Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The Bumble
Maybe the best TV-related reason to love or at least tolerate the holiday season is that Rankin/Bass' stop-motion Christmas specials are all back on the air, thanks to ABC Family's 25 Day of Christmas. God bless the people at ABC Family, who will apparently air these forever, regardless of how outdated and bizarre they are. And the ones made after the original classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ARE bizarre.

Sadly, I no longer have cable and all my friends who do have TV-recording capabilities are actual real-life Grinches who refuse to watch these, so I won't be catching my favorite specials. Let's reminisce about them here.

Santa was a redhead in his youth
Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town
R/B decided to try and recapture their Rudolph success by taking another popular holiday song and basing this special's plot around the narrative of the lyrics as best they could. So this one tells the story of how Santa Claus came to be, and is annoyingly true to the lyrics. To the point where a young Kris (Kris Kringle, raised by the Kringle elf family, natch) will occasionally break into this rhyme-speak, telling children he's making toys for things like, "you better not pout...and, better not better not shout..." while his marionette eyes and head wheel around confusedly, as though he's not sure where these words are coming from or what's making him say them, but look, he's saying them because becoming Santa is his fate!
Herr Burgermeister Meisterburger

But I think my favorite part of this one is its blatantly anti-German villain, the Burgermeister Meisterburger. Who would be so evil that they would outlaw toys?! Germans, duh. And then BMMB has a second-in-command who sports a soldier's helmet with a German spike but who has a British accent and is named Grimsby, which I think is an interesting interpretation of European politics. Weirdly, this one was made in 1970, and as I understand it, the US was pretty much over Germany and really worried about other stuff by then. As evidenced in another R-B special, Jack Frost, which has a Russian villain: Kubla Kraus, an evil "Cossack king." No, really.

He's too much!

The Year Without a Santa Claus
The title of this special implies that this movie is about Santa. Which is wrong. This movie is about the Miser Brothers. The Miser brothers are the reasons I started watching these specials again as a grown-up -- I had this vague memory of a marionette special that had these brothers where one was hot and one was cold and they had a song and I loved it. Well it's this one. Santa Claus actually is hardly in this, he's sick or something and doesn't want to do Christmas and there's a reindeer and some kid and elves that are trying to do something and who really cares because then the Miser Brothers show up! 

Mr. Ten Below
 The premise here is that the entire world is either in Heat Miser territory, Cold Miser territory, or in disputed territory that is occupied by one and then the other over the course of the year. It's a compelling mythology. The brothers really do end up hijacking the story, as the plot hinges on Mrs. Claus going to Mother Nature, the mother of the brothers and the authority over them, who brokers a deal to allow one day of warm weather in the North Pole in exchange for snow for one day in the fictional southern town South Town, which allows something else to happen and then Santa is back, blah blah. The important part is that the Misers sing a song with minions in hats that dance!

He's high, okay?
Rudolph's Shiny New Year
This one is the weirdest one. Far and away. Although I say that without having seen any of the Jesus-instead-of-Santa-mythology-focused ones. I've always felt like those ones would be more "yiiiiikes" than "HAHAHA!" But this one actually seems to be drug influenced. Each R/B special takes place in a world with its own geography of magic lands, spirits, Santa histories and physical realities. This one doesn't even seem to be grounded in any existing kid story about anything. Here are a few of the realities of the world the characters of Rudolph's Shiny New Year inhabit:

  • Every new year is embodied by a human that is an infant at the beginning of the year and grows old over the course of the year, at which point he is retired and replaced by the next infant/year.
  • Father Time, a man with a robe and Red Skelton's voice, oversees this process, but doesn't do a stellar job seeing as if the new year infant is upset, he'll jump out the window and run away.
  • If the New Year infant is missing at the stroke of midnight on the new year, we're trapped in the previous year forever.
  • Retired "years" retire to their own private island which is exactly as their year was, forever.
  • The Archipelago of Time, which is adjacent to the Sands of Time, is where these islands are located.
  • Every fairy tale took place in 1023. All of them. This is actually important.
  • The only thing that happened in 1776 was a Fourth of July parade.
  • Reindeer can fly except when it might get them out of danger or save someone's life.
  • Rudolph's nose can melt a block of snow
But what about the drugs? Here is the (somewhat paraphrased) dialogue five minutes from the end:
Rudolph, as a bell somewhere starts ringing midnight with a bonging sound: Oh no! There's got to be a way to get back to get to Father Time's castle before the twelfth bong!

Santa, who suddenly flies up in his sleigh: Ho, ho ho! I can fly around the whole world in one night! Of course I can get you back in a couple of bongs!

Emphasis theirs. I'm totally serious, watch it. Watch all of them. They're really magical.

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