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 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!

 

AniB’s Advent Calendar: Day 1: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

“You know Dasher and Dancer…” The iconic reindeer’s Christmas special.

Hi everyone,

Happy December! We’ve finally reached the final month of 2018, and it’s one of my favorites, as Christmastime and the holidays unfold. So, as a treat, I’ll be looking to do an AniB-style “Advent Calendar” for the next 25 days, leading into Christmas Day itself. As a kid, I loved these calendars- they were usually sold with either chocolates in them, or for a line of toys, like LEGO. So for each day, a different “surprise” per se, will be awaiting you. Will it be a Christmas special? A character piece? Who know? Day 1 though, is a bit of a spoiler from this title- the Rankin-Bass classic that CBS airs every year, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The Lowdown:

Special: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Studio/year released: Rankin-Bass Productions, 1964

AniB’s thoughts: We’re going way back for a staple of Christmas programming as we start these 25 days, and in a way, this isn’t my typical review- given the content and the format of the special in question- but Rudolph is one of those seasonal figures that has a powerful imprint on people, stop-motion special aside. Of course, the holiday classic that airs isn’t the origin point of Rudolph; that would be Robert Louis May’s booklet that he wrote for Montgomery Ward- a department store chain, back in 1939. Of course, the deer gained further notoriety with the famous song from Johnny Marks, which was recorded a decade later, in 1949.

As for the year Rudolph made his small-screen debut, 1964 was many things- the origins of the Vietnam war, the so-called “British Invasion” in the music industry, spearheaded by the Beatles- and also the release of the now-iconic Rudolph TV series. In a sense, this thing is “anime”- since all the actual scenes were shot in Tokyo, Japan- using the self-labeled process known as “Animagic,” which simply referred to the stop-motion photography with puppets that they used to put together this special and a slew of other ones that would come after it.

I’m not sure I need to recap such a well-known special on TV, but did you know the familiar tale involving Rudolph along with his pals Hermey and Yukon Cornelius was actually all an original adaptation? As it turns out, the producers couldn’t find the original story script of May’s, so they had some artistic liberties to take, working mostly off the framework of the famous song. Another curious fact is how everything came together for the finished product- Burl Ives, the famous narrator who plays Sam the Snowman, was the only American voice actor, while the rest were Canadian, recorded in Toronto, and with the animation being produced overseas as mentioned, it was truly an international effort. You might even say in that regard, it was truly in the spirit of Christmas…

Facts and history aside, Rudolph has to be one of my own personal favorites from growing up. I always liked the character from when I was young; the song is simple and iconic, and the special always captivated me, not the least of which was the kitschy charm of the old-school puppetry and stop-motion, along with the interesting backdrops for the story, from Santa’s castle to the Island of Misfit Toys. And of course, there was the musical numbers, most of which were made original for this special, outside of the titular theme song- perhaps most famously “Holly Jolly Christmas,” performed by Ives, but written also by Marks in 1962.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is by any measures, one of the most successful specials in the history of television, continuing its annual appearances to solid ratings even today. Airing continuously since 1964, it’s the longest running Christmas special in history, and as it has now for the past several years, it airs multiple times through the season on CBS. Of course, you could find it easily on the Internet, but there’s some old-school charm to sit down and watch it the way generations of Americans have now enjoyed it.


Now, you might be thinking “is he going to grade this?” Well, it’s hard to grade something that’s a holiday classic, let alone both a special and a period piece as well. Most people have experienced it at some point, and it’s more a slice of animation history that has gained historical and cultural importance far beyond any sort of serious critical insight from me or someone else over 50 years after it debuted. However, if I must put numbers on it, a brief synopsis, AniB style…

Animation: Relatively unique for its time, these stop-motion graphics still hold plenty of charm, albeit lacking the polish of modern-day works. 4.5/5 points

Characters: Not like this needs much detail, but Rudolph and friends are fairly iconic. Within the special though, Santa has a rather minor role, there’s a lot of jerks who give Rudolph grief over his nose, and the misfit toys, who are a sorry bunch with a happy ending. It’s a Christmas special, so asking for complex character development, and from 1964, is a bit of an ask. Yukon Cornelius and the Bumble are fun, Hermey’s goal as a dentist is rather amusing, and Rudolph himself is a fairly typical coming of age character. 4/5 points.

Story: Based loosely on the lyrics of the song, this is about how Rudolph grows up from a social outcast with his unusual red nose to a hero, leading Santa’s team of reindeer. It’s silly and rather simple, but charming all the same, and fair or not, has some nostalgia value as well. 3.75/5 points.

Themes: Fairly simple moral tale about how you can’t run from your problems forever, but rather, you’ve got to face them head on in order to grow and prosper. It’s a decent bit of morality for the young ones, but simplistic for the older crowd. 2.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: It’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer… a Christmas classic for generations. It’s a family-friendly experience. 5/5 points.

Overall: 19.75/25 (79%). Well, there’s a score for those who might want it, but Rudolph isn’t so much the property of the critic’s realm as it the cultural realm it has become an indispensable part of. And what kind of Rudolph encapsulation would be complete without the song?

He’s gone down in history, I think. Mission accomplished!


Like what you see? Excited for what might come next? Have fond memories of Rudolph? Leave a comment!