Day 21: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Hello everyone! I didn’t forget about the Advent Calendar countdown; rather, it was important to attend to some academic priorities as they wrapped up, and so I still intend to finish up the countdown, albeit slightly condensed. (Speaking of which, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup isn’t a bad pick for lunch this time of year.)

As Christmas draws ever closer, we enter yet another leg of the Rudolph sequel saga- and this time, it’s a full-blown movie with a big time crossover. So is it more of a Rudolph followup again or a Frosty continuation? Let’s find out.

The Lowdown:

Movie: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Studio/year released: Rankin-Bass, 1979

AniB’s thoughts: The red-nosed reindeer’s saga continued on after Rudolph’s Shiny New Year with this ambitious feature-length crossover film with fellow Christmas star Frosty the Snowman. Yes, this film finally crossed the pair in Rankin-Bass lore, and technically counted as the trilogy piece for both characters, considering Frosty also recieved a sequel in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (which I haven’t covered on this countdown, but it explains in this film why he has a wife and kids.)

This film actually does a fair bit of tweaking and expansion on Rudolph’s origin, while continuing to keep and change equally odd bits of continuity throughout its runtime. While Rudolph’s red nose is simply explained as an odd anomaly in the original special, this film lets us know it was a divine blessing from the aurora borealis. No, I’m not making this up- Lady Boreal is a character in this film, and before she just merely became the northern lights, she carried on her power via Rudolph’s shiny honker. Of course, this begs the question why the aurora borealis needed to be in this film or pass on her powers, and of course, Rankin-Bass brought us another villain equal to this task: Winterbolt.

This wizened old mage of icy heart and evil constitutions was the archenemy of Lady Boreal (as the story expositions), and once the ruler of the North Pole until he was sealed away for centuries. During that point, Santa came into the area, set up shop, and now for plot-specific reasons, this guy wakes up, intent on reclaiming his throne. While conniving, he’s true to the framework of Rankin’s usual Christmas baddies: prone to monologues, quite a bit of bumbling and scheming with precious little in the way of permanent results, and with a fatal weakness. (Not that I assume many of you will seek out this movie with fervor, but this might be the film’s biggest spoiler, no joke.)

The other bizarre major plot point is that somehow all this winds up involving a circus down on its luck at some generic beachside, but man, they must be hiding money somewhere to purchase all the high rent animals and performers they have. Seriously, this circus by the sea has everything you can think of when it comes to circuses, which might suggest they need a better promoter or something…which comes in the form of Rudolph and Frosty. And how might you ask did they wind up here? Milton the ice cream man, of course!….who’s he? Well, this affable fellow has a romance plot going on with the star acrobat of the circus in question, and just so happened to show up at the North Pole when this film takes place, running into Rudolph and Frosty, to talk about his problems. Winterbolt then does some mind manipulation magic and things proceed from there.

Again, in the realm of Rudolph specials (or even Frosty), expecting the unexpected seems to be the rule of thumb. Big Ben, the whale from Rudolph’s Shiny New Year makes a cameo; the “We’re a Couple of Misfits” makes its first reprise since the original Rudolph special, and Winterbolt has some interesting…ideas, such as creating a rival team of flying cobras in contrast to Santa’s reindeer. A weird, quirky film for sure- but still kitschy and charming when it’s all said and done. It’s probably become more obscure in the public eye as time has gone on, but it ties in nicely to the animated history of thes character as established by the studio in question.


Animation Quality: Stop-motion puppetry; Rankin-Bass’s so-called “Animagic” process. If nothing else, the smoothness of how things were executed in this method were much cleaner than in earlier specials featuring it, and this was the most ambitious undertaking at the time using the process, given the length of this film. 4/5 points.

Characterization: Most of the characters are self-explanatory at this point, such as Rudolph and Frosty, and in my thoughts I talked a bit about the film’s villain, Winterbolt, but there’s at least two more characters worth mentioning:

Scratcher is an anemic-looking reindeer with buckteeth, noted for being a reject from Santa’s team due to his habit of “stealing presents and candy canes.” While he serves as a secondary antagonist in this film, he mysteriously disappears after he pulls some dirty work, and it’s never quite explained at all what happened to him- a curious plot hole, for sure.

