

On the Island of Misfit Toys, Charlie, spotted elephant, and dolly are seated by a campfire. They’re pretty glum because it’s Christmas and they’re still stuck on the island. Santa isn’t coming this year, just like all of the other years. Charlie retreats into his box to dream about next Christmas while dolly remarks, through tears, that she doesn’t have any dreams left to dream. Then, the faint sound of sleigh bells can be heard through the night. The elephant hears them first and wonders what it could be. Charlie pops out of his box excitedly, “It’s Santa! And look – Rudolph is leading the way!”

All right, we got the toys, lets get off this depressing island.

The sleigh lands bathed in the glowing, red, light of Rudolph’s nose. Santa matter-of-factly just says “Well, let’s be on our way!” The toys say nothing and just jump into his sack. Santa then calls out to Rudolph again and they take off. Since this scene was added a year later, I’m thinking Santa and Rudolph’s dialogue is the exact same track from their first take off. No matter, Sam pops in to tell us “Well folks, as for the rest of the story,” and then sings the ending of the song “He went down in history!” Sam then sings the full song while we watch Santa fly through the sky. As they soar, an elf outfits each of the misfit toys with an umbrella and they jump out of the sleigh. Santa may have got them off the island, but apparently that’s as far as his charity goes. They have to find their own way! When the song ends, Santa wishes us all a merry Christmas and flies off towards the full moon. A fitting final shot of The Christmas Spot 2022.

After he spent this thing acting like a jerk, I say it should have been Rudolph who got to wish us a merry Christmas in the end. Not Santa.

Well, we’re talking about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so it’s not like there’s a whole lot to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s a classic and if you’re reading this you probably watched it at least once this year, just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. It’s the special that really popularized the Rudolph character and started Rankin/Bass on the path to being a Christmas special juggernaut. This wasn’t the first adaptation of Rudolph outside of the song, but it was the first to basically adapt the song almost word for word and incorporate it into its plot. And as a story, it succeeds in making us root for Rudolph and gives him a buddy in Hermey who is equally sympathetic.

What the story doesn’t do so well is redeem the other characters. Santa, Donner, Comet, the other reindeer all act like bigots. They’re giant jerks and none of them really do anything to make me feel any different. We don’t even get an apology from Santa, just Donner and the end of one from the head elf towards Hermey. This Santa sucks! He dismisses a reindeer because of its nose. Is Budweiser even that strict with its famous Clydesdales? At least we have Yukon who seems like a good dude, it’s just too bad we lost his ending since it reveals there’s more to him than just silver and gold. Clarice is also a nice character, it’s just too bad she doesn’t get to do anything once her song is over aside from play damsel in distress. There’s very little resolution to this one. We get the happy ending, but we don’t know how Rudolph feels about it. I realize I’m asking a lot of an almost 60 year old special commissioned to sell more General Electric products, but these are questions worth asking.

What does work very well though are the visuals and music. Yes, the stop-motion on display here is rather primitive at times, but it gives this one it’s own distinct feel. The specials to follow would feature higher quality animation, but I’ve always preferred this one anyway. The weird purple-gray textures, the dogs that barely animate, the bumble and his tangle of fur – it just looks fun. One of the best decisions the movie Elf made was adopting the look of this special’s north pole. The music is also solid, though it does have some low points. No matter, “Holly, Jolly, Christmas” and the Burl Ives version of the title song really give this one a jolt at the end and are beloved classics in their own right.

So long Christmas. See you next year!

Considering that it is now Christmas Day, your chance to catch Rudolph on TV may have passed you by. CBS airs it twice annually, basically right after Thanksgiving and then once more closer to Christmas. Freeform has the cable broadcast rights, or did in 2021, and it’s possible they’re showing it today and if I can confirm that I’ll try to slip it in via an edit because I’m not writing this on Christmas Day. I’m rather busy celebrating the holiday with family and hopefully you are too and this is just something you read during a quiet moment. When the dust has settled and the excitement of the day subsides. The kids are in their rooms playing with their new toys or feeling the effects of a sleepless night from before crashing upon them, I like to bask in the afterglow of the holiday with more TV or more reading by the light of the Christmas tree. It only happens once a year, so treasure it while it lasts, and most of all Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!

Can’t wait until next year for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 25 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

We made it! Another year in the books, and another Christmas has come. Indulge in it. Bask in it, for it only comes once a year, and not to get too dramatic, but you never know how many you’re going to get. And we’re ending this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot with another throwback…

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Dec. 25 – Sonic Christmas Blast

It’s Christmas morning, and if you woke up to a tree packed full of presents you have only one person to thank for that – Sonic the Hedgehog! What? You didn’t know that Sonic took over for Santa back in 1996? Oh, well find yourself a comfy chair and a plate of chili dogs while…

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Dec. 25 – Samurai Pizza Cats – “The Cheese Who Stole Christmas”

Welcome, Christmas Day! Hopefully you’re not hungover from too much Christmas partying last night, and if you are, hopefully it was worth it. By now, Santa should have deposited presents under the tree, if you were good this year, and hopefully he remembered the batteries. It’s been fun, but this post means we are done…

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Dec. 7 – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)

Original air date December 13, 1970.

In 1964, Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass unleashed a Christmas Classic upon the world in the form of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The special basically put the company on the map and put it on the path to holiday domination for decades to come. Despite that, few of the specials that followed Rudolph truly hit the same highs and it’s likely due to a case of diminishing returns. Still, that didn’t stop the company from trying to replicate its original success with Christmas and today’s subject feels very much like a retread of Rudolph only with a different protagonist.

As popular as the character Rudolph is these days, he’s still in the shadow of the main man himself: Santa Claus. Maybe it was a bit odd to target Rudolph first with a Christmas special, but in 1964 the character wasn’t as explored as Santa. From that perspective, it makes sense to come back with Santa as the main character for a subsequent special which is likely how we ended up with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Just like Rudolph, this special takes a popular song and uses it as the basis for a television special. It’s also going to bring in a celebrity narrator like Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman to basically push the story along and that’s a tactic the company loved returning to in the years to follow. Unlike Frosty, this one uses the “Animagic” stop-motion process so it looks more like Rudolph. That look is basically synonymous with the company now making specials like Frosty the exception, but in 1970 it wasn’t quite established that the Christmas specials from Rankin/Bass would all be animated with stop-motion techniques.

These two are responsible for a lot of Christmas memories. We lost Arthur Rankin in 2014 at the ripe old age of 89 while Bass recently passed away in October at the age of 87. R.I.P.

As a kid, I grew up with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town as part of my cherished Christmas Tape. Despite that, it’s one of the handful of specials from that tape that I don’t count among the greatest ever produced. Santa Claus had the unfortunate placement of coming after Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and right before Rudolph. Grinch has long been my favorite, but when I was a kid it was pretty much neck and neck with Rudolph. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is basically the comedown special on my old tape, but since it’s an hour long, that comedown had a tendency to overstay its welcome. My sister and I often just endured this one to get to Rudolph. It’s basically the same length and the structure is similar as we’re hearing a story we basically know, but having a lot of it filled in. There are songs to break up the narrative, but I think with this one they’re just not as good. And even though there’s a clear cut villain to root against in the form of the Burgermeister, he’s almost too ridiculous and the film also doesn’t really deliver a comeuppance for him. We’ll have time for it all, but basically I’ve been putting an entry like this one off for years because it’s not a favorite and it’s an hour long. I’ve got some work ahead of me.

Because I am celebrating my own personal Christmas Tape this year, all of the images in this post are ripped from that 35 year old tape. Above is what was used as the TV bumper in 1987.

We’ll probably be making several comparisons to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and here’s another. This one begins with a fake news reel. Narrated by Paul Frees (who is going to do a lot of heavy lifting in this one), it’s presented in black and white and uses what I assume is just stock footage of kids. He says in a rather stern voice that children are reminded not to cry and not to pout as he’s basically just introducing the theme of the song, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” As a kid, this always felt a bit ominous and thus unsettling. It’s a bit of a weird note to start on, but maybe the idea was to present Santa as a bit of an authority figure when it comes to Christmas and what follows will soften his image?

Here is the most enduring part of this special, the often parodied Special Deliver Kluger.

