About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Animation Celebration: The Little Drummer Boy

Welcome to Christmas in July: Animation Celebration!  July is the special time of the year that I turn the blog over to my readers.  All month long I'll be posting essays written by people eager to share their passion and memories for animated Christmas entertainments.

Today's essay is on 1968's Rankin/Bass classic The Little Drummer Boy.   This touching essay comes to us from Mitchell Hadley, the blogger at It's About TV.   His site not only includes great discussions about television but clever and insightful commentary on our culture. 
Check out It's About TV.

Mitchell and I are both participating in the Me-TV "Summer of Classic TV" blogathon that starts next week.  He's writing about Burke's Law and I'm writing about That Girl.  I just love the programming on Me-TV!  Anyway, I hope you check out the blogathon, organized by the Classic TV Blog Association, July 15th-19th.

Based on the familiar Christmas song by Katherine Kennicott Davis, with an original story by Romeo Muller, The Little Drummer Boy tells the story of Aaron, a shepherd boy orphaned when his parents were murdered by thieves, who now hates all humans.  Aaron’s special talent – the ability to make the animals dance when he plays on a drum given to him by his parents shortly before their murder – attracts the attention of the nefarious Ben Haramed, who kidnaps the boy and his animal companions and makes them part of his troupe of hapless performers.  After Ben Haramed sells Aaron’s camel to three kings engaged in a journey guided by a star, Aaron follows the kings to a stable in Bethlehem.

It’s a charming story, done in trademark Rankin-Bass fashion with stop-action animatronics and featuring wonderful voice performances from Oscar winners Greer Garson and Jose Ferrer.  But, good as all that is, what makes The Little Drummer Boy special to me is the music – and no, it’s not the title song.  It is, instead, “One Star in the Night,” with music by Maury Laws and lyrics by Jules Bass, sung by the Vienna Choir Boys as Aaron and his companions' journey to Bethlehem.   Here’s the last verse, sung as Aaron reaches the stable and sees the crowd gathered around the Christ Child:
        Angel’s lullaby
        On that holy night,
        Sung unto a Savior who was born beneath its glow.
        One Star in the night
        Rainbow in the dark,
        One night to remember; on that peaceful night the King of Kings
        was born.

It is a stirring scene, and no matter how many times I see it I never fail to be moved.  There’s nothing saccharine about it, no cloying Hallmark-like sentiment, just a simple presentation that offers us a glimpse into the drama and the power radiating from that stable, capable of healing not only Aaron’s lamb, but Aaron himself.   Premiering in the dark year of 1968, there must have been a certain power to The Little Drummer Boy’s message of peace and love, and it’s a message just as relevant today.


  1. The Me-TV Blogathon sounds fun. I am so glad you shared news about it.

    As for "The Little Drummer", I truly enjoyed reading your review of it, Mitchell. It's an amazing powerful story brought to life in a simple cartoon. Thank you.

    I hope it's message carries on and reaches children and adults, alike, generation after generation...

  2. The sequel is excellent as well....Zero Mostel had such a fantastic voice!

  3. Wonderful review...I too love the Vienna Choir Boys music in the Little Drummer Boy. It fits perfectly!

  4. Thanks to all of you for the kind comments. It's really easy to write about a special as good as "Drummer Boy"!

  5. I love this one too. When I watch it, I have to keep a fresh box of tissues close by. "Little Drummer Boy" makes me cry like a baby!