Lily Lorraine is the eccentric, energetic ringmaster of the circus by the sea. She’s noted for her cowgirl getup, complete with a ten-gallon hat and a pair of six-shooters, and naturally, she’s overjoyed to meet Rudolph and Frosty at a critical time in her buisness ventures. Her rival in the buisness is Sam Spangles- a generic underhanded carny who will use any means necessary to take the circus out from underneath her.

Also of note: Santa reappears here, but curiously enough, this is the Santa from the Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town continuity (Day 5 of this countdown), which means certain references, such as magical feed corn and the seemingly odd change from elves to “little Kringles” helping him out makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen that particular special. It’s worth noting though, because otherwise it seems very strange. 3/5 points.

Story: I already delved into this narrative a bit, but it’s certainly strange and unusual, for sure. I wouldn’t call this a good story, but it’s strangely entertaining in its own right despite being weird and unexpected in a lot of ways. 2.25/5 points.

Themes: Like most Rankin specials, this is more pure entertainment than it is any sort of rich moral tapestry, or complex thematic paragon. The main villain has flying, laughin’ snakes, among other things. Perhaps that should tell you how seriously you ought to take this. 1.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: On the flip side, it’s fairly easy entertainment to swallow, family friendly, charming in its own way and brings back a lot of songs from other specials. General story holes that seem odd though, make you question how anyone over the age of 12 wouldn’t notice them. 4.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 15.25/25 (61%): Ambitious for its time, with some famed characters and a patently silly plot, this film is a bit of an anomaly, and a curious one at that. Still, it’s worth mentioning within the world of Rankin-Bass’s Christmas-themed productions, even if its cherished leads let it have far more staying power than it otherwise would have had.


Like what you see? Eager to see the rest of the countdown as it finished up? Leave a comment!

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Day 16: Jack Frost

The mischievous winter sprite got his own stop-motion special.

Day 16! Although a day late, this piece is still here as promised, and along with it comes yet another winter legend.  In perhaps the least surprising news for anyone who’s been following the Advent Calendar countdown, Rankin-Bass made several other specials outside of the ones you might know…and this was one of them, about that old wintry trickster himself, Jack Frost.

The Lowdown:

Special: Jack Frost

Studio/years released: Rankin-Bass, 1979

AniB’s thoughts: Yet again, the company remembered for its Christmas specials released one that was decidedly more “winter themed” in December of 1979 with this production, which actually is narrated by Punxsutawney Phil, known as “Pardon-Me-Pete” through this special. In a sense, this special has to do with Groundhog Day and general winter as opposed to the actual holiday season, but it still had its debut during Advent of its release year- go figure.

Interestingly, this was not Jack’s first role in a Rankin-Bass picture. The frosty pixie made his debut in 1976’s Frosty Winter Wonderland, where he serves as the main antagonist, a a decidedly grumpy on at that (feeling underappreciated), while playing up the impish nature of the character. Frost’s debut as a puppet though, would be in Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, a feature length film released roughly a half year before his solo outing here. In that movie, Jack makes a late cameo to resuscitate a melted Frosty and family, clearly reconciled over previous differences from the other special.

While there have been several different spins on the character of Jack Frost over the years, this special mostly forgoes his role as the impish trickster of winter, instead opting for a love story of sorts- and Jack’s recasting as a hero when he falls head over heels for a human girl. And in the grandest of Rankin-Bass traditions, there’s a big supernatural entity guiding Jack along in Father Winter. After Jack rescues the girl, Elisa and dreams of marriage enter his head, Winter grants him a chance to become human and have the girl of this dreams- provided he met very specific conditions, such as obtaining a house, gold, a horse and of course, marriage itself. In this way, Jack takes on a fully human form- “Jack Snip,” and starts a tailor’s shop in the small locale of choice, aptly named “January Junction.”

Of course, none of these specials would be complete without an eccentric and completely silly villain, and the role here is filled by Kubla Kraus- an evil Cossack king who lives on the self-explained Miserable Mountain alone with his ventriloquist dummy and his army of mechanical soldiers (called “Keh-Nights. No, I’m not making this up.) Between Jack’s goal of wooing Elisa and Kubla’s involvement in making life thoroughly unpleasant for January Junction, the two come into conflict inevitably over the girl…though things turn out both as you might expect and not expect all at the same time.