As the news reel comes to an end we’re taken to a winter setting where an interesting looking mail truck is driving over the snow. It looks like a conventional mail truck, except with tank treads. I always thought it was pretty cool. It’s marked Special Delivery, and our humble driver goes by the name Special Delivery Kluger. Fred Astaire provides the voice, and the lanky, long-chinned, fellow is a bit of a caricature of Astaire in the same way that there was a little bit of Burl Ives in the look of Sam Snowman and certainly a lot of Jimmy Durante in the narrator of Frosty the Snowman. His neat looking truck breaks down and he gets out of it to seemingly notice us, the viewer. We soon find out that old SD here is heading to the North Pole because he has some letters to deliver. He’s talking to us and breaking the fourth wall, but also, the disembodied voices of children can be heard asking questions about Santa Claus, most of which strike me as unimportant (“Why does he have a beard?”), but they are the questions kids ask. And these questions are coming from the letters that SD here is supposed to be delivering, not opening and reading. Seriously bud, that’s a federal offense! Well folks, we’re in for a treat because SD here is going to answer all of those questions and sing us the song for good measure.

Our setting is the always gray Somber Town.

Special Delivery begins the song we all know which takes us into the opening credits. As it goes through, the melody changes and we basically get a sampling of the songs that will follow while Kluger dances around and mishandles the mail which serve as title cards. You would think this guy is in a hurry to get these deliveries out of the way, but I guess not. It’s story time! We’re going to a place called Somber Town which is at the base of the Whispering Mountains. It’s very dreary looking and we’re taken to the home of the Burgermeister (Paul Frees). I guess he’s sort of a mayor or something? His full name is Burgermeister Meisterburger and he’s busy eating. He’s eating some massive hunk of meat with a bib – how cute?

This asshole is known as the Burgermeister.

The head of the guard or something, Grimsley (Frees), enters with something to show his boss. It’s a baby and there’s a note requesting they take care of it from his mother. The only identifying information on the child is a tag that says Claus. The Burgermeister wants nothing to do with a “brat” like this and tells Grimsley to take it away. He does as he’s told and apparently to get to an orphanage you have to pass through some pretty rough terrain. It’s also dark, and it’s snowing, and he’s dragging the baby behind him in a cradle/sled. The wind picks up in intensity and the rope snaps. As Grimsley calls out for Baby Claus to come back (a lot of good that will do), we see it literally lifted by the wind and taken into the forest. No more baby.

There’s a baby under that pile of sticks.

The forest is apparently home to a being known as the Winter Warlock. He’s someone not to be trifled with, so when some animals come upon the baby (the cradle somewhat comically smashed into a tree and the baby just tumbled out) and hear the warlock approaching, they quickly hide him under branches and leaves. The warlock just strolls on by and all we see are his robes. Once that danger has passed, the animals know what to do as they take the baby the rest of the way over the Whispering Mountains to Rainbow River Valley where a family of toymakers reside: the Kringles.

These Kringles are confirmed as elves and the animals just leave the baby on their doorstep and get the hell out of there. The door is answered by an elf named Dingle. He looks like a smaller version of Santa, though not particularly elf like, though he does speak in a voice that’s pitched up. He calls for his four other brothers: Ringle, Tingle, Wingle, and Zingle. They’re all voiced by, you guessed it, Paul Frees. They’re all pretty happy to find a baby and immediately take ownership by declaring “Our baby is the best baby of them all.” One of them rather comically just says “I like babies.” He’s the original “I like turtles,” kid.

Meet the Kringles, the only elves I know that don’t have pointed ears.

The elves take the baby in to see their matriarch, Tanta Kringle (Joan Gardner), who seems to be in agreement that the baby is now theirs. She declares they will call him Kris, and raise him as a Kringle. And then we get a time-jump and see Kris as a boy while our story-teller informs us that the elves taught him everything he needed to know, and stuff he didn’t, like how to make toys. Apparently, the Kringles make toys, but have no children to sell them to so they just pile up. They’re too afraid to take them over the mountain and past the Winter Warlock. Apparently, there are no other towns worth exploring except for Somber Town. Kris then vows that he’ll deliver toys to Somber Town when he’s big enough, and Tanta reminisces how that will be the day that will restore the Kringle name. She then goes into the first song of the special, “The First Toymaker to the King.” It’s fine, but it pays off in a little bit for another reason. The thing I like about the song most though is they present a lot of it like a storybook so we get some illustrated versions of the Kringle characters. It almost makes me wish the whole special looked like that.

The song concludes with some disembodied children pointing out that’s how Santa learned to make toys. Yeah, no kidding. This is a running thing throughout the special where Special Delivery says something, and some children comment on it, usually just to reenforce what SD just said. When the song is done, SD goes on to say that Kris also learned a lot from the animals nearby, and most importantly, it was a seal that taught him how to laugh. As he goes “Ho ho ho,” we get another time jump and find an adult Kris (now voiced by Mickey Rooney) who declares to Tanta he’s a man now! Did they just finish doing something?! At any rate, he can take those toys over the mountain and the elves are pretty excited by the thought.

Everyone’s favorite character: Topper.

Later that night, Kris is packing for his journey when Tanta comes barging in. She’s got a present for him: a red suit. He’s overjoyed to receive a real Kringle suit which looks just like the traditional Santa outfit. We jump to morning and Kris is shown saying goodbye to everyone and sets off up the mountain. It only takes a moment before a penguin comes slamming into him. He questions the penguin on what he’s doing out there and deduces he’s looking for the South Pole, which is pretty damn far from where they are. Kris invites the penguin along, and decides to call him Topper who seems to like the name though we don’t know for sure because he’s a penguin and can’t talk. As they resume their march, a booming voice fills the air. It’s the Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn) who basically tells them to beat it and never come back or they’ll be sorry. Kris encourages Topper to follow and the two race off.

This guy’s job is to take toys away from children. His mother must be so proud.

It’s the next day, and the Burgermeister is heading outside when he stumbles down some steps. The culprit? A toy was carelessly left out. He had to get his foot wrapped and he’s back in his estate where he vows to outlaw all toys! I’m doing this part from memory because my source for this special, The Christmas Tape, is missing a chunk of the special because someone failed to resume recording after the commercial break. It picks up when Burgermeister is singing his version of “The First Toymaker to the King,” which is now enforcing a message of “There will be no more toymakers to the king!” It’s a horrible message, but the song is kind of cute as it uses the same storybook technique as Tanta’s version, only now the ballerina’s are being arrested and the toy soldiers melted down. When the song is over, we see a soldier collecting toys throughout the town and chucking them into a wagon pulled by a fairly evil looking horse. Vicious!

It’s this toyless world that Kris stumbles into. He’s got his sack of toys over one shoulder and goofy red suit which everyone stares at. The people of Somber Town are depicted almost exclusively in black and white. Even their flesh seems to lack much color. One old woman even admonishes Kris for his clothes and he seems both hurt and confused by this. When he says he’s there to just give away some toys everyone freaks out and runs into their house leaving Kris even more confused.

Pictured: life without toys.

Kris continues on his way and comes across two kids washing their socks in a fountain. They explain to Kris that’s basically how children are judged in this town: by how clean their stockings are. He tells them they don’t have to look so sour and when they ask why he just says “I don’t like sour faces.” He then recites some of the song, the whole you better not pout or cry part, and when they keep asking why he says, “Because I came to town!” He then reveals what he brought and the kids perk up. They’re a bit apprehensive, but when they mention the Burgermeister Kris says he’ll just give him a big, red, yo-yo. The kids then dig in, but are soon interrupted by their school teacher Miss Jessica (Robie Lester) who dismisses toys as frivolous. She tries to further malign them, but Kris just sticks a china doll in her face and she immediately melts. Apparently she always wanted one and when she hugs it she even squirts out a tear.

We then go into our next song, “Be Prepared to Pay,” which states that kids must sit on Kris’ lap and give him a kiss to get a toy. Umm, suddenly it makes sense why people seem to eye this character suspiciously. When that’s done with, we see the Burgermeister being wheeled through the streets in a wheelchair. This is the same guy who was singing and dancing not that long ago on his bum foot, but now needs a wheelchair. What a fraud! He remarks to himself how nice it is to see the children all playing with their toys, which is to setup a “Guffah!” kind of joke where he realizes the kids are doing exactly what he doesn’t want them to do. He then demands that all of the kids are under arrest for playing with toys!

He’s breaking his own law!

Kris comes running in to take the blame. He explains that he gave them the toys and it’s he who should be arrested. The Burgermeister appears to be taken aback by the Kringle’s clothes, as so many others were earlier, but agrees that he needs to be arrested. Kris stops him in his tracks though when he presents that yo-yo he mentioned earlier to him. Now it’s the Burgermeister’s turn to be disarmed by a toy as he clutches it and tells Kris he loves yo-yos. He goes back to his childhood and talks about all of the tricks he knew while he, sort of, demonstrates that by playing with it. He’s having a pretty good time, but if you thought he would be turned as quickly as Miss Jessica you’re sorely mistaken, as Grimsley reminds him that he’s breaking his own law. This seems to snap the Burgermeister out of his toy-induced trance and he tosses the yo-yo and demands that Kringle be arrested!

