A look at Rankin-Bass’ Santa Claus Trilogy

It’s Christmas time. Time to start watching all of my favorite Christmas movies (A Christmas Story, Elf, White Christmas) and Christmas specials (Rankin-Bass, Mickey’s Christmas Carol).  Probably my most favorite things to watch this time of year are the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials from the ’70s. More specifically, I love to watch the specials informally called (mostly by me) the Santa Claus Trilogy.  This trilogy tells the origins of Santa Claus and his adventures in delivering toys.  The main character is Santa and he’s voiced by Mickey Rooney in all three specials.

The three specials that make up this loose “Santa Claus Trilogy” are:

Santa Claus is Comin to Town
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970) – Narrator SD “Special Delivery” Kluger answers questions about the early adventures of Santa Claus.  We see a young Kris Kringle clash with Burgermeister Meisterburger, win over the evil Winter Warlock and start delivering toys to good little boys and girls.  This special is great because we actually get to see the origins of Santa Claus and how he came to be, including many of the traditions of Christmas like hanging stockings and Santa coming down the chimney.  It’s very well done and the music is awesome.  Some of the great characters include Kris Kringle/Santa, the Winter Warlock who I feel should have been used more, especially in the followup specials, and, of course, the awesomely bad Burgermeister Meisterburger.  You just can’t do it much better than Rankin-Bass did it in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.  But you can do it worse.  Check out this stop motion music video of Justin Bieber singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town featuring characters from the special.  Awful.  Just, awful.

The Year Without a Santa Claus
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) – Santa has been doing his job for a long time.  He wakes up with a cold and starts to complain that no one has the Christmas spirit anymore.  So, Santa just decides to quit.  It’s up to elves Jingle and Jangle and the reindeer Vixen to find people that still care about Christmas, all while trying to avoid the quarreling Miser Brothers.  Here we get even more great songs and characters, most especially we are introduced to Heat and Snow, the infamous Miser Brothers.  Their quarreling and antics are the highlight of the special.  I’m still not sure why Winter Warlock did not make an appearance in this special.  Even a cameo would have been sufficient.  He was one of my favorites from the previous special and they didn’t even use him.  Unfortunately, in 2006, there was a live-action remake of this starring John Goodman and Delta Burke with Harvey Firestein and Michael McKean as the Miser Brothers.  It nearly destroyed all the goodwill I had for the movie.  It still airs from time to time on ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas.

A Miser Bros Christmas
A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008) – The North Wind sabotages Santa’s sleigh causing him to hurt his back and requiring someone to take over the job on Christmas.  Since apparently Mother Nature is in charge of Santa’s job, she assigns the Miser Brothers to take over Christmas, much to the chagrin of The North Wind.  However, the North Wind continues to manipulate the Miser Brothers so they will fail and Mother Nature will put him in charge.  For this special Mickey Rooney returned to voice Santa and George S Irving returned to voice Heat Miser.  Both actors were over 84 years old at the time of recording.  Dick Shawn (Snow Miser) and Shirley Booth (Mrs Claus) didn’t return because they had died before the show went into production.

The first two specials have been favorites of mine since I was a child.  I loved those stories and the characters within.  Many people prefer the iconic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which I love dearly, but the first two specials above are my absolute favorites.  While many deride the third special, it actually wasn’t that bad.  The music was good and I, for one, enjoyed seeing the Miser Brothers back on TV.  Was it the same?  No, but it had enough of a nostalgia factor that I enjoyed it.

Miser Brothers

If you check out the schedule at ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas, you can see when these specials are playing.  As of now the first two specials will run this Friday night.  However, they will inexplicably run out of order.  The Year Without Santa Claus will air first at 7pm EST and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town will air at 8pm EST.  Not sure why they did that.

The third special, A Miser Brothers’ Christmas, will air on Saturday at 10:30am EST.  However, all three specials are airing multiple times so if you miss this weekend’s showing you have multiple opportunities to see them before Christmas day.

So that’s the Rankin-Bass Santa Claus Trilogy.  I thought this would be a good time to talk about these specials because I have several other things coming up in the next week pertaining to them.  So this is sort of a primer for you to get out there and watch them.  Starting on Tuesday’s episode of Nerd Lunch we will actually create our own Christmas special using characters from not only the Rankin-Bass specials, but ALL Christmas specials.  EVER.  And it actually turns out pretty good.  Check back on Tuesday to hear that episode with special guest Digio from The Atomic Geeks.

After that, I’m going to pitch to you my idea for a fourth special in this franchise.  So stay tuned.


One Response to “A look at Rankin-Bass’ Santa Claus Trilogy”

  1. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is my favorite thing to watch at Christmas time. That Bieber video is a travesty!

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