Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Childhood Icon Gone

It was with sadness that I read of the death of Arthur Rankin, Jr, one half of the holiday special juggernaut Rankin/Bass Productions. Rankin/Bass produced numerous films using both stop-motion and traditional animation... some of Rankin/Bass traditional animation team in Japan eventually joined animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli. I can think of no better memorial to Mr Rankin than a selection of videos from his body of work.

Perhaps the best known Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated special was 1964s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Here's the poignant-yet-hilarious "Island of Misfit Toys" scene from the show:

Here's an interesting "psychedlic" number from 1970 "superhero origin tale" Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the clip is a mixture of stop-motion and traditional animation techniques... that mean Mitteleuropäische chap at the beginning of the clip is Rankin/Bass villain par excellence Burgomeister Meisterburger, portrayed by Bastard favorite Paul Frees:

In my opinion, the greatest song in the Rankin/Bass songbook was Heat Miser's paean to himself in 1974's The Year Without a Santa Claus:

From 1974's Twas the Night Before Christmas, here's Even a Miracle Needs a Hand sung (!) by Joel Grey:

Moving on to 1977, the Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit played a huge role in my lifelong foray into nerdery. Peter Jackson can go suck eggs, this is the real deal (with bonus Thurl Ravenscroft content):

Oddly enough, while Rankin/Bass didn't get the rights to film the entire "Lord of the Rings", they did get the rights to film a woefully truncated version of the third book after Ralph Bakshi's total LotR cockup. Oddly enough, the 1980 cartoon version of The Return of the King has a much more nuanced view of the villains than Jackson's movies for "grownups" did. In this number, the orcs come across sympathetically:

Pity the music wasn't orchestral... I blame the disco era for that.

In the 80's the one standout Rankin/Bass production was The Thundercats, a sci-fi/fantasy mashup which featured a bunch of furries in fighting an undead antagonist straight out of a Robert E. Howard pulp story (without the gratuitous Howardian racism):

I wasn't aware of this, but in 2001 (after I'd given up my TV machine), Rankin/Bass produced a Christmas special with an African-American cast led by Eartha Kitt and Gregory Hines- Santa Baby. Nice to know that they made a show portraying a black family. Sadly, I haven't been able to find out much about it in this cursory retrospective. I could have included so many more great clips.

Thanks for the body of work, Mr Rankin... Christmas would not have been the same without you and Mr Bass.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Pity the music wasn't orchestral... I blame the disco era for that.

You got some splainin' to do, Ghost of Donna!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I would pay good money to see Donna Summer's "Hobbit".

Patricia said...

Omg, had no idea about Thundercats..thanks for the memories!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

That green villian, Slithe or Slive, looked like the child of an unholy union between the 1977 "Hobbit's" Gollum and one of those goblins.