Well he looks like a happy guy.

Kris isn’t going to just surrender though as he takes off knocking the soldiers down in the process. The Burgermeister then comments on his fleeing abilities remarking he climbs like a squirrel, leaps like a deer, and is as slippery as a seal. These are all animals you can apparently compare Santa Claus to. Kris demonstrates all of these qualities by scaling the wall surrounding the town and escaping. The soldiers give chase, but once Kris and Topper head into the woods they decide to back off. They claim they’ll never find him, but I think they’re just scared of the warlock as they rightly should be for Kris and Topper don’t get very far until they’re grabbed by trees. Yes, trees, and the Warlock shows himself! He’s basically all white, even his face, and he has a long robe, pointy hat, and big, white, beard. He gestures to Kringle and informs him that he has disturbed him for the last time and that he’ll never get away!

Come on, you weird old hermit, walk through the door that just appeared.

Kris figures he can talk his way out of this, so he requests that the Winter Warlock release him for a moment so he can give him a toy. The Warlock is pretty surprised by this, but immediately cheers up. He orders Willy Willow and Peter Pine, the trees, to release the Kringle so he can receive his toy. Kris presents him with a toy train, which the warlock refers to as a choo-choo. He starts to cry, and when Kris asks what’s happening he explains that his icy heart is melting. Once it does, his face goes from white to a natural flesh color and his mouth is no longer full of sharp teeth. He then wonders how he can go on and describes himself as a wicked creature at heart. It would seem this is Kris’ opportunity to stab him or something, but instead he laughs and insists that the warlock, who now wishes to go by Winter, can change. He reasons that turning from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step, which leads into the next song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.” It’s an okay tune, but the animation that goes with it is weird as it seems to imply that Winter doesn’t really know how to walk. He looks rather awkward, and must have been difficult to animate a robe in stop-motion, but by the end he’s walking and feeling pretty damn good about himself.

That won’t be the only ball he shows her.

When the song is done we find Winter and Kris seated by a tree in the snow. It can’t be very comfortable, but I don’t think this Winter fellow actually has a proper house though Special Delivery claimed he had an ice palace. He has a proposition for Kris in that they can help each other. In exchange for more toys, he can show Kris some of his magic. He demonstrates this by making a large snowball and tells Kris to gaze into his magic, crystal, snowball. Someone is looking for him – Miss Jessica. It would seem she’s wandered into the woods to find him, and when Winter tells him to go to her he basically just falls from the sky beside her. Was that more magic? Either way, she informs him the kids are looking for more toys and Kris agrees to provide said toys so long as they’re good. When she asks how he’ll know, he shows her the snowball trick that Winter just demonstrated. This is apparently how he spies on children and he and Miss Jessica basically recite some more of the song through their dialogue which feels rather forced. Kris explains that he can’t just walk in and hand them out like last time, so he tells Miss Jessica to inform the kids to leave their doors unlocked and that he’ll deliver them under cover of darkness. And for being so nice, he even gets a kiss from Miss Jessica – golly!

Back at casa de Kringle, Kris is preparing for his toy delivery. Winter is there too as he apparently doesn’t want to hang out on a cold mountain anymore now that his heart is unfrozen. Kris is making his list, and checking it twice, but seems to determine that all of the kids are nice. I’m not sure if he takes this all that seriously, kids. He heads into Somber Town and basically just enters every unlocked house and leaves toys behind. The next morning, Burgermeister is royally pissed off to see the kids outside playing with their toys and makes a new law on the spot: all doors and windows must be locked at night!

Tanta is gonna be pissed when she sees that suit.

Kris returns the next night, but can’t get into the houses since they’re all locked. It’s pointed out he really needs to deliver a toy for a sick kid and is determined not to let her down. Topper is the one who points out the chimney, though it takes Kris a minute to figure out what he’s getting at. Kris thinks it’s a great idea and absolutely loves going down the chimneys. He visits all of the houses, but the next morning we find the toys all confiscated by the Burgermeister. Are the kids still playing with them outside? Seems pretty dumb. He mentions he knows they were left by the hearth of each house so he orders that every building will be inspected at dawn for toys. Talk about government overreach. After he makes his declaration, he accidentally sits on a tin solider and stabs himself in the ass. Good for him.

All right, we’ve explained elves, toys, chimneys, and now stockings. I guess next is reindeer?

Kris keeps getting letters for toys delivered by animals, but he doesn’t know how to deliver them. He soon figures out that the stockings are a solution and sends a letter to Miss Jessica via the animals. We cut to the next morning and the Burgermeister, now with a bandaged ass, is inspecting a house. He’s pleased to find nothing but drying stockings by the fireplace and takes his leave. The father of the house breaths a sigh of relief, while the kids run for the stockings to uncover their toys. The Burgermeister really is an idiot since empty, drying, socks look a lot different than socks filled with toys. The kids though are arguably dumber because they, once again, take to the streets with their toys and the Burgermeister remains furious (somewhere along the way he apparently decided against arresting children). He then tells Grimsley he’s going to do what he should have done from the start: set a trap for the Kringle!


Miss Jessica overhears this declaration and tries to warn Kris, but once she gets to the Kringle home it’s nighttime and Kris is gone. She asks Winter for help via his magic, but he explains he’s all out of magic and seems pretty down about it. Then Grimsley shows up with a small assortment of men to arrest the Kringles. It would seem rendering Winter nice backfired as there’s no way they would have braved the mountain beforehand. We then see Kris getting bagged by the Burgermeister who arrests him on the spot. To make a spectacle of the whole thing, he burns all of the toys in the town square as the children look on with tears in their eyes.

That is definitely not the way to do a reflection in stop motion.

The next day, Jessica approaches the Burgermeister and pleads with him to free Kris and the Kringles. He laughs her off and it’s not explained why they didn’t round her up with the other Kringles since she’s an obvious accessory to their toy delivery scheme. As the Burgermeister takes his leave, Jessica claims her eyes are now open for the first time. I thought they were before? Whatever, she goes into the worst and shortest song of the special, “My World is Beginning Today,” which features the amusing shot of Jessica looking at a reflection of herself in the fountain, but it’s clearly a paper print-out of her puppet and not an actual reflection. She lets her hair down for the song though and looks lovely.

Reindeer! We’ve got reindeer!

When the song is over, Miss Jessica is seen lurking outside the town’s prison. She finds the cell containing Winter and once again calls to him about using his magic to get them out. He’s pretty despondent about the loss of his magic and shows her the collection of useless stuff the jailer apparently let him keep: a short-circuited wand, dried up magic potion, stubs from old candles, and some magic feed corn. Jessica asks about the corn and he says it’s only use is to make reindeer fly. Jessica thinks that’s their answer and she takes the corn and rounds up some reindeer. This is apparently a pretty easy feat. Like most Christmas specials, the reindeer look like white-tailed deer and not actual reindeer, but she feeds them the corn and suddenly they can fly! The kids listening to Special Delivery’s story very much like this part, and one kid even says “don’t forget…” when the reindeer are introduced and we get a glimpse of Rudolph, but Special Delivery insists that’s another story.

A different sort of moon shot than we’re used to.

The reindeer are just what they need for an escape though. Well, we’re never told how they actually broke out of their cells, but I guess that was deemed unessential. They all fly off and Winter is especially happy to see he had a little magic left after all. It’s easily the most triumphant moment of the special as we get an instrumental version of the title song in the background as the whole crew flies in front of a crescent moon. I guess it can’t be a full moon until he’s finished his transformation into Santa.

I guess we need an explanation for the beard too.

With the Kringles free, the Burgermeister vows to hunt them down. The crew returns to their home, but it’s been burned to the ground. Kris determines it’s no longer safe and that they need to run further north, so they do. There’s wanted posters (dead or alive, which seems extreme) put up for them, so Kris does the smart thing and grows a beard (probably should ditch the identifiable threads). It’s at this point that Tanta raises the idea of changing his name and shows him the Claus tag he was found with. Some kid chimes in “I knew it! I knew it! That’s where he got his name!” the kid’s a real rocket scientist. They don’t explain the Santa part. Jessica and Kris are then shown getting married under the first Christmas tree. Winter lights it up with a last bit of magic.

So…are the animals planning on sticking around to watch them consummate this thing?

