Friday, December 25, 2020

Green Phoenix - Let's Talk...The Rankin/Bass Cinematic Universe


Merry Christmas everybody!

As this year finally comes to a close, I figured that I would end the year with a little bit of fun by discussing a topic that was on my mind all the way since last December. The Rankin/Bass Christmas specials have long become a staple of the season, being almost mandatory viewing for everyone despite an almost universally acknowledge lack of quality.

The stop motion animated company was founded in 1960 by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. And until their demise in 1987, the company released dozens of cheap animated Christmas specials that have become icons of the holidays. Starting with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964 and lasting until The Wind in the Willow in 1987, the company released numerous animated specials over its tenure.

With this in mind, I began to wonder about the interconnection of some of these Christmas specials. Thanks to Marvel and Disney, the idea of a cinematic universe is incredibly commonplace. But what if I told you that Rankin/Bass may have unintentionally created a Christmas cinematic universe back in the 1970s?

The more I looked into it, the more I just had to talk about it. So Let's Talk...The Rankin/Bass Cinematic Universe.

Before we discuss the Rankin/Bass Cinematic Universe, let us discuss the films which make up the overall continuity of the universe. This list will be placed by year:
  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
  2. The Little Drummer Boy (1968)
  3. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
  4. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970)
  5. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
  6. Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976)
  7. The Little Drummer Boy: Book II (1976)
  8. The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town (1977)
  9. Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
  10. Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1979)
  11. Rudolph and Frosty Christmas in July (1979)
  12. Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys (2001)
  13. The Legend of Frosty the Snowman (2005)
  14. A Miser Brothers' Christmas (2008)
Now it should be noted that the last three films in this lineup were not actually produced by Rankin/Bass Productions, as the company became defunct in 1987. But due to the reuse of characters, mention of previous films, and the utilization of the same characters, the films are clearly taking place in a single universe. These are also not the only Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, though some of these films connections to one another are surprisingly vague.

When I compiled this list and really considered everything, this list truly creates something both unique and really really weird. We have very religious films like The Little Drummer Boy and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, then we have films which are almost pure fantasy with talking toys and other strange magical beings like The Year Without a Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This varied mythology really fleshes out a world of magic and mystery that interconnects in ways both subtle and not so much.
I think the films that surprised me with their connections to the other films in this hypothetical cinematic universe were The Little Drummer Boy films and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. At first glance, it might appear as though these films are entirely unrelated to the other films in the franchise, but Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey actually makes several references to both Rudolph and Santa throughout and the Magi from Nestor are actually the exact same characters from The Little Drummer Boy.

Obviously the two main characters of this cinematic universe are Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. The collection of films starring them make up the lion share of the films in the lineup and they are even mentioned in films that they don't appear in. The major storylines of the cinematic universe tend to involve them and the universe even has something akin to a major crossover arc in Rudolph and Frosty Christmas in July. The film carries many hallmarks similar to other crossover event films which are now quite popular.

Beyond Rudolph and Frosty, the films also have a shared connection with Santa Claus (obviously) and the wider magical nature of the Rankin/Bass universe, with Mother Nature making a major role in some of the later films. There is also the odd man out of The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town which shares a connection through the Fred Astaire mailman from Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It is character connections like these that make up the bulk of this hypothetical cinematic universe.

All in all and to keep this article short, I feel as though this was something that should've been brought up and would be an immensely enjoyable thought experiment. It is probably a little far-fetched but I feel quite motivated to explore the idea even further. With a little bit more time to flesh-out this idea, I could see much more detailed discussions being had in the future. Maybe I can even find other connections to other works of the company by examining the finer details.

I just really wanted to approach the subject as something fun for the holidays. After the year we've all had, some lighthearted silliness is perhaps deserved. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Years.

With any luck, 2021 will be better than 2020.

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