Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday. I mean, seriously, what’s not to love? There’s food, good cheer, presents, music, decorations, family togetherness (ok, that one’s not always fun, but you get the idea), goodwill towards everyone, and Christmas specials on TV. And I am not talking about the various Christmas concerts, holiday episodes of your favorite shows, or the Hallmark/Lifetime/ABC Family made-for-TV movies (though I will admit to watching a lot of that last category this time of year). I am talking about the classic half-hour to full-hour short animated specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In the last 40-50 years since many of them were produced, these specials have become a part of our Christmas traditions to where many don’t think Christmas is complete without watching them at least once during the season. Rankin/Bass was perhaps the most prolific studio, producing such perennial favorites as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. These specials have a very distinct style regardless of animation type (claymation or traditional), lots of fun songs, and usually feature at least one popular star of the era lending voices to characters and narrators, including Burl Ives, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, and Fred Astaire. While Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa are perhaps the best known, they are only just 3 of the 18 Christmas specials produced between 1964 and 1985. Here are a few of my favorites that you should check out:
Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey (1977) – This classic is about Nestor the donkey’s who ears were so long they dragged the ground causing him all sorts of trouble until they are used to guide him through a sand storm as he takes Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Starring Roger Miller as the narrator Speiltoe and singer of the title song (which was written by Gene Autrey), this classic is great for anyone looking for movies that are less about Santa and more about the religious aspects of Christmas.
Stingiest Man in Town (1978) – As I have said previously, I love A Christmas Carol in all of its forms but this is my top favorite animated one hands down. Yes that would be ahead of Mickey which I know is blasphemy from a Disney fan but so it is. This version stars Walter Matthau as Scrooge with Tom Bosley serving as narrator in the character B.A.H. Humbug along with Theodore Bikel (My Fair Lady) as the voice of Marley. This version features two of my absolute favorite songs written specifically for Rankin/Bass: “Birthday Party of the King” and “Yes, There is a Santa Claus” (which is probably the best way I know to explain what Santa means to adults).
Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976) – This classic sequel to Frosty the Snowman follows Frosty as he decides he needs a snow-wife to combat the loneliness that comes with being the only living snowman and the trouble they have when Jack Frost shows up wanting Frosty’s magic hat for himself. This special is narrated by the Andy Griffith as pretty much himself and also features Shelly Winters as the voice of Crystal and Jackie Vernon reprises his role from the original as Frosty.
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976) – Picking up on the same foggy Christmas when Rudolph saved the day, the baby New Year Happy has run away, and it is up to Rudolph to find him and make sure he’s back at Father Time’s castle by the strike of twelve on New Year’s Eve or the old year will go on forever. Featuring Red Skelton as Father Time serving as narrator (complete with a patch of red hair) and doubling as Baby Bear, this one is a great one to watch the week leading up to New Year’s.
We here at True Classics would like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year–and may it be shining, too!