Rankin/Bass Productions was an American animation production company founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Some of their major hits were “The Last Unicorn” and the “Thundercats” TV show. However, they are mostly known for their classic holiday television specials.
You probably have seen a Rankin/Bass production or two during Freeform’s holiday marathons. Many people are especially familiar with the production company’s first Christmas special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)”. Since the film was based on the hit song of the same name had a charming animation, it was a hit and is still shown on TV today. However, Rudolph is seen in more than just reruns. Due to a copyright mistake, characters from the film can be used anywhere, which explains why you often see many parodies and appearances of Rudolph characters in commercials and other media. The charming imagery of this movie can still be found on TV every holiday season, commercial break or not.
Another iconic movie by Rankin/Bass is “Frosty the Snowman” (1969) which brought the friendly snowman from the popular song to life, in a television special. We can see the movie’s mark on culture in that their Frosty is the Frosty we usually see on shirts, christmas decorations, and other holiday imagery. This is partly due to the fact that many different networks hold the rights to broadcast the movie, so there was no Christmas marathon found on television without this classic Rankin/Bass special. Rankin/Bass simply designed a character no one could or wanted to forget.
A Christmas marathon is never complete without a Santa-centered movie, and Rankin/Bass has us covered. “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)” is an origin story of the iconic legend of Santa Claus. A staple in the Rankin/Bass holiday specials, it provides a story of how Santa became Santa, and how traditions like placing gifts under a tree came to be. This movie was also one of the very first movies to address a Santa origin story. Other films have taken this idea such as “The Santa Clause” franchise starring Tim Allen, which is still popular today.
Everyone loves “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993). It’s songs are blasted from October through December, and is a must-watch when it comes to Christmas movies. This movie with a huge fan base and a lot of cultural influence is actually inspired by a Rankin/Bass production. Strangely, a movie about the Easter bunny, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (1971) is about a bunny named Peter who oversleeps and fails to deliver his eggs on Easter. To make up for it, he tries to give his eggs away on other holidays such as Fourth of July, Halloween, and especially Christmas. The fish out of water comedy was the inspiration for Tim Burton’s film. Although “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” is certainly not the most memorable Rankin/Bass movie, it is still an influential film in its device of merging holidays together for comedy.
Rankin/Bass’s legacy lives on every December. Their Christmas specials set forth many tropes that Christmas movies still follow today. Not to mention, Rankin/Bass specials are timeless, charming, and always a fun watch. This holiday season, when you see Frosty decorations, an AT&T commercial featuring Rudolph, or watch the classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, remember the charming old animated movies that inspired them, and maybe even give them a watch!