Now I will give a lot of credit in this special because as far as building any sort of mythical lore for Jack Frost, Rankin and Bass had a lot of creative license on this film, in part because Frost didn’t have a hugely defined role in the general cultural ethos of the holiday. He wasn’t Santa Claus, or even Rudolph, whom I discussed already a bit at length about in some other pieces, or even Frosty who had his own number of sequels as well. It’s a little easier to swallow some of the usual absurdity because of Jack Frost’s supernatural origins, and it really feels in some ways like a fairy tail type of backstory for the titular lead. For an enjoyable, different experience, this one still airs seasonally on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), so if you’ve got the channel still, you’re likely to be able to see it if you’re just scrolling around for a watch.


Animation Quality: Rankin-Bass returns yet again with the “Animagic” stop-motion style. One thing is evident; the animators in Tokyo who did the actual work with the puppets had improved over the years, and everything seems a bit smoother and cleaner, especially when compared to an earlier special like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (which was back in 1964!) Here, the same sort of charm is preserved, as this style of stop-motion helped preserve the unique character of all the company’s specials that used it. 4.25/5 points.

Characters: Jack Frost is the lead and pretty self-explanatory. He’s both carefree and energetic, both as a sprite and a human, but he also shows a good heart to go with it.

Aside from Jack, there’s a bunch of other supporting characters, chiefly narrator “Pardon-Me Pete,” the famous groundhog who enjoys his winter slumbers thoroughly, Elisa as the love interest (she’s a pleasant girl but there’s not a lot more to say about her), Sir Ravenal Rightfellow- a heroic knight who is Jack’s main competition for the girl’s heart and hand in marriage (but not an antagonist), and Kubla Kraus as previously mentioned- a thoroughly evil king who enjoys his solitude and greed along with being a terrible ruler. Jack is also joined by two other sprites in his human endeavors- Snip and Holly, who assist Father Winter normally, and this comprises most of it. Simple cast, simple but effective lead, self explanatory protagonist. Perfectly adequate. 3.25/5 points.

Story: This is both a legendary story (about Jack Frost) and a love story as well considering the contents. Not terribly complicated, but decently entertaining. 3/5 points.

Themes: This special is really meant more for enjoyment than any strong moral tale, although I suppose opposing an evil king is a righteous thing to do. Doesn’t quite have the Christmas pull either with the more general “winter theming.” 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A variety of original songs, family friendly entertainment and a lasting shelf-life that has kept it in the seasonal rotation of a network are all some nice points in its favor. 5/5 points.

 Overall: 17.5/25 (70%): While Rankin and Bass certainly made a lot of these holiday specials, this was solid, creative work on a character they had a bit more license to do what they wanted with. No, it doesn’t get as crazy as something like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, but that’s just as well; this one might be worth a look not only during December but for a quick watch at any point in the winter.


Like what you see? Enjoying the many specials and shows covered here? Leave a comment!

Day 8: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

The sequel to the classic.

Day 8! An entire week is already in the books, and with the second week of Advent getting underway, it’s time to look at the second Rudolph special- Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. As with any successful franchise, the red-nosed reindeer spawned sequels, and this was the first one…and it was wild.

(Before you delve in, here is the link to yesterday’s piece if you missed it, which has the rest of the calendar so far linked there as well.)

The Lowdown:

Special: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

Studio/year premiered: Rankin-Bass, 1976

AniB’s thoughts: The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in animation didn’t just end with the iconic special that airs on CBS every year. No, Rankin-Bass returned to the well on a couple other occasions, and this was the first sequel- some 12 years after the first. Despite that, there are a number of odd things about it, particularly in regards to continuity that are jarring. For starters, there are precisely two characters from the original special that reprise appearances here- the titular protagonist, who is somehow magically de-aged from his appearance at the end of the first Rudolph; and Santa, who much more closely resembles his appearance from the end of 1970’s Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. The rest of the cast? Completely overhauled. That’s right- everyone from Hermey the dentist elf to affable prospector Yukon Cornelius, and even love interest Clarice are just…not here, which really makes this “sequel” far more of a stand-alone than any real pickup from before.

