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Friday, December 21, 2012

'Rankin/Bass TV Holiday Favorites Collection:' The little drummer boy, Scrooge, and Pinocchio Oh My



Rankin/Bass being up there with Hanna-Barbera, Sid and Marty Krofft, and even Merchant Ivory makes the recently released WB Archives DVD set "Rankin/Bass TV Holiday Favorites Collection" a sponge-cake worthy treat that prompted pulling two now-discontinued Twinkies out of the freezer.

Romeo Muller, who also wrote better known Rankin/Bass classics such as "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman," writing some of the specials in the current collection is a nice bonus. 

Muller will always be special to me as well for creating the obscure but wonderful Monkeeseque '70s live-action kids' show "The Kids from C.A.P.E.R." I defy anyone to watch this video of the catchy tune "The Hurricane Song," featuring Rita "Mrs. Tom Hanks" Wilson, just once. The leisure suit and swaying alone warrant at least three viewings. 

The Rankin/Bass holiday collection starts out strong with "The Little Drummer Boy Book II." This story of Aaron the waif picks up right where "The Little Drummer Boy" left off with Aaron visiting the newly born Jesus Christ. The sequel has shades of the wonderful "Partridge Family" Christmas episode, which features dreamy David Cassidy as an Old West sheriff, in that Aaron must recover silver bells that an evil Roman tax collector took from a bell maker, who is also the prophet who predicted Christ's birth.

The bells are important because the bell maker intended to ring them to announce Christ's birth.

In the case of Cassidy et al, a town needed the bells to help Santa find them. On a related note, WB Archives would make one not-so little boy's Christmas very merry if it released the '70s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series "The Partridge Family 2200 AD." This one season wonder had several "Partridge Family" actors providing voices.

"Drummer Boy" was almost as good as the original and kept my interest throughout. A song entitled "Money, Money, Money" provided a catchy and entertaining lesson regarding the transition from the barter system to a currency-based economy. Additionally, a scene in which Aaron's drum is taken away is truly sad.

The second offering, "The Stingiest Man in Town" is a fairly literal and incredibly kid-friendly version of "A Christmas Carol" in which Walter Matthau plays Scrooge. (This may be the Matthau's only role in which he does not curse.)

The main thing that sets "Man" apart from other "Rankin/Bass" productions is that it is done in traditional line animation, rather than Rankin/Bass' trademark stop-motion "animagic" style. The animation quality is roughly half-way between Hanna-Barbera's  perfectly acceptable mass-production style and the top-of-the-line Disney productions of the '30s and '40s.

Beyond the animation, "Man" is simply a good retelling of a tale as old as time about a man who transforms from beast to beauty. Younger kids who have not already seen dozens such productions will likely enjoy it more than those of us who can practically recite each line by heart.

"Pinocchio's Christmas" seems a bit truer to the fairy tale lore than the excellent Disney production about the little marionette who wants nothing more than to be a real live boy. The Rankin/Bass production gets to the roots (pun intended) of the origin story and portrays Pinocchio as a bit more of a wild child than Uncle Walt's version.

The Christmas tie-in relates to Pinocchio trying to rectify things after being conned out of his money for creator/father Geppetto's gift. The similarity to another production regarding this one is "The Toy," in which Jackie Gleason's character buys Richard Pryor's character to be a real-life toy for the character of Gleason's son.

"The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold" rounds out the set and is the only one that was not watched for this review. The provided synopses states "a sailor and a leprechaun join forces to reclaim the Christmas gold after a wailing banshee makes off with it, thanks to the sailor's blunder." 

Rankin/Bass is incapable of duds, and one hopes that this imaginative cross-genre production is a magically delicious whale of a Christmas tale.

Please feel free to share thoughts or questions regarding Rankin/Bass productions in email