Earlier this year, I wrote about a dozen reviews covering various Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, which was made possible due to some DVD collections we bought containing a bunch of their work that I had never heard of before. This was generally a fun endeavor (even if a few were rather painful to watch), but I just realized that I had failed to actually rank them. (You could say that these specials were made for…Rankin…what?) So today, I shall be ranking every Rankin/Bass Christmas special that I’ve seen from worst to best. It will not include A Miser Brothers Christmas from 2008, which was actually made by Warner Bros. Oh, and if you’re curious about full reviews, then here’s a link to my last review of Jack Frost from 1979, which includes links to most of the others at the bottom.
16: Cricket on the Hearth (1967) – This animated special is loosely based on the Charles Dickens’ story of the same name. It’s ugly, depressing, and filled with a bunch of terrible songs. I mean, the character Bertha goes blind from grief. Not exactly a heart-warming Christmas tale at all.
15: Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977) – This stop-motion special is depressing and makes me want to go curl up in the corner and drown in my own tears. They tried to tie the story into the birth of Jesus Christ, which I can appreciate, but this Rudolph-rip off is just so dark and dismal. Not to mention the fact that I wasn’t exactly learning the message it was trying to teach because, frankly, Nestor’s long ears are incredibly creepy.
14: Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980) – While the stop-motion is charming enough, that’s the only thing setting this one above Cricket on the Hearth. This is a Christmas-themed retelling of Pinocchio, and while that could have been promising, it really overstays its welcome and has some really irritating songs, including one in which Pinocchio pretty much repeats the same few words for a couple minutes straight.
13: The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold (1981) – This particular stop-motion short has no right being called a Christmas special, though it would have been a pretty charming St. Patrick’s Day short. As such, it’s one of Rankin/Bass’ more unique works and doesn’t deserve an even lower spot on this list despite completely failing at the Christmas theme.
12: Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976) – There’s not much to say about this pleasant little animated short. The kids try to make Frosty a wife. Jack Frost attempts to murder Frosty in cold-blood (pun intended) because he’s jealous…um… There’s nothing particularly bad about it, and it’s not amazing, either.
11: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979) – I have mixed feelings about this one. This stop-motion special is way too long and has a very convoluted story and mediocre songs. But there were some rather emotional moments in there, as well, even if this one features probably the most wicked Rankin/Bass villain ever. Also, stop-motion Frosty is adorable.
10: The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) – Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been remade a million times at this point, and this is Rankin/Bass’ own attempt. It’s…not great, but not awful, either. It’s a bit rushed and doesn’t start off super promising, but there are some decent songs in there. Also just thought it was amusing that Scrooge outright steals from someone early on. Is this somehow an even nastier portrayal of Scrooge than usual?
9: The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985) – Based on a story written by L. Frank Baum (you know, the author of The Wizard of Oz), this was a rather unique interpretation of Santa Claus’ origins. This one has more of a fantasy theme and isn’t actually all that Christmasy, but it’s an interesting take on Santa’s backstory, nonetheless.
8: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976) – This stop-motion special mixes both Christmas and New Year’s, as Rudolph is tasked with finding the missing Baby New Year before the next year arrives. Although they’re clearly reusing elements of Rudolph the Red-Noses Reindeer, in that the Baby New Year is teased for his big ears (similar to Rudolph’s nose), there are actually plenty of creative elements, as well, making this a surprisingly charming special.
7: Frosty the Snowman (1969) – Wow, I forgot to review this one, too? But who hasn’t seen Frosty the Snowman, where a snowman comes to life thanks to a magic hat. This is a perfectly pleasant animated short. To be honest, it has never exactly been one of our household favorites, but it’s certainly something you should watch at Christmastime at least once.
6: The Little Drummer Boy (1968) – I almost forgot about this particular stop motion short, as I had never reviewed it before. The story follows a boy named Aaron who hates everyone because his parents were killed by bandits. (Ooh, Christmasy…) This is a rather…average Christmas special, though a lot of people remember it fondly, as do I, considering it was one of the four specials I had on VHS. At least it has a rather sweet ending that ties into the true meaning of Christmas.
5: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) – Though very loosely based on the poem after which it’s named, this animated short is pretty cute and charming. It revolves around a smart little mouse named Albert who does a very dumb thing. He offends Santa Claus by claiming that Old Saint Nick doesn’t exist, and as a result, the entire town of Junctionville is in danger of being bypassed for Christmas this year! The town’s only hope…try to kiss Santa’s backside and hope he forgives them!
4: Jack Frost (1979) – Now this is a pretty cute stop-motion special that a lot of people haven’t heard of. In this one, Jack Frost tries to become human in the hopes that he can marry a pretty young woman named Elisa. This special also features a pretty amusing villain named Kubla Kraus who is lonely due to his nastiness, leaving him with no one to talk to but an army of robots and a ventriloquist dummy. The guy completely deserves it, but it’s pathetic, nonetheless.
3: The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) – We all know the biggest reason for watching this one is the Miser Brothers, the personification of cold and hot weather, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, respectively. They are amazing and easily some of Rankin/Bass’ most lovable characters. They also sing a really catchy song. Um, but the rest of the special is pretty charming, too. Santa is sick and thinks no one believes in him anymore, so he decides he doesn’t want to deliver presents this year. And Mrs. Claus has to figure out how to get her whiny husband to understand that people do still care about him.
2: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) – Like The Little Drummer Boy, I just realized that I never actually reviewed this one, either. But everyone’s seen it, so I guess there’s really no need. Anyway, this is THE most classic Rankin/Bass special of all time, filled with charming characters and great songs, not to mention an important message. You shouldn’t judge people just because…they have red noses or want to be dentists. Woops, let me try that again. You shouldn’t judge people just because they’re different. While I was tempted to place this one at #1, it felt too cliché, so instead, the honors shall go to…
1: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970) – This one was always my absolute favorite when I was a duckling. In fact, it was Mother Duck’s favorite when she was younger, too. And what did we love so much about it? Well…the villain’s name is Burgermeister Meisterburger. Okay, have a nice Christmas, everyone! Wait, that’s probably not enough. Hmm, so this is a more traditional backstory for Santa Claus and follows the story of a generous young man named Kris and his efforts to deliver presents to a place called Sombertown, where toys have recently become illegal. There are some really charming characters (my favorite has always been the Winter Warlock) and some of Rankin/Bass’ very best songs. If you haven’t yet seen this one, you simply must!