From there, things get stranger; the plot is actually about how Rudolph has to rescue the New Year’s baby- who is supposed to be Father Time’s successor. After traversing through a howling blizzard from the North Pole, our bright-nosed hero winds up in the literal desert of time (don’t ask me how this works) and is led to Father Time’s castle by an unusual escort (an affable camel with a large clock affixed where its hump normally would be), upon which the patriarch debriefs Rudolph on the situation, but not before Eon, a millennia-old giant condor/vulture attempts to scare off the red-nosed reindeer. If all of this sounds familiar…you’ve seen the special, but if it sounds bizarre, that also makes sense, because Rudolph’s Shiny New Year really is not a Christmas special in most ways, as you can see.

Why, you may be asking, is the baby New Year even in danger? The answer is rather silly: he has abnormally large ears that cause people to burst out laughing, ala Dumbo, which makes him so incredibly embarrassed and mistrustful that he wanders off somehow (and before you ask how a baby slipped away, that’s another question entirely.) The premise then takes an even more unusual turn in that Eon- the giant condor- needs the baby (who is named Happy) to stay alive for another millennium- which means this show is literally a race for a baby…which is really silly when you stop for a second to think about it. On top of it, it evolves into an island-hopping caper where Happy escapes several “time-locked islands”- and Rudolph and his friends, starting with Big Ben, a whale with a clock in between his flukes, go on a chase to rescue him, while Eon stays in pursuit as well.

I really don’t love summarizing that much of a plot in my thoughts frankly- but childhood nostalgia aside from watching these various Rankin-Bass specials- this Rudolph production still has that magical Rankin-Bass feeling, but premise-wise, it was really, really weird. It’s an anomaly of canonical sequels both in the stunning lack of continuity from the original, and the wildly unexpected locales and places it goes in pursuit of a simple and convoluted plot. But despite being patently silly, it’s still fun in its own right, has some surprisingly catchy original music that can and will get stuck in your head, and well…it’s Rudolph. Can’t complain too much!


While they normally air this frequently around Christmas Day up to New Year’s on ABC nowadays, it doesn’t have quite the cultural cache as the original or some of the other more iconic Rankin-Bass specials I already covered. So in a way, it’s not quite as hard to score this, despite lesser feelings of nostalgia.

Animation Quality: Stop-motion animation, Rankin-Bass’s so called “Animagic” technique. I’ve expounded a bit on this style of stop-motion technique the company used in my other Rankin-Bass reviews during the countdown, but I will say here that it continues to have a very unique, timeless feel, perhaps in part because all the R-B productions that use it have an incredibly uniform aesthetic? Whatever the reason, it makes these stories pop in a way it otherwise wouldn’t. 4/5 points.

Characters: As discussed in my thoughts, Rudolph is the only returning character from the original aside from Santa (who plays a relatively minor role here.) He’s still the same reindeer, though rather confident about his nose this time around, which may represent the greatest shred of continuity in this “sequel.”

The rest of the cast is an eclectic bunch Rudolph picks up on his unlikely adventure, mostly named after the island “eras” they came from, like “1776”- a dead ringer for Ben Franklin, and a caveman (“One Million B.C.). Eon, as previously mentioned, is a large bird of prey who serves as the special’s villain, though he’s really more squawk than substance in most cases. And then there’s Father Time himself…what an odd bunch. Points for creativity though! 2.75/5 points.

Story: See above for the plot, yet again. Basically, this is a “chase the treasure” plot, except it’s a baby, involves island hopping, and pits a magical reindeer against a giant vulture/condor. Once again, creative? Very. Convoluted? You bet. 2.25/5 points.

Themes: This is mostly pure entertainment, except for the recurring messaging of Rudolph that one should embrace what makes them unique in life. And also to have a happy New Year, I suppose. 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Has that Rankin-Bass nostalgia factor going along with being Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in some form. Generally catchy music, a family friendly experience, and some degree of a legacy. Not bad. 5/5 points.

Overall: 16/25 (64%): Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is as strange a sequel you’ll find, but despite a bunch of strange twists, it’s still a fun, convoluted sort of adventure. It clearly doesn’t match the heights of the original, but it’s still a fun pick from the holiday library to check out.


Like what you see? Any thoughts on Rudolph’s Shiny New Year? Leave a comment!

