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!

Scrooge 20: Stingiest Man in Town 1978

The_Stingiest_Man_in_Town

As I have said several times on the blog during Scrooge month I am trying to be positive and so if I completely dislike a version I will skip it.  So far the animated versions of Christmas Carol have not been very entertaining (Mickey’s being the exception).

They are pretty much all musicals and the songs aren’t great and they end up feeling boring rather than entertaining.

However, there are a few that while not great have some things to recommend so I’ll cover them.  So is the case with the 1978 Stingiest Man in Town.  It is actually a remake of a version I’ve actually covered in my Basil Rathborne review.

They kept all the songs including the Santa Claus song which I wish they had skipped but most of the other songs are ok. The animation is done by the Rankin/Bass team who primarily focused on stop motion holiday specials such as Little Drummer Boy, Jack Frost, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman etc.

Like I said, it’s not a good movie.  In fact, in some ways it’s terrible but it did just enough to warrant a review where I wouldn’t feel overwhelmingly negative.

Trailer-

Couldn’t find a trailer but here is the opening song to give you a feel.

Cast:

Scrooge- Walter Matthau

B.A.H. Humbug- Tom Bosley

Marley- Theodore Bikel

Young Scrooge- Robert Morse

Fred- Dennis Day

Past and Present- Paul Frees

Bob Cratchit– Sonny Melendez.

Scrooge-

Scrooge is voiced by Walter Matthau which like George C. Scott is a strange choice because his voice is so American.  And why in an animated feature would you cast a different voice for young scrooge?  Live action does this because an old actor cannot usually pull off a young look.  In animation that isn’t a problem and our voices are basically the same.

Stingiest-Man-in-Town-b-web

So his voice just doesn’t fit Christmas Carol.  Plus, I keep waiting for him to tell a joke.  I’m so used to Walter Matthau meaning comedy and I know he played grumpy curmudgeons in movies like Grumpy Old Men but it didn’t quite work here.

Differences- Well, the big difference is there is a narrator voiced by Tom Bosley named B.A.H. Humbug (isn’t that hilarious Bah Humbug is his name?).  Groan. He is very annoying.  Makes Jiminy Cricket look like a seasoned pro.

stingiest humbugAs I mentioned they also include the Santa Claus song which doesn’t belong in this story.  This is a story about Christmas and redemption.  Leave Santa Claus to the Santa Claus stories…

Strengths-

Aside from the Santa Claus song the rest of the songs are fine.  I’ve certainly heard worse.  I can see why they were popular enough from the 1956 version to warrant a reuse.  An Old Fashioned Christmas is a pretty good carol and the other songs are decent songs.

There are also segments that feel heartfelt and are pretty accurate to the book and the scenes with Isabel and Scrooge I liked well enough. So the content wasn’t that bad.  It’s just the appearance and the voices and a few other odd touches that felt off.

All of these segments were pretty good.

bob cratchit stingiest stingiest man past 1978-toon-mrs-fezziwig stingiest marley

The scenes in the Pawn Shop and with future are very well done and creepy. And aside from the bug and the Santa scene it is fairly accurate to the story so for kids it’s not a terrible way to introduce them to the story (although much better ways out there so why bother?)

1978-toon-old-joeThe voicecast gives it their all and Theodore Bikel is very good as Marley.  Also frequent Rankin/Bass collaborator Paul Frees is very good in his various roles.

Also some of the backdrops and settings are lovingly drawn.  It seems hard to believe that many of Rankin/Bass went on to work for Studio Ghiblin and Hiyao Miyazaki.  So different!

Weaknesses-

Well there are a lot.  First of all, the animation is just weird.  All of the characters look like bobblehead dolls with giant heads and small bodies.  It looks so odd.

1978-toon-childrenThis is going to sound mean but they look like Sloth from the Goonies.  I don’t know why they made that choice in the design?

Also like I said the Santa Claus and Matthau’s American comedic voice is distracting.  But there is a heart to all the performances, the story and music that is sincere and pleasant. It just felt weird and I couldn’t get over the look of the human characters.  Plus, the addition of B.A.H.  Humbug was super lame.

stingiest man cartoon fred

I can picture if you like things that are a little bit strange and you like animation that is odd looking than you might enjoy this.  Those are the big hurdles that kept me from enjoying it completely.  It wasn’t for me but for a particular type of viewer I think it could be a lot of fun.   Maybe I’ve just grown soft because of the bad animated versions I saw. I don’t know.  With all its faults, this was at the top of the pack if you can believe it…

Things are looking better than ever for the Disney’s Christmas Carol.  Definitely my favorite feature film animated version.  Still will be reviewing the Tim Curry version and Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol also by Rankin/Bass I believe. Both by special request.  We will see!