The crew is then shown heading further north until they hit the North Pole where Kris giddily announces it’s here they’ll build a new home to make toys. How they did so is not explained, but they do it. The animals deliver the letters and time just keeps marching forward. Kris and Jessica get rather “comfortable” with married life though he wonders how he can keep up with the orders. We’re then told that the Burgermeisters have fallen out of power and that Kris is no longer perceived as an outlaw. He’s old now, and realizes he can’t just keep delivering toys all of the time so he decides to do it on just one night a year and he settles on the holiest night of the year: Christmas Eve.

The North Pole is apparently a far more comfortable place to live than I’ve been lead to believe.

Santa Claus is then shown exiting his home to hop in his sleigh. Winter is there and apparently his magic is just fine now as he promises a nice, white, Christmas. Santa is pleased and he gets in his sleigh and takes off. Special Delivery comes back to tell us that’s the end of the story. He also takes a moment to mention how there’s still people who don’t like Santa and Christmas and we cut to a Scrooge-like character and some other adults that dislike the holiday. SD wishes everyone could be more like Santa, but there’s no time for moralizing here. He quickly remembers he has a ton of letters to deliver, and he also owes us a rather important song. Special Delivery then, delivers, on the promise of the special’s title and sings us the full version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” as he makes his way north. The song ends with him pulling up on Santa’s workshop and the old dude comes outside to wave at the camera while the children shout “Merry Christmas!”

And that’s how Santa Claus came to be. Or one way, there’s a bunch of others at this point, but when I was a kid this was definitely the one that framed my idea of Santa the most. I don’t think I necessarily thought the guy who brought me presents was also once harassed by some guy with “burger” in his name, but I definitely rolled with the magic feed corn makes reindeer fly and thought of him as adopted by elves. The magic snowball also resonated with me, but I also grew up being told that the birds spied on me for Santa. Both seem equally plausible at this point. Well, it would be hard for Santa to actually watch every kid in the world with his snowball. Maybe they should have added something at the end with Winter and his magic to try to explain how he could pull off bringing toys to the whole world. We only see him do it for one town, after all.

This one will always live in the shadow of the more famous one about the reindeer with a blinking nose.

I guess that’s a story for another day. As for this one, it’s all right. It maybe longer than many specials out there, but it moves fast. If anything, it’s the songs that drag it down and help make it feel long when I think they’re supposed to have the opposite effect. And it’s not that they’re bad, they’re just not nearly as good as the songs in Rudolph. None of these songs are worth listening to outside of this special except for Fred Astaire’s rendition of the title track. And even then, I’d rather hear another version if it was up to me, but his is fine and it’s utilized well. It’s also a bit of a bummer that we never see the Burgermeister get his comeuppance. He does get hurt throughout the special, and he’s basically the cause of it, but maybe we should have actually seen the people overthrow him or something. Instead, we just see one kid tossing his portrait in the trash.

The animation is obviously a tremendous source of charm for this as well. The special definitely attempts some ambitious shots, but few of them really land. Some things are just funny when they probably shouldn’t be, like the baby at the beginning just floating around and smashing into a tree. That Santa must have one hard head! Winter is very awkwardly animated to the point where I almost feel anxious when watching him because he moves so slow. The reindeer flying in front of the moon are also pretty goofy looking, but the closeup shots of them flying look nice. And a credit to the animators for getting that sleigh off the ground with eight reindeer at the end. That could not have been easy.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

The legacy of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is that it’s the spiritual sequel to a special that’s more beloved in Rudolph. Because it is old and tells an important story to the Christmas holiday, it’s hung around and likely will for a long time. It’s also the start of Mickey Rooney’s long run as Santa for the Rankin/Bass company and it’s basically the role I associate him with the most at this point, but I also didn’t grow up watching The Little Rascals. As a once a year viewing, this one is all right. I think I just saw it too much as a kid so at this stage of my life I literally never desire to watch it. I’ll watch it usually once out of habit and out of stubbornness as I refuse to skip specials on my Christmas Tape. Once I get through that initial viewing though, this one becomes the point I often check-out. I guess that’s its legacy in my house.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 7 – Bedtime for Sniffles

Not every Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies star had to be inherently funny. Sure, most of them were and that’s often what many cartoon enthusiasts will point to the Warner catalog of cartoons as having over Disney, but it wasn’t some hard and fast rule. That’s why when a guy by the name of Chuck…

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Dec. 7 – SuperTed Meets Father Christmas

When it comes to British imports and the subject of bears is brought up, most probably immediately think of Paddington or Winnie the Pooh. Few probably recall SuperTed, the Welsh teddy bear brought to life by a spotted alien and given super powers by Mother Nature. SuperTed is similar to Mighty Mouse in that he…

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Dec. 7 – Bob’s Burgers – “Father of the Bob”

  Bob’s Burgers has somewhat quietly become the best animated show on the Fox Network. Better than the modern version of The Simpsons, and better than Family Guy. It might be the ugliest of the three, but it more than makes up for that with its characters and plots. Bob’s Burgers looks like just another…

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Dec. 1 – Frosty the Snowman

Original air date December 7, 1969

Welcome back, lovers of Christmas, to the 7th edition of The Christmas Spot! If you missed the introduction a few days ago, we’re doing things a little differently this year. Yes, you’re still getting a dedicated write-up each day through Christmas about a beloved or not-so-beloved holiday special, but this year we’re also going retro by this blog’s standards. In order to shine a brighter light on the best of the best in the field of televised Christmas specials, we’re revisiting some of the 25 best as laid out in 2015 and reaffirmed just a year ago on this blog. When the subject was first discussed, the format for The Christmas Spot was to do a mini review of each special as opposed to the full-on walkthrough it has turned into. It didn’t make sense that so few words were reserved for the best the holiday had to offer, so we’re going to start rectifying that this year. Not every one of those inaugural 25 are being rehashed this year, just a select few of my choosing. Maybe next year we’ll look at some more, maybe we won’t, it’s all rather fluid.

Today, we’re kicking things off with a lookback to one of those 25: Frosty the Snowman. The Rankin/Bass classic was originally ranked at number 15, but was dropped down to 19 last year. Being in the top 20 is still nothing to sneeze at as Frosty is here to stay.

The 1969 classic is now one of the longest running Christmas specials on television today. For the past several years it has been the unofficial start of the holiday special season as CBS has chosen to air it the day after Thanksgiving for quite awhile now. As streaming services continue to take over, the days of the event special may be coming to an end. Last year saw Charlie Brown and the gang get axed from a network timeslot all because Amazon scooped the property up and intended to put an end to the tradition. What happened was people were so pissed about missing out on annual viewings of the Peanuts holiday specials that Amazon rethought its position and made the Thanksgiving and Christmas special available for one night only each on PBS. They aired at 7 EST and were barely in prime time, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. ABC also seemed to reduce their holiday output since it now has Disney+ to stash its specials on. It’s likely we’ll continue to see massive corporations hoard these valuable pieces of television history and what was once a shared, viewing, experience each year is just another thing to binge at your leisure.

For now, we still have Frosty. The special, which is obviously adapted from the song written by Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson, was written by Romeo Muller and directed by the tandem of Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. It’s narrated by comedian Jimmy Durante and features voice work from Jackie Vernon, Paul Frees, Billy De Wolfe, and June Foray. It’s a special that always stood out to me as a kid because, unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it was a cel-animated production from Rankin/Bass instead of stop-motion. I feel like everyone associates Rankin/Bass with stop-motion, but their more traditional animated works are pretty noteworthy as well. When it came time to animate the special, Rankin/Bass turned to Mushi Productions, the animation studio based in Japan founded by the legendary Osamu Tezuka. Yes, Frosty the Snowman is basically anime. It would be more obvious if Rankin/Bass had not hired Paul Coker Jr. to first design the characters for the special, but you can certainly see the Japanese influence in several places.

Jimmy Durante will be our guide through the story, and song, of Frosty the Snowman.

Frosty the Snowman opens in idyllic fashion. Snow is falling and the people of this small community are busying themselves getting ready for Christmas. Our narrator, Jimmy Durante who is animated to resemble himself, explains that this is the first snow of the season and that it’s actually a Christmas snow. Why is that important? Apparently, when the first snow of the season happens to fall on Christmas Eve, something wonderful is bound to happen!

Our attention then shifts to a small school house. The kids are restless as they want to go play in the snow and their teacher (voiced by June Foray) has organized a Christmas party. Yeah, those days were always long even if they weren’t filled with education as no one wants to be in school so close to the holiday (and basically no one goes to school on Christmas Eve these days). The teacher informs the students that she’s hired a magician to entertain them. Considering the teacher had to pay out of pocket to bring this guy in, you can probably guess just what kind of magician a teacher’s salary can afford.

Behold! The worst magician in the world!

Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe) is introduced by the narrator as probably the worst magician in the world. He begins his routine by tossing some eggs into his “magic” hat, says some traditional magic words, and then turns the hat upside down only for the eggs to fall out and smash on the floor. The kids are disappointed, which is perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of this special about a snowman coming to life as any group of kids I know would have laughed at a trick going so poorly. Hinkle then tries to retrieve a rabbit out of the same hat, which is going about as well as the egg trick. Declaring the hat is only fit for the trash can, he chucks it towards the waste basket only for the rabbit to finally pop out. Before the kids can react to the reveal of Hocus Pocus, the bell rings and they storm out of there basically trampling the magician in the process.

Once outside, the kids race through the snow. Most apparently did not consult a weather report earlier in the day as several are wearing shorts. One girl is sporting short sleeves and a pink skirt with suspenders which really can’t be comfortable. Some of the boys immediately start building a snowman, and it’s during this process we really get to meet Karen (who was voiced by Foray in the original, now lost, airing and re-dubbed by Suzanne Davidson) as she volunteers to build the head for the snowman. She declares it’s the most difficult part of snowman construction, and even challenges the boys to ask anyone on the subject for confirmation. Well Karen, I’ve built a few snowmen in my day and I have to strongly disagree. The head is quite possibly the easiest part, especially if you’re building a snowman like Frosty who has actual legs! Seriously, that’s damn near impossible.

Never in my life have I been able to make a snowman half as good as what’s present in cartoons.

Once the snowman is assembled, the kids gather around to choose a name. After some truly wretched suggestions, including an unintelligible suggestion from one kid who apparently just speaks in sound effects, Karen proposes Frosty and the kids all seem to agree this is a fine name. They then clasp hands and spontaneously break-out into song. Either they’re all amazing at improv, or they’re just as unoriginal as most kids and they named their snowman after a song that already exists in their world. While they’re singing, the rabbit Hocus Pocus comes bounding out of the school house in the discarded hat which Karen tosses on Frosty’s head to complete his ensemble. Much to everyone’s shock, the hat brings Frosty to life as his lifeless, coal, eyes become whole and he greets everyone with a “Happy birthday!” Considering it is essentially his birth day, it’s an appropriate greeting, if a bit unexpected.

Professor Hinkle is there to witness the whole thing as he had been chasing Hocus. When Karen declares the hat must be magic, Hinkle decides he wants it back as a fortuitous wind blows it off Frosty’s head and into his waiting arms. When the children protest, Hinkle plays dumb and claims he didn’t witness any such nonsense. He admonishes the children informing them that when they’re grown up they’ll understand snowmen can’t come to life. As he takes off with his hat and rabbit, the kids turn forlornly towards Frosty and reassure the snowman that they did see him come to life. Durante then comes back in to sing a jolly rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” as we’re finally shown the opening credits for the special and the major network gets to toss some commercials our way.

Get a load of this asshole.

When we return from the festivities, our informative narrator makes it clear that Professor Hinkle was wrong to take Frosty’s hat. He doesn’t elaborate, but I guess we’re to hold him to his momentary anger at the hat when he tossed it at the garbage. That seems a bit extreme, but it’s important the viewer hates this guy (and denying life to a snowman is a pretty shitty thing to do) as Hocus Pocus is about to take action. As the magician walks past people on the street greeting them happily, Hocus quickly swaps the hat with a wreath and bounds off.

When Hocus returns to the site of Frosty’s awakening, the kids are still just standing around accepting defeat. Karen notes the hat is back, seemingly oblivious that it was the rabbit who returned it, and she places it back on Frosty’s head. He once again greets the children with a “Happy Birthday!” and then begins to question his existence. Rather than be burdened by some truly out of this world thoughts on who he is and why he’s here, he just humbly accepts that life has been granted to him and then begins to test out his bodily functions. No, nothing weird or gross, mainly just juggling and checking if he’s ticklish. Okay, that does sound a little odd. His right hand also sprouts an extra finger so he can count to five (like most cartoon characters, Frosty only has four digits normally), but that’s just one of many odd animation quirks we’ll endure.

Frosty admiring his own rump.

Once Frosty is satisfied that he’s alive, the dancing can commence! We get a little more of the song as sung by Jimmy Durante as we’re basically just going to hear a verse here and there until the special is over and the song concluded. Once they seem to get over the thrill of life, Frosty wipes some “sweat” off of his head and takes note of a nearby thermometer. I question its accuracy, as it appears to be pushing past 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but the point is made and that’s snow is destined to melt, which means Frosty is destined to melt. This is where the special takes a hard pivot from the song. The lyrics make it sound like Frosty accepts his fate as all snowmen must melt and resigns himself to have a good time until the moist, dripping, splash of death consumes him. In the special, he immediately decides death is quite a bummer and a thing to be avoided. Where can a snowman cheat death? Why, the North Pole of course! When Frosty shares this bit of info the children decide they have to help him get to the North Pole, so they have a parade! All right, that part is a little weird, but I guess if you need to head to a train depot you might as well make a parade of it.

We deserve a sequel that explains if this guy ever got his whistle back.

As Durante sings more of the song, we see Frosty lead the children through town (with Hocus in tow) which contains some visual gags of people reacting with shock at the sight of a walking, talking, snowman. The parade comes to a halt when they encounter the traffic cop the song makes mention of. He’s directing pedestrian and automobile traffic and has to scream at Frosty in order to get him to stop. This begins a 1920s-esque bit of shtick as the cop questions Frosty on the various signs and signals all around him, never once seeming to realize he’s speaking with a snowman. Frosty is ignorant of basically all things, and Karen has to explain he just came to life and the cop then backs off. After instructing the gang to move along, he remarks to himself that snowmen are so stupid when they first come to life. Only then does he realize how absurd the whole situation was as he exclaims to himself “Come to life?!” and swallows his own whistle.

The parade finally reaches its destination, a train depot. The clerk (Paul Frees) working the ticket counter is fast asleep when the kids approach requesting a ticket to the North Pole. He then springs into action as he stamps a whole sleeve of tickets remarking how their journey will take them through the Klondike and for some reason mentions aurora borealis. He’s clearly lost in his work. He returns with a stack of tickets, as this journey is going to require quite a few trains, and then requests payment: three-thousand dollars and four cents (including tax). When Karen sheepishly responds that they don’t have any money, the enraged clerk slams his fist on the table causing the whole pile of tickets to spring up and wrap around him. He then utters perhaps the most quotable line in the entire special, “No money, no ticket!”

He’s so angry that he just closes up shop and quits the business right here and now.

Well, if you can’t buy a ticket to the North Pole, just do like the old hobos do – stow away! One of the kids takes note of a refrigerated box car on a train apparently heading north. That’s good enough for Frosty as they inspect the car. It’s full of ice cream and frozen Christmas cakes, which we’ll find out is a splendid way to travel for a snowman. Frosty climbs aboard, and so does Karen. All of the other kids have sense enough not to attempt to travel to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and Frosty is too dumb himself to point out that Karen climbing aboard is a bad idea. She seems to think she can get there and back before supper which begs the question how old is Karen supposed to be? Hocus Pocus also climbs into the car as I guess he would prefer the North Pole to whatever town they’re currently in. As the train speeds off, we see there’s another stow away on board – Hinkle!

After the break, we take a look inside the box car to find a contented snowman and relaxed rabbit, but a freezing girl. It takes Frosty a few seconds to realize that this is a bad situation for a little girl. Proving he’s not some selfish jerk, he elects to scoop Karen up in his arms and leave the frozen confines when the train has to stop at a crossing (the animation makes no sense as the train goes past the junction, then stops, and an express train goes past behind it). Hinkle, still clinging to the caboose, sees the trio hop off as the train starts to leave and thinks they’re trying to ditch him. As he shouts at them “No fair!” it’s hard to tell if Frosty actually takes note of him or not. Hinkle is then forced to jump from a moving train if he has any hope of getting his hat back. He hits the ground and stats flopping down a snow-covered embankment before finally crashing into a tree. As he falls, the person doing the sound effects just goes nuts as there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the sounds we’re hearing, but it certainly sounds painful for Hinkle!

He deserved that.

Frosty, Karen, and Hocus wander through the cold, darkening, woods as Frosty frets about finding warmth for Karen. Hocus, through pantomime, suggests he build her a fire, but that’s not something a snowman can do. They press on and eventually come across a bunch of animals. They’re slightly personified, sort of like Hocus, and they’re decorating the forest for Santa’s arrival that night. It’s a bit preposterous, but I suppose not out of character for a Christmas special. Frosty asks Hocus to communicate with the animals about building Karen a fire. He does as he’s told, and soon the deer, squirrels, and such get a roaring fire going for Karen to get warm by. It’s pretty damn goofy to behold.

