Rankin/Bass 8: Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey

nestor2One thing you have to give Rankin/Bass credit for is their creativity.  Maybe it’s partly running out of Christmas stories to tell but even their Rudolph special (that review is coming on Christmas Day if you were wondering) they were very creative having plot points like an elf that wants to be a dentist. You can certainly see such creativity on display with their short Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. I mean have you ever seen a film about a long-eared donkey?  I haven’t until this one!

No doubt taking cues from Dumbo, Nestor is a donkey during the time of the Romans with abnormally large ears that go down to the ground.  For some reason they decided to give this story a folksy narrator donkey named Spieltoe voiced by Roger Miller.  It never quite fits with the feel of the short.

As if having long ears isn’t trial enough things go from bad to worse for poor Nestor.  The opening scenes soldiers come and take all the donkeys except Nestor including his mother.  Then Nestor is thrown out by the farmer and he and all the animals are really mean.

nestorNestor and his mother are caught in a blizzard and the next morning his mother has died. (It really is quite a grim film for a Christmas special!).

nestor7Then Nestor meets an angel who tells him to travel to Bethlehem because “your ears can do wondrous things no other ears can do”.  Then he and the angel travel across desert and have quite the journey.

nestor4When they arrive near Bethlehem Nestor is seen as unneeded so the owner sells him to Mary and Joseph for cheap so she can get to Bethlehem.  It is a perilous journey but “he follows the voices of the angels” and Nestor helps them find the stable to have he Christ-child.

nestor5I expected the film to end with Nestor staying at the nativity stable but in an odd turn he goes back to the original stable where they were so mean to him and he is treated like a hero.  This is strange because how would they know what he had done in Bethlehem and why would he want to go back there?

I give them huge points for creativity on this one and  it’s harmless enough.  The animation is quite good as it is one of their later films (1977).  And I’m always up for stories about characters who fight bullies and come out on top.

However, the film is so gloomy for a Christmas picture.  Almost nothing but death, rejection and persecution happens to Nestor until the very end.  Also the ending didn’t really make sense to me.  I also found he music, while pleasant to not really fit the tone and characters very well.

So over all I’d say see this as a curiosity and to see their creativity but it is not a favorite of mine.

Rankin/Bass 7: Jack Frost

jack frost8Next up we are looking at one of the more creative Rankin/Bass specials- Jack Frost.  That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the Rankin/Bass team is they are very creative and willing to do things with the story that often seem strange.  I almost never finish a movie of theirs thinking ‘well that was obvious and boring’.

Jack Frost aired on NBC in 1979 and you can definitely feel it is one of their more polished pieces with the animation being much better than the films from the late 60s, early 70s.  It also featured the entire Rankin/Bass team with Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin directing, Romeo Muller writing, Maury Laws doing the music ect.

jack frostThe story is actually kind of complicated.  Jack Frost is an immortal fairy that brings on winter but as he is putting his ice and frost he falls in love with a girl named Elisa.  Longing to be with her Jack asks Father Winter if he can become human and Father agrees as long as Jack proves his value as a human by earning a house, a horse, a bag of gold, and a wife by the first Spring (I don’t know many actual humans that could pass that test!).

jack frost2So Jack goes down to earth and becomes Jack Snip, a tailor in town.  Elisa likes Jack but is in love with Sir Ravenal Rightfellow, a ‘knight in golden armor’.

jack frost0Unfortunately Elisa is abducted by Kubla Kraus a King that talks to a strange iron puppet (they are always making strange but kind of entertaining choices with these specials).

jack frost9Now Jack must save Elisa and she must choose between him and Ravenal and what about his powers? What will happen with those?  You will have to watch it to find out.

Also there is a Groundhog voiced by Buddy Hackett that oddly becomes involved.

jack frost7The ending genuinely surprised me.  That’s why I wanted to be a little coy in the summary above.

The voice cast is all good with in addition to Hackett, Robert Morse as Jack Frost, Debra Clinger as Elsa, Paul Frees as both Father Winter and Kubla Kraus, and more.

jack frost3The music is pretty good with a lot of non-Christmas songs like Me and My Shadow, It’s Lonely Being One of a Kind, and Just What I Always Wanted.

At 48 minutes it is a little bit longer than some of the other specials but I enjoyed it.  The animation is fine.  It’s creative and the story surprised me.  I think kids will like it too and you could watch it any time during the winter, no just Christmas time.  This is definitely one of the best from the Rankin/Bass team.

Rankin/Bass Month Introduction

Hey guys!  I just wanted to announce my Christmas series I am doing for my blog.  Last year I did Scrooge Month where I reviewed 35 different versions of Christmas Carol.  I thought long and hard about what to do for this year and decided it would be fun to talk about the Rankin/Bass animated specials and films, many of which are Christmas related.

rankin bassMost people will be most familiar with Rankin/Bass stop motion TV specials including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Little Drummer Boy.

rankin bass4I love stop motion so I look forward to seeing all of these shorts again especially the one’s I haven’t seen or haven’t seen in a while.

Most of these films are from the 70s so it will be interesting to see how they age.

They also have traditional animation like Frosty the Snowman including a film I have already reviewed called The Stingiest Man in Town.  I will not be reviewing that again.

snommanRankin/Bass Productions was founded by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass in 1960 in Japan. Many of the starting animators like Toru Hara would go on to work on Studio Ghibli with Hayo Miyazaki.

They were able to keep working with many of the same talent over the years including Maury Laws who did almost all of the music and Romeo Muller who wrote most of the screenplays.  Paul Frees was also a frequent voice talent for them.

But over the years they also worked with many great stars including Andy Griffith, Burl Ives, Casey Kasem, Fred Astaire, Art Carney, Red Skelton, Walter Matthau, Danny Kaye and more.

rankin bass2Do you have a Rankin/Bass special that you love to watch around Christmas?  I would love to hear about it and I look forward to the series.  Like last year I will not be giving grades for this series as it is meant to be a joyful experience and not as critical as I might otherwise be.  It’s Christmas for goodness sake!