Day 7: Holiday Hi-Jynx (Pokemon)

Pokemon’s first and most infamous Christmas special.

Another day, another Christmas special!  Today’s pick is from the first season of the Pokemon anime, an era that many people may remember fondly, and after receiving a request, it’s coming front and center. Here’s what happens when the first generation of Pokemon meets Christmas Eve: Holiday Hi-Jynx.

(The first few days of the countdown can be accessed via these links: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

The Lowdown:

Special: Holiday Hi-Jynx

Show: Pokemon

Year released: 1998

AniB’s thoughts: Crazy as it is, I’ve never actually discussed the Pokemon anime on this blog yet. It likely was the first anime for quite a few people around 20-25 years old, and in turn, it can evoke a lot of pleasant childhood memories from the franchise’s early days, be it the trading card game rush that was all the craze in elementary schools, or some of the earliest games that released for the franchise in Pokemon Blue, Red and the special Pikachu-themed one, Yellow.

Indeed, the anime is still running today, which is no small feat. It’s often panned for being extremely formulaic, but admittedly some of this is being a victim of its own success, as Pokemon is an incredibly valuable franchise, and as long as that holds true, the show will go on. And like any successful long-running shonen series, it has specials and movies- including the first of a few Christmas-themed episodes in its history, the infamous Holiday Hi-Jynx, which got banned stateside, technically.

So what was so wild and crazy that led to them pulling this episode from the air, and how did I still see it? Well, for the former, it was an accusation that Jynx (the Pokemon in the title picture) perpetuated negative stereotypes about African-Americans- a charge that frankly didn’t cross my mind when watching this episode. And for the latter, it turns out the episode still found its way around due to video and DVD releases, meaning that it certainly wasn’t as “forbidden” as they made it seem. The rest of the episode itself…isn’t really ban-worthy whatsoever. Here’s what happens, for anyone wondering what the mystery of this episode was:

It’s a Christmas special, obviously. Like most Pokemon episodes, particularly in early seasons, it involves a Team Rocket plot that just so happens to cross with the holiday and of course, the main heroes are involved. The other major plot thread is about a Jynx who got separated from Santa while polishing his boot (no, I’m not making this up), and after a wayward journey sees it in a pitched battle against Ash Ketchum and his friends, they wind up helping it, setting off a relatively quick journey to the North Pole (which looks far sunnier and bright than you’d imagine). In the meantime, Team Rocket pursues them in a Gyarados-themed pedal-power submarine, all to enact the always original scheme of stealing all of Santa’s gifts. Hijinks ensue, the plot unfolds like most standard episodes of this show (i.e. TR’s plot intially succeeds only to go belly up and they get blasted off again), and the heroes are given gifts in the true spirit of Christmas.

This really isn’t a classic holiday episode or anything, but it is the most noteworthy one from Pokemon due to its notoriety and status as one of the rare “banned” episodes. The most startling thing about this might be that Lapras (a large swimming Pokemon that looks like a Nessie)  can telepathically talk to people, or that Santa Claus very casually exists in the Poke-verse, moreso than Jynx’s supposedly offensive appearance, which seems rather tame to pull the the entire episode compared to something like Electric Soldier Porygon, which actually caused epileptic seizures due to a certain scene.

Overall, it was an enjoyable little watch that I think Pokemon fans in particular might find nostalgic. There’s a sense than if this was the following generation, the Pokemon Delibird and Stantler might have put in appearances, but with only the original 151 to pick from at the the time, they got creative (i.e. Rapidash, a horse Pokemon as a “reindeer,” and the Jynx themselves as “elves.”) This version of the North Pole is probably one of the more simplistic layouts I’ve seen between various interpretations of the place, and this iteration of Santa is kindly and affable, though a bit generic. You can find this episode online rather easily, though official sources might not list it. And finally, what of the Jynx controversy? It actually triggered the future move to recolor all of the black areas in its design to purple, not only for any future anime appearances, but also in the games. Censorship or not though, this is a curious little slice of Pokemon history and another way to feel a sillier spirit of the season.


Like what you see? Big fan of Pokemon? Know the history behind this episode? Leave a comment!

