Jiminycrickets these past two months have been hectic. As you’ve probably already deduced there won’t be anymore Boris Karloff posts as I’m way off schedule for that week of celebrating and the year is steamrolling over regardless. On a positive note, Jerzy, Kevin and I had a chance to record some new Saturday Supercasts. With the holiday season upon us, we decided it was the perfect time to tackle some Rankin/Bass specials from the 70s & 80s. This episode is the first of a two part exploration taking a look at the magic and wonder of some amazing stop motion animation (Animagic for those Rankin/Bass-o-philes out there.)
Though Stop Motion Animation has been around since the turn of the 20th century (with some of the earliest work attributed to Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton’s The Humpty Dumpty Circus in 1898, not to mention notable live-action/stop-motion pastiches such as The Lost World in 1925 and King Kong in 1933), it wasn’t until the 50s & 60s that the medium really enjoyed a golden era. Between the work of Ray Harryhausen & Willis O’Brian in films such as Mighty Joe Young (’49) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (’58), and Art Clokey’s Gumby (’57) & Davey and Goliath (’60) series on television, stop motion was wowing audiences all over the world.
Beginning with The New Adventures of Pinocchio in 1960 Rankin/Bass established themselves as one of the foremost pop culture animation houses in America. Arthur Rankin Jr. & Jules Bass (along with a bevy of puppeteers, seamstresses, artisans, animators, musicians and talented actors & voice actors) spent the better part of thirty years bringing exceptional all-ages entertainment into our homes and theaters. In fact, from the debut of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964 Rankin/Bass became synonymous with the Christmas season. Between 1964 and 1985 the studio produced 18 beloved Christmas specials and feature films including Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and Jack Frost.
For this special holiday episode of the Supercast we decided to kick of the discussion with a look at the 1974 classic inspired by Phyllis McGinley’s poem of the same name, The Year Without a Santa Claus…
In the episode, aside from an in depth summary of the film, we also mention some comic strip inspired seasonal specials such as Ziggy’s Gift (parts 1, 2, & 3), Blondie & Dagwood, and Cathy (parts 1, 2, & 3), as well as some other 80s Christmas cartoon specials like Garfield’s Christmas (parts 1, 2, & 3), Pac-Man: Christmas Comes to Pacland (parts 1, 2, & 3), and the He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special. We also discuss the swell Rankin/Bass tradition of casting wonderful narrators for their specials including Fred Astaire, Burl Ives, Jimmy Durante, Red Skelton, Buddy Hackett, and of course Shirley Booth in The Year Without a Santa Claus, as well as the interesting choices for voice actors including Robert McFadden (best known for playing Snarf and Slythe on Thundercats), Paul Frees, Bradley Bolke, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, and the number one star in the world Mickey Rooney.
In addition we dig into some of TYWaSC merchandising, the newly produced sequel from Warner Brothers called A Miser Brother’s Christmas (which reunites Mickey Rooney and George S. Irving), how Rankin/Bass has that It’s a Small World vibe from the famous Disney attraction, growing up with and without a white Christmas, epic adventure (Rankin/Bass) vs. schmaltzy storytelling (e.g. Olive the Other Reindeer, Growing Pains Christmas special (parts 1, 2, & 3), and Santa Claus: The Movie) in holiday specials, the Boris Karloff reading of McGinley’s original poem, The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, other Rankin/Bass productions (such as Thundercats, Silverhawks, Tigersharks and the Hobbit), the weird storytelling aesthetics and well-drawn villains of Rankin/Bass productions (Kubla Kraus, Burgermeister Meisterburger, MonStar, Mum-Ra, and the Winter Warlock), the very high degree of craftsmanship in the R/B productions, The differences between the original poem and the animated special, trying to figure out when the special is set (using references and homages like the Charlie Chaplin cameo and the Keystone Cop-like police officer), the connection to the previous Christmas special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Murray Laws & Jules Bass’ musical collaborations, as well as replacement animation.
If you’re interested in watching The Year Without a Santa Claus it’s available in both a stand-alone release as well as part of the newly repackaged Classic Christmas Favorites set from Warner Brothers. You can also view it for free via youtube (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5.)
…and you probably know where you can find my stuff…
If you have any questions, comments, or heck, even complaints, you can drop us a line at Saturday Supercast!
The Sugary Serials theme song was preformed by Umberto.