As Karen warms herself by the fire, Frosty stays far away. With Hocus by his side, he contemplates how he can get Karen home and himself to the North Pole. Hocus acts out some suggestions including the marines and President of the United States. Hocus then covers his face in snow like a beard and struts suggesting Frosty seek the aide of Santa Claus. Frosty thinks that’s a great idea and smiles at the camera apparently happy with himself. Hocus is ordered to be a Santa look-out, and once the guy flies overhead, he’s expected to somehow get his attention even though he’s a fluffy white rabbit standing amongst a bunch of snow.

It’s belly-whopping time!

Unfortunately though, a roaring fire in a dark forest is quite visible and Hinkle soon stumbles upon Karen. He taunts her before laughing then demonstrates he has some amazing lungs as he literally blows the fire out. Frosty comes running over and Hinkle demands he hand over the hat. He makes an empty threat, which Frosty calls him on, and Hinkle just stamps his feet like a toddler screaming to get his hat back! When he makes a lunge for it, Frosty deftly sidesteps him and drops down onto all fours. Frosty tells Karen to jump on his shoulders and our narrator interjects that Frosty, being made of snow, is the fastest belly-whopper in the world! He basically shoots off like a rocket across the snow, down a small hill, up another, and down again leaving Hinkle far off in the distance.

This is where Hinkle goes from annoying to evil.

The ride comes to an end at a random green house in the middle of no where filled with poinsettia. Karen is pretty cold from the ride, and also likely because she’s currently being cradled in the arms of living snow, so Frosty decides to bring her inside. She reminds him he’ll melt in there, but he suggests he’ll only stay in to melt a little and makes a joke about losing weight. Hinkle then arrives, suggesting he not only has tremendous lung capacity, but he’s also really damn fast. Honestly, I feel a little betrayed by the narrator who said he was left far off in the distance just seconds ago. Anyway, Hinkle sees the snowman in the green house and promptly slams the door shot. It must lock from the outside, or Frosty just isn’t very confrontational, because they’re trapped. Hinkle laughs devilishly proclaiming the hat will soon be his as Frosty looks on with horror.

Up in the sky, Santa passes by! Maybe he’s just out for a quick preflight check or something, because he only has four reindeer and no sack of presents. He comes across the woodland critter celebration where he is informed by Hocus what’s going on with Frosty, Karen, and the magician. Hocus leads the big guy to the green house, but when they arrive they’re met with a terrible sight. Karen, on her knees sobbing, is beside a puddle and Frosty’s “parts” are floating in it. I feel like there’s a darker cut of Frosty the Snowman where we watch the poor snowman melt and Karen is forced to look-on helplessly. That girl has seen some shit and Hinkle, who presumably watched it all unfold too, is quite an evil soul.

She’s going to need some therapy.

The narrator tells us that Santa is too late, but he breaks the fourth wall to correct him. With a big, booming, voice, Santa (Paul Frees) shouts “Nonsense,” at the suggestion of being too late and then sets to comforting Karen. He tells her that Frosty, being made of Christmas snow, can never disappear completely. This does little to cheer up Karen since her friend is still a puddle, but Santa just chuckles and opens the green house door. He commands Frosty to basically pull himself together as a cold wind enters the green house, scoops up Frosty’s parts, and recreates the snowman outside the green house. The only thing left to do is return the hat to Frosty, but now Hinkle makes his presence known demanding the hat be returned to him.

Santa, who almost looks ready to throw-down, instructs Hinkle not to lay a finger on the hat. Rather than threaten him with the violence he so richly deserves, Santa just tells him he’ll never bring him another Christmas present so long as he lives. Earlier, Hinkle seemed to think a magic hat would make him a millionaire magician so I don’t know why he places any value on future Christmas presents, but he’s not the sharpest guy. He immediately begins to pout and kicks a can that mysteriously appeared in the snow before remarking, “We evil magicians deserve to make a living too.” Santa then tells him that if he goes home right now and writes one-hundred-zillion times that he’s sorry for what he did to Frosty, then maybe he’ll get a new hat for Christmas. Despite being handed an impossible task, Hinkle seems pretty happy with this arrangement as he starts hopping up and down with excitement. In probably my other favorite quote from this special, he hollers “Sorry to lose and run, but I’ve got to get busy writing! Busy! Busy! Busy!”

Santa will make everything right!

Santa slips in a little chuckle as Hinkle disappears into the night, then turns his attention back to Frosty. He returns the hat, and once again Frosty greets everyone with a “Happy birthday!” I guess it still is his birthday, after all. We then slip into a bit of a montage as the song returns. The group celebrates a bit before getting back to business. Santa, after all, has a long night ahead of him, but he still finds time to return Karen home. Maybe he’s a little ticked off though about the extra work on Christmas Eve since he leaves her stranded on her roof before taking off with Frosty. The narrator then pops in to let us know that Frosty would return every year after that and the whole town would have a big celebration in his honor. The song gets into full swing now and we basically see everyone from the special in Frosty’s parade, including Professor Hinkle in a new hat. Jimmy breaks from the song again to wish us all a very, merry, Christmas as Santa swoops down in his sleigh (again, only four reindeer) to retrieve Frosty as the song ends. Frosty gets the last word in as he alters the closing line of the song, “I’ll be back on Christmas Day!”

Santa finds time to fly past the moon, now how the hell is Karen getting off of that roof?

Frosty the Snowman is sort of like the Christmas special baseline. It’s cheerful, charming, magical and it has some memorable characters. It helps that it’s anchored by the classic song, which is catchy enough and isn’t as overplayed (or annoying) as other Christmas songs. It might not be anyone’s favorite Christmas special, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hated it. There’s definitely some goofy logic at times, and the animation is merely adequate. This is from the 60s so I think most of the animation warts are only really apparent with modern eyes. I don’t think it’s as good looking as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it’s definitely better looking than A Charlie Brown Christmas. And it has character with the design of Frosty being simple, but pleasant, and Hinkle looking quite memorable. About the only thing I don’t like when it comes to the visuals are the deer. They just look stupid, but not offensively so.

Rankin/Bass seemed intent on transforming Frosty from a character that was just a wintertime creation to a Christmas icon. As much as the old song is associated with the holidays, it doesn’t make mention of Christmas at all. Maybe that’s why when Rankin/Bass did return to the character with Frosty’s Winter Wonderland they left Christmas out. They did produce Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, one of the lesser stop-motion efforts from the studio, but otherwise Frosty has mostly left Christmas behind. Today this special is almost always joined by the non-Rankin/Bass production Frosty Returns every year, even though that special has nothing to do with Christmas. In 2005, Classic Media produced another pseudo-sequel titled The Legend of Frosty the Snowman. That one features a Frosty that looks identical to the one presented here (and that’s because Classic Media bought up the Rankin/Bass library), but otherwise tells a new story and also has nothing to do with Christmas.

He says he’ll be back on Christmas Day, but it’s an empty promise.

This Frosty the Snowman is truly the only worthwhile one. I don’t particularly care for the other animated specials, and the feature with Rudolph is a tremendous slog that shouldn’t be viewed by anyone. This one though is an annual tradition and no Christmas season goes by without at least a viewing of Frosty the Snowman in my house. It’s become a favorite of my kids, so I actually am subjected to it a lot each year and I’m totally fine with that. If you’re hoping to catch it on television this year, check cable and keep an eye on CBS. They already did the first airing, but often will re-air it later in the month. It’s one of the harder ones to miss.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 1 – DuckTales – “Last Christmas!”

It’s that time of year once again! Every day goods are a little pricier, egg nog is invading the dairy case at every grocery store, and red and green versions of every candy in existence flourish in the seasonal section of department stores. Yes, it is Christmas time and it would be obnoxious if it…

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Dec. 4 – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas


‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)

Rankin/Bass is almost synonymous with Christmas because of the many television specials the company produced in the 60’s and 70’s. Most people associate them with the stop-motion process used to create Rudolf, but the studio also did traditional animation as well. Most famously, “Frosty the Snowman” was done in this style and the next most popular is the subject of today’s post:  “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

For hand-drawn animation, Rankin/Bass relied on Topcraft out of Japan, which would eventually become a part of Studio Ghibli. If you’re expecting Ghibli level quality though, you’ll be pretty disappointed in “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The characters do have a very slight anime look to them, but otherwise there’s not much here that gives away where the animation originated or what the studio would go on to produce.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is loosely based on the 1832 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which opens with that line. That poem focuses on what is essentially the last three minutes or so of this special, so the folks at Rankin/Bass had to come up with a plot to lead up to that and make it interesting. This isn’t an unfamiliar position for the writers there as basically all of their specials had to do the same. In this case, the story they came up with isn’t too bad, though it’s pretty odd that they felt the need to include a family of mice as part of the protagonists. And they also felt that waiting for Santa to arrive needed to be more suspenseful, so we get a thin-skinned and vengeful Santa as a result.


