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.