 

Day 5: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

You better watch out, you better not cry…

In the blink of an eye, it’s the 5th day of AniB’s Advent Calendar! Yours truly did not have the greatest amount of time today, but a promise is a promise, and so, today’s gift is yet another Rankin-Bass special, and one that might just be my favorite of the lot- Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town.

(Previous days: 1  2  3  4 )

The Lowdown:

Special: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Studio/year released: Rankin-Bass Productions, 1970

AniB’s thoughts:

Of the Rankin-Bass specials I’ve covered so far during the countdown, this is the first one explicitly to deal with the big man in red as the main subject. We’ve dealt with magical reindeer and snowmen, but outside of Jesus Christ and the Holy Family, no one is more iconic to Christmas than Santa Claus- so what exactly is his story?

The tale of Santa Claus has been retold probably a thousand different ways. The historical figure of course is St. Nicholas of Myrna (270-343 AD), an early Christian bishop, and while he is the patron saint of many, such as sailors, repentant thieves, children, pawnbrokers, archers, and brewers, he of course was best known for his gift-giving to others. He also is noted in Church history as someone present at the Council of Nicaea and one who was imprisoned under the persecutions of Diocletian, only to be freed under Constantine. At any rate, in a very real sense there was a real “Santa Claus” in this holy and venerable man who obviously held a post which required great prudence, patience and sound guidance. Sound familar?

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town certainly is no retelling about St. Nicholas, but like all stories that have grown from the legend, it depicts a kind, warm hearted and deeply generous individual. Rankin-Bass’s retelling is much more of the legendary fairy-folk tale variety, starting in a vaguely German-esque village called Sombertown. As the plot goes, the infant Santa, named Claus, winds up on the doorstep of a very silly and stubborn leader who runs the town (the Burgermeister), and after ordering his chief of staff to get rid of the baby infant, Claus blows away in a winter storm, only to wind up flying over the mountains and into the care of a troop of toymakers- the Kringles.

Rechristened as “Kris Kringle,” the young boy grows up into a fine young man with superb kindness, toymaking skills and suprising agility thanks to numerous animal friends he makes. It’s once Kris decides to venture into Sombertown to relieved his toys things really take off, and the legend begins to grow…Along the way, he meets Topper, a South Pole penguin who mysteriously wound up in the far north; Miss Jessica, a schoolteacher who becomes his eventual romantic interest, and the Winter Warlock- a evil sorcerer thawed out by the young Kringle’s kindness.

The entire affair is narrated by Fred Astaire, who stars as a mailman delivering letters to Santa at the North Pole. As a kid, I always thought the mailtruck he used was the neatest thing- as instead of wheels, it had sled blades and treads to travel through snow and ice- which made sense, given his job. This special, while a fun fictional fantasy, is probably among the best Rankin-Bass did, as it phenomenally captured the essence of Santa Claus in a fun adventure with some surprisingly catchy music numbers. It was also yet another case of “Animagic” from the studio, and like Rudolph, I think that once again helped to capture the charm of what they were going for.


Animation: Stop-motion photography animation. Once again, Animagic was the process used, and like Rudolph and all other specials using said process, it was shot in Japan. A simple charm that felt both artsy and nostalgic and has held up in a special sort of way nearly 50 years later. 4.25/5 points.

Characters: I’ve mostly run through them all in my thoughts, but this story is entirely about one telling of Santa’s life. It’s got a fun little cast, albeit simple, with everyone playing a role, and Burgermeister Meisterburger might just be the most humorously memorable Rankin-Bass Christmas villain in many ways. Most importantly though, Santa feels like Santa here, and that’s very important. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story: As described already…it’s Santa’s show. Fun tale, good tale, simple tale. The characters make it, really. It plays out like a folk-fairy tale, with narration from Fred Astaire, a variety of fun explanations as to why Santa does different things (like stuff stocking, or jump down fireplaces). And it’s held up in the most wonderful of ways despite said simplicity.  4/5 points.

Themes: There’s a lot in here: perseverance, commitment, the willingness to change for the better, and even faithfulness to some extent. Good, clean morality is in the layers of this special without being preachy, which is always great for a family audience. 4/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: This is a Christmas classic, no doubt. With a reputation and the track record to back it up from generations of viewers, along with a familiar style, it’s like drinking a warm mug of cocoa. 5/5 points.

