Our focus this week is Rankin/Bass specials starring Frosty the Snowman. Last time, we discussed Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976). Considering that Frosty is probably the second most well-known character to star in Rankin/Bass’ work, after Rudolph, of course, it makes sense that they would eventually get a crossover. And this crossover is the topic of today’s post, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979).
Unlike previous specials starring the famous sentient snowman, this one is stop motion, and I have to say that I really liked seeing Frosty in this style. In fact, Frosty’s whole family appears in this special, his wife Crystal from Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and two children (let’s not think too much about how snowmen could possibly have kids…). In fact, it’s probably the ultimate Rankin/Bass crossover (that I know of, anyway), as it even features a character cameo from Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976), another important one from the aforementioned Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, and references to Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970).
It’s also incredibly confusing. At a runtime of 97 minutes, this movie is much longer than typical Rankin/Bass specials (which are usually roughly 25-50 minutes), and yet it was still insufficient time for me to fully grasp what the heck was going on. But I’ll try to explain anyway.
So the North Pole was once ruled by an evil wizard named Winterbolt, voiced by Paul Frees (my Paul Freeze joke is once again relevant here). (By the way, Rankin/Bass sure loves characters with magical ice powers: Snow Miser, Winter Warlock, Jack Frost, and now this guy.) Lady Boreal (I could have sworn I heard her name pronounced Borealis, but this is the spelling I’m seeing online) puts Winterbolt to sleep for a long time and gives the newborn Rudolph the last of her power, his shiny red nose, which will stop glowing if he ever uses it for evil. I’m not sure we needed a backstory for Rudolph’s nose, but there it is.
Well, Winterbolt wakes up one day and realizes that Santa Claus is now in charge of the North Pole. In order to dispatch Santa, he sets his sights on Rudolph because…because Rudolph allows Santa to navigate snowstorms, courtesy of his glowing nose. So he plans to trick Rudolph into using his nose for evil so that it will stop glowing. But the plan also involves tricking Frosty and his family to go to this circus by the sea in the middle of July so that they will melt once the power of their magic amulets goes out.
Also, Winterbolt has two dragons which seem more than capable of…taking care of Rudolph. But I guess all they do is make snowstorms?
Okay, so…I kind of got ahead of myself, but boy, this movie sure is confusing. So we know Winterbolt is evil and wants to get rid of Santa Claus, with the help of his snow dragons, a genie, and the power to influence people’s minds. (Again, he’s more than equipped to get rid of Santa and Rudolph. I guess it’s good he didn’t go with a more straightforward plan.) Well, Rudolph and Frosty hear about Lily Loraine’s Circus by the Sea from Milton the ice cream man, who has a crush on Lily’s tightrope-walking daughter, Lainie. Frosty and his family, alongside Rudolph, would love to star in the circus (as sentient snow-people and a flying reindeer with a magical nose, respectively), but the snowmen will melt in the hot July sun.
That’s when Winterbolt appears and offers Frosty and his family magical amulets that will prevent them from melting until the last firework goes off on the Fourth of July. Frosty is unsure about this, but decides to go through with it when Santa promises to pick them all up in his sleigh before the fireworks end and return them to the North Pole. It’s a risky plan, but everyone decides to give it a go, nonetheless.
They all visit the circus, but Rudolph ends up reuniting with a reindeer Santa had fired some time back, a really sleazy guy named Scratcher who was sent by Winterbolt to trick Rudolph. Scratcher manages to convince Rudolph to help him deliver Lily Lorraine’s money to Sam Spangles, a guy who wants to purchase the circus for himself. The ruse is made complete thanks to the fact that Sam is dressed as a police officer promising to deliver Ms. Lorraine’s money safely to the bank. You see, Scratcher claimed that he needed Rudolph’s nose to see in the dark, hence why the poor, unsuspecting reindeer was recruited into Scratcher’s sketchy scheme.
Well, the Fourth of July fireworks are nearly over, and Santa still hasn’t shown up due to a blizzard that has limited his visibility. As Frosty panics over what might happen to him and his family, Winterbolt tells Rudolph the significance of what he has done, and Rudolph is forced to lie to Ms. Lorraine, claiming that he stole the money on purpose because, if he doesn’t, Winterbolt won’t prolong the protection offered by Frosty and family’s magical amulets. Rudolph’s nose goes out, everyone but Frosty turns on him, and Winterbolt also tricks Frosty into giving up his magical hat, along with his life.
Story-wise, I think I’ll leave off there. This is easily the most complicated plot to a Rankin/Bass special that I have seen, and Winterbolt is truly a despicable villain who can’t leave well enough alone, even when he gets his way. (That might also be why he gets the most disturbing death of any Rankin/Bass villain I can think of.)
This isn’t exactly a bad special. It’s just far too long and convoluted, and if adults find it confusing, then the kids this movie was made for certainly will, as well. I also get frustrated by stories where a character must lie about something they didn’t do, and everyone turns against them, even friends who should know something’s amiss.
I’m also not the biggest fan of the circus theme. You know…with animals in clothes…doing tricks and standing on their back legs.
There’s also clowns.
I also had to look up the meaning of the phrase “chicken today and feathers tomorrow” because of the song with the same name. Don’t make me do research, movie.
To summarize, this movie could have really benefited from a much shorter run time and a far simpler plot. On the plus side, I really liked Frosty’s personality in this move. He was such a big worrier as he fretted over whether or not Santa would arrive in time, which I think made him really relatable. Also, Rudolph’s predicament, though frustrating, was sad. The stakes were pretty high in this movie, as well, so I did find myself sympathizing with the main characters quite a bit. The troubles faced by Frosty and his family were probably the most heartbreaking, even more so than Rudolph losing the ability to make his nose glow. Seeing characters from other specials was pretty cool, as well. It really makes you feel rewarded for being a Rankin/Bass fan.
If you’re a fan of Frosty the Snowman, I’d recommend checking out Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976), which introduces Frosty’s wife Crystal. If you’re a fan of Rudolph, then you might want to watch Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976), which is pretty charming, as well. For now, thinking too much about this perplexing movie is making my poor taxed brain decidedly tired. So I’ll leave you with…happy birthday, merry Christmas, and happy Fourth of July!
Previous Rankin/Bass Reviews (and other similar holiday specials)
- Cricket on the Hearth (1967)
- Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)
- The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
- The First Easter Rabbit (1976)
- Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976)
- Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)
- The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town (1977)
- Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
- The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
- A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008)