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Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials

Updated on December 4, 2014

Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials

Whether it's the stop-motion animation from Rankin/Bass Productions in specials like "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", or with their traditional animation style featured in "Frosty The Snowman", Rankin/Bass Christmas specials are an annual holiday institution on television. Let's take a look at all of the Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials over the years, both the famous and the forgotten.

The photo featured reflects the DVD packaging of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", which you can read more about here.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Premiered On NBC On December 6, 1964

"Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" is based on the Johnny Marks song of the same name. Narrated by Sam The Snowman, voiced by Burl Ives, this holiday classic now airs annually on CBS. Additional songs featured in this Rankin/Bass Christmas special include: "We're A Couple Of Misfits", "Silver & Gold", "A Holly Jolly Christmas", and "There's Always Tomorrow".

The Little Drummer Boy - Premiered On NBC On December 19, 1968

"The Little Drummer Boy" is also based on a well-known Christmas song. This Rankin/Bass Christmas special had a sequel, "The Little Drummer Boy Book II" which follows the further adventures of Aaron, the Little Drummer Boy, after the birth of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, "The Little Drummer Boy Book II" is not available on DVD. Fortunately, both of these Rankin/Bass Christmas specials air numerous times annually as part of ABC Family's 25 Days Of Christmas schedule.

Frosty The Snowman - Premiered On CBS On December 7, 1969

"Frosty The Snowman" is another classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special, which has aired annually on CBS since its debut in 1969. The story is based on the Gene Autry song.

My personal memories of watching "Frosty The Snowman" are rather traumatic. I was about five and so upset over Frosty melting in the greenhouse that I spent the entire rest of the show bawling. To this day, I still get teary eyed there even though I know he will be fine.

Frosty appeared in two other Rankin/Bass specials: "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" in 1976, and "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July" in 1979.

Where Can You Watch Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials On TV?

If it's not on CBS, it is featured as part of ABC Family's 25 Days Of Christmas Schedule. The airings will vary each year, but a Rankin/Bass marathon is a long running tradition on December 24 - Christmas Eve.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Premiered on December 14, 1970

This is another of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials that airs regularly on CBS. One thing I love about "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is that during the part at the beginning when Fred Astaire's mailman narrator is talking about all the letters to Santa, and the kids are asking the questions, there's this one little boy who is all, "my turn, my turn" before asking his question. The other thing is how the plot goes into all this detail to explain why these various traditions related to Santa Claus allegedly came to be, but then by the end they must've run out of steam because they just go with the Burgermeister's reign ending at some point to solve Kris' problems, which was rather anti-climatic.

The Year Without A Santa Claus - Originally Aired On ABC On December 10, 1974

There are only three important things to note about the Rankin/Bass Christmas special "The Year Without A Santa Claus":

1) It is based on the children's book by Phyllis McGinley and not a Christmas song,

2) It's the one with the Miser Brothers! They're too much!

3) It's the one with the little girl singing "Blue Christmas" at the end.

Other Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials Of The 1970s

In the late 1970s, the following Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials debuted:

  • 'Twas the Night Before Christmas - 1974
  • Based on the famous Christmas poem, this special centers around a town in danger of not getting a visit from Santa after a smarty pants mouse in town writes a letter to the editor saying he doesn't believe in Santa.
  • The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow - 1975
  • Angela Lansbury narrates this story of a young shepherd blinded in a lightning storm, who experiences the magic of Christmas snow.
  • Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey - 1977
  • If "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Little Drummer Boy" mated, the story would likely have been very close to "Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey", even though its birth is really related to a Christmas song like the other two.
  • Jack Frost - 1979
  • Poor Jack Frost can't get the girl. Even he can't outrank a handsome prince. I must say I like the idea of a world where ice money exists, even though we'd still be poor in warm climates like Hawaii.

The Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials Of The 1980s - Mostly Forgettable And/Or Regrettable

The 1980s were the beginning of the end of the Rankin/Bass reign on Christmas specials for television. There were three Rankin/Bass Christmas specials released in the 80s, and if you are unfamiliar with them, the titles should give you an idea of what to expect:

  • Pinocchio's Christmas - 1980
  • The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold - 1981
  • The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus - 1985

It felt to me that by this point they were running out of ideas and source material. Even "The Life & Adventures Of Santa Claus", while based on the L. Frank Baum book, didn't feel like it was up to the standards of the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials of the 60s and 70s.

Both "Pinocchio's Christmas" & "The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold" are available on the Classic Christmas Favorites DVD collection.

Santa, Baby! - The Last Rankin/Bass Christmas Special

Santa, Baby!
Santa, Baby!

"Santa, Baby!" aired on Fox in 2001, and it was the first new Rankin/Bass Christmas special in sixteen years. It was noteworthy because it featured an African-American cast, starring Gregory Hines as a struggling songwriter whose daughter wishes for him to be able to write a hit song.

Unfortunately, it also marked the end of Rankin/Bass Productions, and its productions were sold to Classic Media.

 

What's Your Favorite Rankin/Bass Christmas Special?

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Rudolph's Shiny New Year - Premiered In 1976

Christmas Television Favorites (Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! / The Year Without a Santa Claus / Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July / Rudolph's Shiny New Year / and More)
Christmas Television Favorites (Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! / The Year Without a Santa Claus / Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July / Rudolph's Shiny New Year / and More)

I did not forget or overlook the existence of "Rudolph's Shiny New Year". This page is about Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials, and as the title clearly states, "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" is about New Year's Day. My desire to overlook "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" has absolutely nothing to do with fact the story centers around Baby New Year running away because everyone was laughing at his really big ears, and I'm not a big fan of how my ears look, either.

 

What Do You Love About Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials?

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I love that Rankin/Bass created not only their enchanting re-imaginings of the beautiful mythology of Santa Claus, but also those lovely stories celebrating the true Christmas spirit. Both Little Drummer Boys and Nestor, of course, but in the uncut version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Fred Astair sings of Kris and Jessica exchanging gifts, much as the Wise Men gifted the Baby Jesus. You don't ever hear that part in the network airings of the show anymore, sadly.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Jeanie I watch chirstmas special all my life I hope they don't change I look for them every christmas thank you

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      graceguill24 5 years ago

      Rankin/Bass Christmas specials are something I grew up with. The animation of stop-motion is so enchanting and the songs are what really get me in the holiday spirit. Not to mention the beautiful, heartfelt stories they so wonderfully incorporate in only 30 minutes to an hour. I love Rankin/Bass specials!

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      graceguill24 5 years ago

      Rankin/Bass Christmas specials are something I grew up with. The animation of stop-motion is so enchanting and the songs are what really get me in the holiday spirit. Not to mention the beautiful, heartfelt stories they so wonderfully incorporate in only 30 minutes to an hour. I love Rankin/Bass specials!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      I like The Little Drummer Boy. Nice topic. Thanks for sharing this great lens. Liked!

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      katemiya 6 years ago

      @BuildABetterMouse: You may be thinking of "The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow" since it is set at an orphanage run by the church - it is narrated by Angela Lansbury playing a nun - and there is a nativity play performed by the children. There is a priest but I don't recall him having a large role in the story, other than insisting they can't keep a shepherd there, even a poor newly blinded shepherd boy.

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      Steve and Annette 6 years ago

      Do you remember a stop motion Christmas special about the first white Christmas - a nativity story told by a priest to kids in an orphanage. I can't remember the name but I loved that one!

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      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Can't wait for these to start rolling out on TV again - they're so charming and wonderful! Really bring me back to my childhood.