Overall: 21.75/25 (87%): Numbers again might pale in comparison to cultural impact, but in a very real sense, this remains one of Rankin-Bass’s best Christmas specials between both a stellar track record from nearly a half-century on ABC, and a rewatchable story featuring a whimsical cast with Santa at the center of it. He’s comin’ to town!


Like what you see? What do you think of Santa Claus or this special? (Did you put one foot in front of the other?) Leave a comment!

Day 4: The Codename: Kids Next Door Christmas Special

Day 4! In what seems like the blink of an eye, we’re onto the next day of this countdown already. Technically speaking, this is the newest “Random Episode Rambling” given the content of this piece, so you’ll be able to find it under the “Episode Reviews” page after today.

The Lowdown:

Show: Codename: Kids Next Door

Episode: Operation N. A. U. G. H. T. Y.

Studio/Year it debuted: Cartoon Network, 2005

AniB’s thoughts:

So, here’s a franchise I haven’t visited for a while. After two of the first three days in the countdown were spent on classics, this one’s a bit of an off-the beaten path pick, but might strike some resonance with those harboring fond memories of the early to mid 2000’s. Long-time readers may recall I wrote a KND review back in the spring of 2017, and suffice to say, it was another favorite of mine growing up. What a wildly inventive show it was! You can tell Tom Warburton and his team had a ton of fun making it, and the product shows, with increasingly high stakes, an expansive cast of characters and ever-more ludicrous inventions made from household items and junk (the “2×4 technology” the KND swear by).

Like most successful Cartoon Network franchises, there was in fact a Christmas special that was aired roughly in the middle of the show’s lifespan- and like anything else with this show, it was zany and action-packed. As with a good many KND episodes, there’s a plot by Sector V’s archenemies- The Delightful Children from Down the Land- in which disguised as the good guys, they perform a sting on the North Pole in order to frame our heroes and set a diabolical gift-hoarding scheme in order. And this special has it all- over-the top action, a hilariously high tech and over the top interpretation of how Santa’s workshop operates, elves that have some serious martial arts skills(in particular, Wintergreen, a parody of Wolverine), and of course, something akin to “storming the castle” by our main heroes of Sector V.

So critically, what do I think of Operation NAUGHTY? It plays out mostly as a normal episode with the Christmas theming, and stays true to the show’s style, building a Kids Next Door episode with a Christmas wrapper, as opposed to a Christmas story that has the KND in it. And I think it works, although you’ll be sadly disappointed if you wanted more traditional fare. Santa Claus puts in an appearance as well, but most of the episode’s heavy lifting is done by the usual suspects from the show and the big man’s own special elves. Overall, it’s one of the Cartoon Network holiday-themed episodes I recalled enjoying the most back when I was a kid, and even now it retains that same wackiness and adventure I knew the series for.

Therefore, this special is likely to be remembered fondly by KND fans and those who watched plenty of Cartoon Network during this era, though it really best described is an extended KND episode in addition to the Christmas theme. Working alongside the nefarious plot of the Delightful Children, the subplot of the entire episode juxtaposes Numbah 3’s generosity towards her teammates against the oblivious Numbah 4’s ham-handed approach to the spirit of giving. This character side story runs up against the main plot when Santa’s “Reindeer System”- a highly automated process of doling out the world’s presents from a top-secret inner sanctum- is hijacked by the Delightful Children, only to turn them into Grinch-esque monsters from their greed. In the end, Numbah 3 attempts to take this system over, which after a similar power rush overwhelms her, only Santa’s guidance to Numbah 4 about giving her a gift pays off.

Is it silly, zany and convoluted? For sure. That said, it’s a fun bit of nostalgia from that time period and a solid special that stays true to the spirit of both the holiday and the Kids Next Door-style of storytelling, and rather than hearing it from me, check it out:

Don’t forget, this season’s all about giving to others. And through it all, that might be the biggest takeaway from here. See what’s in store tomorrow! And check out below previous days if you haven’t already!


Like what you see? Big fan of this special or Codename: Kids Next Door? Leave a comment!

Day 1: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Day 2: Wreck-It Ralph

Day 3: Frosty the Snowman

Day 3: Frosty the Snowman

Sliding in is another Christmas icon.

