TBT: Rankin Bass

Tradition is a large part of the Christmas season. From decorations, to songs, to the meals, the elements of Christmas have been very much the same for generations. Entertainment of various kinds has long been a part of the season as well, with the annual viewing of movies and television shows a common practice these days.

As a child of the 1960s and 1970s, part of my traditional Christmas programming included the Rankin Bass specials, including my two favorites: Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Each year of my childhood, I’d check the TV schedule to find out when the shows would be airing and would pester my parents into letting me watch. Of course, I never had to bug them too hard because the shows were family favorites that we enjoyed watching together.

Much of the attraction of the Rankin Bass programming was in the stop-motion animation. Cute puppets of everything from reindeer and snow monsters to Santa Claus and his elves were painstakingly filmed and repositioned, frame by frame, to complete the story being told. I didn’t understand how the shows were created when I was a kid so that wasn’t the appeal for me. At least, not at first. I loved the magic of stories. The joy of watching Rudolph learn to fly. The happiness of seeing the Winter Warlock’s icy heart melt. To this day, watching those specials brings the childhood excitement of Christmas to life. That’s why I continue my annual viewing to this day.

I’ve come to appreciate the craft behind the magic a lot more over the years. The amount of time and effort that went into creating these specials is mind-boggling. The use of the puppets instead of drawn animation gives these programs a very quaint and nostalgic feel that’s very specific to the time period. Some modern viewers may find them a little too quaint for their tastes, but I feel that’s a large part of their charm.

Any other Rankin Bass fans out there? If so, which one is your favorite?

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