Father Mouse and Joshua have some kind of relationship with one another that really isn’t explored.

The story takes place around the turn of the century in a fictitious town called Junctionville. The story follows the Trundles, a family of four who’s patriarch Joshua is a clock maker, and the mouse family that dwells in their home. It unfolds as a flashback, with the special opening on Christmas Eve with narrators Joshua and Father Mouse nervously waiting to see if Santa will arrive. And that anxiety is born from a letter that appeared in the town paper claiming Santa Claus isn’t real. Apparently the paper receives distribution in The North Pole because Santa sees it and, furious it calls his very existence into question, returns the town’s Christmas letters. Father Mouse is able to figure out his own son Albert is the one behind the letter and confronts him with the rest of his family. Albert is a brainy kid who can’t possibly allow himself to believe in Santa (even though he himself is a talking, clothes-wearing mouse) and owns up to writing the letter with his friends. Father Mouse is upset and scolds his son ordering him to write another letter and apologize, but Albert won’t go against his own convictions, which is rather noble in a way.

Meanwhile, Joshua Trundle devizes a plan to create a clock tower on town hall that will play a song welcoming Santa on Christmas Eve, as as sort of mea culpa. The mayor and town council are welcoming of the idea and Trundle gets right to work. When the big unveiling occurs ahead of the holiday (and judging by the setting, it would appear it took place during the fall, but still well in advance of Christmas), the clock malfunctions and the mayor is embarrassed. So embarrassed is he that he won’t even allow Trundle to attempt a repair opting instead to just let the broken clock exist in perpetuity (I really hope this guy didn’t get re-elected). The public failing on the part of Trundle means no one trusts him with their own time pieces and his business takes a severe dive. He and his family are plunged into poverty with their pathetic looking Christmas tree serving as the most obvious statement of their present condition. The Mouse family feels the pinch too as few crumbs are making it to them forcing them into a sort of starvation as well.


The Mouse family.

It’s soon revealed that the reason for the clock’s malfunction was Albert poking around inside the clock. Father Mouse is apparently a clock maker himself, I guess, and his son has an interest in it. When he learns this he tells Albert he can’t sit around feeling sorry, he has to own up to what he did and solve the problem. Since Trundle can’t get in there it falls to Albert to repair it (I guess it’s a bit of hard parenting that his dad doesn’t go with him, but it sure feels like he should have) which is what he sets out to do. On Christmas Eve.


Stupid looking reindeer.

The Trundles and all of the people of Junctionville are forced to wait and hope, not all realizing they’re depending on a mouse, that the song will play and Santa will come. Of course it does, or else we would never get to that poem, precisely a minute after midnight. Santa was on his way past Junctionville, but hearing the song, he turns around and heads for the Trundle residence. The family gets to watch the little fat elf do his thing, with broadcast standards in the 1974 allowing Santa to puff on his pipe the whole while. He’s a short little bulbous thing, with read cheeks and a red nose that are illustrated in such a way that they look like sunken in welts on his face. He is kind of elf-like, which isn’t a common depiction, and he lacks a mustache to pair with his beard. They clearly were trying to make him look as the poem describes, but I always kind of hated how this Santa looked even as a kid, mostly due to the red welts. If they weren’t solid red splotches and instead were just light reddening of the cheeks he’d probably look fine.


Smoking on the job. Between his bad habit and tendency to go down chimneys I’m betting he’s got quite the set of black lungs.

The special is some-what compelling for an adolescent, not so much for an older viewer since we know there’s no way Santa is skipping town. There are a few musical numbers that are admittedly catchy, and I would go so far as to say that “Christmas Chimes are Calling Santa” is actually pretty good for a Christmas song. The rest of the special has an odd feel though. Why is Santa so easily hurt by one letter? It was signed “All of Us” as a way of explaining why Santa would take his anger out on the whole town, but I thought this guy was a bit more omniscient than that? It feels rather cruel. I also must point out that this special features perhaps the worst reindeer of any special. They’re tiny and look like mice. Once more, I understand they have a poem to work from that does indeed call them eight tiny reindeer, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. At least there are indeed eight.

dfd3148e39819b2bd7f18bf8e8e1308d--the-night-before-christmas-christmas-loveThe rest of the cast of characters in this one are either bland or unlikable. Father Mouse comes across as a kind and understanding father, but Trundle is a push-over. The rest of the respective families, besides Albert, are basically ignored. I’m guessing the people who really like this special enjoy it mostly for the music or they find the plot interesting when compared with other holiday specials. It’s not terrible, and there was a time when I really liked it as a kid, but as an adult I’m not really into it. I’ll watch it once and that’s enough, which is how I feel about most of the Rankin/Bass stuff.


12 Films of Christmas #2: Elf


Elf (2003)

It’s pretty hard to come into an established industry with something new and find success.  And when it comes to holiday films and television specials, it seems like it’s especially hard. Sure, sometimes you get a Prep & Landing that really surprises, but mostly you get Shrek the Halls…

Jon Favreau is mostly known these days for directing the Iron Man films. In 2003, people may have mostly known him for his short-stint on the sitcom Friends when he played the boyfriend of Courtney Cox who wanted to be an ultimate fighting champion. He certainly wasn’t known for holiday films, but who knew he was about to preside over one of the best?

Elf, in some ways, follows one of my favorite Christmas formulas by adding to the legend of Santa Claus. It doesn’t add much, but gives us another look at how Santa goes about his business. It definitely gives us a peek at elf life. We learn their dietary habits, toy output, and that they actually make those toys that show up in department stores themselves (though I don’t know if we’re supposed to assume that all Etch-A-Sketch toys are made by elves). Mostly though, it tells the story of one elf:  Buddy. The twist is that Buddy is not actually an elf, but a human adopted by elves after he snuck into Santa’s sack one Christmas while Santa was visiting an orphanage.

Before getting to the meat of the story, I must say I definitely approve of the decision to model the elves and the North Pole after the look both have in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even the decor is that pale violet color that everything seemed to be cast in for that famous Christmas special. As a kid, it always annoyed me there was so little continuity between Christmas specials, even ones produced by Rankin/Bass. If I had seen this film as a six-year old I would have been even more delighted than I am as an adult.


Ferrell is at his best when Favreau just lets him go nuts in a scene.

Now Buddy (Will Ferrell), is oblivious to the fact that he’s an elf even though he’s a lot bigger than his peers and can’t keep up with them in the toy-making field. It bums him out, and when he overhears the head elf (A Christmas Story’s Peter Billingsly) speaking with another about how Buddy will probably never realizes he’s human, he goes running to Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) to find out if it’s true. Upon doing so, he decides to set out to find his real father, who impregnated his biological mother unknowingly and has since passed away. All of the elves, including Santa (Ed Asner) wish him well, but Santa also has a revelation to reveal: Buddy’s dad is on the naughty list!


I’m digging the Rudolph inspired look of the film.

If you have not guessed by now, Elf is a pretty silly movie. After Buddy leaves the North Pole, it becomes a fish-out-of-water tale as he journeys to New York City to find his dad. Turns out his dad is the head of a children’s book publishing firm, and right away we see how he values profits above doing the right thing when he approves a book with no ending for publishing. Walter Hobbs (James Caan) is naturally shocked to find out he has a son he never knew about, and wants nothing to do with an adult who thinks he’s a Christmas elf. He also has a wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen), and a young son, Michael (Daniel Tay), who are equally dubious. Emily is the most receptive of Buddy, though Michael is more in-line with his dad in thinking the guy is nuts. Buddy also winds up in a department store where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), and mistakes her for someone into elf culture since she has to dress-up as one for work.

Buddy has a hard time adjusting to life in New York and makes things difficult for those around him. He gradually gets people to come around to him, starting with Michael, then Jovie, and eventually even his old man. There’s of course a big blow-up scene between him and his father that has to be resolved before Buddy can then help Santa save Christmas. It’s all rather conventional, but the film always straddles the line between cheese and just plain good fun, and one gets the impression it doesn’t take itself too seriously.


Given her get-up, it’s not hard to see why Buddy gets a little excited when he sees Jovie.