Third day already! Today, after visiting the colorful world of Wreck-It Ralph, we return to another Christmas staple from Rankin-Bass: Frosty the Snowman.

(For the previous entries in the Advent calendar, here’s the links: Day 1  Day 2)

The Lowdown:

Special: Frosty the Snowman

Studio: Rankin-Bass Productions

Year released: 1969

 

AniB’s thoughts: Following Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in its annual showings on CBS is another holiday classic in Frosty the Snowman. Airing continuously since 1969, this simple yet timeless special is yet again adapted from a song that released over a decade prior, and also like Rudolph, helped make a certain snowman iconic to generations of viewers.

Frosty and Rudolph seem rather intertwined on several levels: both gained notoriety originally with famous songs; both specials have aired together on CBS for several years (in Frosty’s case, the entirety of its existence), and in 1979 the duo starred in a feature-length film from Rankin-Bass: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. (That discussion might be for another day though). Frosty’s small-screen debut was actually in 1950 with a United Productions of America (UPA) short, but his true big-time appearance came 5 years after Rudolph’s, in 1969.

Anyone who is familiar with Rankin-Bass’s productions (or maybe read Day 1 on Rudolph) will know the studio’s Christmas specials were generally known for their puppets through a process known as “Animagic.” Frosty, therefore was a bit of departure, opting instead for traditional 2-D animation that was meant to evoke the images of a Christmas postcard- a directive that came from Rankin Jr. and Bass themselves.

Indeed, the style is evident when you look at what was created on-screen; even now the visuals evoke a simple nostalgia that gives Frosty a fairy-tale kind of feel to it. The animation is simple and uncomplicated; one could argue nowadays it it could even be considered “cheap-looking,” but despite that, Rankin and Bass did achieve the effect that they hoped to have. And fittingly, the simple animation belies a simple, family friendly tale that has cemented itself firmly in the center of beloved Christmas stories. That old silk hat had some magic, all right…

From my own personal point of view, it’s a fine special and a good one to get in the spirit of the season, though I was always a Rudolph man myself. Despite its simplicity, it’s something that can evoke a nostalgic smile on those who grew up with it, and its staying power on CBS for decades speaks volumes to the impact it’s had.


Like Rudolph, grading a classic Christmas special is a strange endeavor. It’s timeless and really yet again beyond the pale of any one critic’s sort of assertions, but I will run the numbers again, in brief.

Animation: Simple, hand-drawn 2-D animation. As I talked about, it was designed to evoke the image of a Christmas card, but what I didn’t mention was that it was principally animated in Japan. Between Rudolph and Frosty, it’s actually pretty surprising how it was all done overseas…so again, is Frosty the Snowman actually anime? A curious question, but probably not one relevant to the grading at hand. 3.5/5 points.

 

Characters: Very simple. You’ve got Frosty, the kids, principally Karen, the girl who’s in the picture for this review, an evil magician who’s really more of a bumbler in Professor Hinkle, Hocus Pocus, his one-time trick rabbit turned companion of Frosty, and then Santa himself. There’s not much to say as no one really has much depth here, but Frosty is instantly warm and relatable (ironic, as he’s a snowman) and it gets the job done. This might normally be a much lower score, but Frosty has that “classic” effect here. 3.5/5 points.

 

Story: It’s a telling of the story from the lyrics of “Frosty the Snowman.” Basically, it boils down to “Frosty came to life one day, and then he had to skip town after playing with the children so he wouldn’t melt.” Once again (as I keep saying), simple, but enjoyable. 2.75/5 points.

 

Themes: This is about friendship, a little bit of Christmas magic and to always have hope. Other than that, this really isn’t “morality: the film.” 2.5/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewers: Christmas classics have the intangibles of classic shows and famous characters, mixed with iconic songs in a family friendly format. Big winner here. 5/5 points.

Overall: 17.25/25 (69%): This might seem a bit low, but the value of a Christmas classic can’t really be expressed in numbers adequately. Frosty the Snowman continues to be a stalwart of the December programming schedule on CBS, and the resounding success of this production also led to a variety of Frosty sequels and spinoffs. Get a cup of hot cocoa and maybe this will evoke some feelings of the season and fuzzy nostalgia all in one.


Like what you see? Love Frosty the Snowman? Leave a comment!