Will Ferrell is very charismatic as Buddy. He’s annoying, as most characters played by Ferrell are, but still charming due to his child-like and honest persona. I know many people who dislike Ferrell but are charmed by his Buddy character. Maybe it’s the Christmas factor, I’m not sure, but Buddy seems to be his most-liked role. Asner’s gruff take on Santa Claus works really well in the film’s climax. He feels authentic, even when spouting nonsense about needing more Christmas spirit to get his sleigh off the ground. He’s so matter-of-fact about it that it helps the audience to buy-into what the film is selling. Caan is prickly as Hobbs, but understandably so given what his character has to deal with. He possesses some Scrooge-like qualities in the sense that he’s a workaholic who clearly doesn’t spend enough time with his family (as illustrated by Michael’s lack of respect for him). He has to come around to Buddy, and see the importance of family. He does so in semi-believable way, but considering this film exists mostly for laughs, he doesn’t need to go through a Scrooge-like transformation that unfolds over entire acts.

Elf works so exceptionally well because it’s just a joyful film. There’s plenty of humor, and enough heart to give it purpose and provide that emotional pay-off most expect of a Christmas movie. It’s a movie that I return to every year, and every time I watch it I wonder to myself if this is my favorite Christmas movie. So few are able to handle comedy and sentimentality as deftly as Elf does. The Santa Clause has some laughs, but becomes cloyingly sweet at the end. Bad Santa is plenty hilarious, but doesn’t have really much of an emotional payoff. The Miracle on 34th Street has some chuckle-worthy moments, but is hardly a comedy. Elf is able to be both, which makes it the rare modern Christmas movie that is contention for being one of the best.

#13 – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer


Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The Rankin/Bass produced Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is often referred to as the original Christmas special. It’s not, but of the most popular Christmas specials it is the oldest. It was originally produced in conjunction with General Electric. During its original broadcast the characters would appear in GE ads during the commercial breaks because everyone wants a new vacuum or refrigerator for Christmas. Now it’s obviously broadcast without those inserts, which have mostly been lost to time because who could predict this special would be so popular over fifty years later? Also lost, most of the original puppets used to make the show and some of the stock footage because, again, who would have known there would be a market for any of this stuff?

Rudolph is obviously a Christmas classic. It’s shown multiple times every year on CBS and for many families it’s appointment viewing. The characters are not above appearing in modern commercials either (this year they want you to switch cell phone providers) and there’s more toys, ornaments, and decorations with their likeness than you can count. What I’m getting at is that this one is so popular that it’s probably considered an upset that I’m ranking it outside my top ten. Had I ordered my favorite specials as an eight year old, sure this would have ranked a lot higher, but it’s not really one of my favorites today.


Is there any doubt Rudolf would end up in this position by the end of the show?

By now everyone is familiar with the story of Rudolph, so it makes little sense to summarize it, but I will because that’s who I am. Rudolph is a reindeer born to Donner (spelled as Donder and Dunder in other sources) and his unnamed wife (often referred to as Mrs. Donner). He has a peculiar nose that’s essentially a red light bulb and everyone thinks it sucks and makes fun of him. So he runs off with an elf who doesn’t want to make toys and they join-up with an eccentric prospector and wind up on the Island of Misfit Toys. Rudolph sees he doesn’t have it so bad once he meets the depressing toys and decides to head back to Christmas Town. There he has to save his family from the Abominable Snowman and save Christmas with his wonderful nose.

The animation is stop-motion and the puppets, particularly the reindeer, look great. When they’re not moving. The animation itself is rather primitive and awkward, but it’s been over fifty years so we should be used to it by now. I think the story is solid, though it feels a little dragged out. The music is what drives me nuts. Sure the main theme is fine and I can get down with “Holly, Jolly Christmas” but nothing else does it for me. I always feel song fatigue by the time the Island of Misfit Toys rolls around and the rejected toys start singing.

So yeah, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is fine, I just don’t think it’s great. I rank it as highly as I do out of obligation as much as personal enjoyment. I’ll watch it this year, and probably start fiddling with my phone fifteen minutes into it.

#15 – Frosty the Snowman


Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Frosty the Snowman is a Christmas special that everybody knows. It’s been airing on CBS every year since 1969 and will likely continue to do so for as long as there’s a Christmas. Starring comedian Jackie Vernon as the voice of the titular snowman, Frosty the Snowman is the rare Rankin/Bass production done in traditional animation as opposed to stop-motion and is based on the song of the same name.

Because the special is so well-known, there’s not a lot that can be said about it that hasn’t been said before. I could strike a more snarky tone and point out that, for some reason, a bunch of the children at the beginning are wearing shorts in the winter time. And what is going on with the voice of that kid in the gray sweater with the bowl cut? It’s almost as if they didn’t want to hire another voice actor so they just made some weird sound effect. Maybe he’s a robot? It’s also easy to question the wisdom of the kind-hearted Karen who opts to climb into a giant refrigerator when she’s not even wearing pants. And why does Santa only have four reindeer? That one has bothered me for years.


Only four reindeer for Santa? Was it too much of a financial burden to give him four more? Was food so scarce at the North Pole that Santa and Mrs. Claus had to butcher the other four for meat?

Yeah, there’s some weird stuff in this one but there’s also some genuine humor. Frosty being rather dim is funny and a surprisingly logical move for a children’s program. It’s also incredibly quotable with lines sticking with me through the years such as “No money, no ticket!” and “We evil magicians have to make a living too.” Frosty may be the star, but I do think Professor Hinkle is the MVP. He’s easy to dislike, just inept enough to stay one step behind, and a constant source of humor. He has that truly wicked moment during the special’s climax as well that adds legitimacy to his character. Really, how often do we actually see the villains in these various Christmas specials do something truly evil?

For a Rankin/Bass production, this cast is pretty star-studded. I already mentioned Vernon but they also opened up the checkbook for comedian Jimmy Durante who serves as the special’s narrator. The first lady of voice overs, June Foray, lends her voice to Karen. Billy De Wolfe voices Hinkle and Paul Frees has a small role as the traffic cop. Woven throughout the special is, of course, the song “Frosty the Snowman” and they actually do a pretty good job bringing the song to life without it feeling forced (though I suppose striking up a random parade is a little odd) or overplaying it. There’s also the emotional pay-off towards the end that gives the special an added punch.

Frosty the Snowman is a nice little Christmas special that virtually everyone knows. It gets enough right for it to earn a spot on pretty much every list of this type. The only thing that really holds it back for me is that it is a little corny and a little dated. There’s probably some exhaustion bias at work here too since I’ve just seen it so many times. Still, I don’t think being the 15th best Christmas special, considering just how many there are, is anything to be ashamed of. And it’s also ten times better than any of the sequels and spin-offs that have been made after this special.

#19 – It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!


It’s a SpongeBob Christmas (2012)

Here’s a tip for any would-be designers of future Christmas specials looking for a quick and easy way to my heart: add plenty of nostalgic value that harkens back to the classic Christmas specials of Rankin/Bass and the like. Think South Park’s episode “A Very Crappy Christmas” which basically parodies Twas the Night Before Christmas. Or, just watch special #19 on my list, “It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!”

SpongeBob came after my time. He’s a character that I understand has been rather popular with the generation that followed mine. He’s been on television for what feels like forever and has added a few feature films to his resume as well. He’s been so pervasive that I’ve obviously seen an episode here and there and I can see why kids would enjoy him but I don’t have any particular affinity for the character or show.

“It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!”, on the other hand, appeals to me because it seeks to emulate the look of the classic stop-motion specials like Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And to the credit of Nickelodeon and the producers involved, the show really was done with stop-motion puppets as opposed to being computer generated to simulate the stop-motion look. The result is striking and it almost looks like an aquarium come to life, just minus actual fish.


SpongeBob confronts his evil robot doppelganger, who may or may not be a nazi.

The story for the special is that Plankton invents a fruitcake (laced with Jerktonium) that turns nice people into naughty ones when they eat it and he tricks SpongeBob into driving around some cart and firing off hunks of fruitcake into the mouths of his victims. There’s also an imposter SpongeBob roaming around to turn everyone against him by making him look like a jerk. Plankton’s ingenious plan is intended to make everyone look worse than he so that he’ll end up on Santa’s nice list, and it works! Of course, things end up working out for SpongeBob and the citizens of Bikini Bottom in the end and the result is a pretty delightful little holiday special.

“It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!” was a big enough deal when it was first released that it actually debuted on CBS before airing again on Nickelodeon. It also introduces a new catchy holiday tune in the form of “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas)” which always seems to add to a Christmas special’s longevity. And because it’s so recent, it’s still shown quite frequently on television during the holiday season, though I don’t know that CBS will show it again but Nickelodeon certainly will. If you can’t be bothered to find it, there’s also a stand-alone DVD available that usually sells for less than ten dollars.

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