Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Animation Celebration: Santa Claus is Comin' to Town

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.  Isn't this fun?

Today we feature an essay about the 1970 Rankin/Bass Animagic TV special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.  This essay was written by Jakki Hanna, the founder of the blog Tis the Season and the Yahoo group Christmas Movies and Music.  Proving herself in the quiz a few days ago on this blog, Jakki sure knows her Rankin/Bass.



There is no other name more synonymous with Christmas specials than Rankin & Bass. They are responsible for producing some of the most beloved animated and stop motion featurettes of all-time. Even in an age of computer animation, the wonder of their 'Animagic', as they call it, is not lost on the imagination of children. I was such a child once myself and still remember, as if it were yesterday, the excitement of waiting for their specials to air each year, back when it was still considered a television event.

The Burgermeister Meisterburger

One of these beloved classics was Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, released in 1970 and featuring the voice-acting talents of Fred Astaire (as Narrator) and Mickey Rooney (as Kris Kringle/Santa Claus). Though not quite as popular as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty The Snowman, it was perhaps my favorite of them all. It told the story of the origins of Santa Claus and the development of many familiar traditions. How he was cared for by the elves as a baby, how he began making toys, why he wears a red suit, how he met and fell in love with Mrs. Claus, how the reindeer learned to fly and why he delivers toys on Christmas Eve. Along with these whimsical aspects, it also includes 2 villains who do all they can to stop the determined young Kris Kringle; the terrifying Winter Warlock, who eventually experiences a surprising transformation, and the mayor of Somber Town, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, a mere human of Grinchly proportions.

The Winter Warlock

One thing that this special has in common with the tales of Rudolph and Frosty is that it is completely conceivable. As a child who whole-heartedly believed in Santa Claus, I fully accepted this as the actual story of Santa. It was unmatched by any other version, including The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus. Along with great storytelling, it also features a top-notch soundtrack with memorable songs such as the popular title track, 'Put One Foot In Front of the Other', 'If You Sit on my Lap Today' and 'The First Toymaker to the King'.



While the featurette is mostly blanketed in folklore, it does not step on the toes of those who consider Christmas a sacred religious holiday. In fact, it pays homage more than once to the significance of Christ's birth and how it correlates to Santa's story. Santa is ultimately a kind-hearted man who simply wants to spread joy to children through the act of generosity. And spread joy he has, for hundreds of years, as children continue to await that fateful visit each Christmas Eve. There are still so many lessons we can learn from this wonderful tale, as it continues to touch the hearts of all who watch it year after year. The saddest part of all is after the final refrain, as Fred Astaire's mail truck rides off to the North Pole to deliver letters to Santa, when that familiar Rankin & Bass logo and jingle pop up, letting us know the show is over until next year!




11 comments:

  1. The Burgermeister Meisterburger is one of the best cartoon villains ever. Anybody else disappointed that the Winter Warlock turned good?

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  2. Awesome write-up, Jakki! This is one of those specials that I don't pull out too often, but it has definitely made me want to watch it again - soon!

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  3. Great job on that, Jakki. Great memories for sure.

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  4. What a wonderful review! I appreciate that you pointed out areas where this movie pays it's respect to Christ's birth, something very rare in a child's Christmas movie nowadays. This nostalgic overview makes me want to watch it again and relive all those feelings I had a child and share them with my own.

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  5. One of my particular favorite parts of this special is right at the end, where Kluger talks about people who don't like Christmas, and then comments: "…but what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learn to give as only he can give, of ourselves, our talents, our love, and our hearts? Maybe if we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson...maybe there would finally be peace on earth and goodwill toward man." Yes, indeed.

    Also: don't try writing out Christmas cards while watching this special. You will be so busy singing along with the songs that you'll get very few done. :-)

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  6. Thank to everyone for the nice comments! To phairhead, the Winter Warlock terrified me as a kid, while Burgermeister Meisterburger was just a big bully. Funny how the evil sorcerer was easier to win over than the hardhearted man. I don't know if I wish they had kept him as a villain, but I do think he is one of the scariest as far as Rankin & Bass specials go. Probably second to The Bumble, who incidentally, also turns good.

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  7. I liked this special because it showed the Clauses as a young, attractive couple -- something you don't often imagine or get to see.

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  8. Great article, Jakki! I really love this special! I have all the action figures from it, as you know, even that mail cart! Ha. I agree, it's the best tale for explaining Santa, though I also love "Santa Claus: The Movie" quite a lot. As you know, Rankin/Bass did "Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" as well, but that one, I don't know, it's a bit off putting for me. Even though I'm a big R/B fan too. I forget if you've mentioned this, but do you usually watch "The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town"? It is basically this same movie remade for the Easter Bunny!

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  9. Thanks Nathan! I too love Santa Claus: The Movie...I still remember seeing that one in the theater! I had watched The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus as a kid, but couldn't remember what it was for many years. I went on a hunt and thought it must be A Year Without A Santa Claus, but after watching I quickly realized that wasn't it. All I remembered was that it was similar to Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town in that it told the origins. I finally got it and was disappointed because my memory of the special was better. Oh and to answer your question, yes, I like to watch The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town, along with Peter Cottontail at Easter. Not sure which one I like best...both have very redeeming qualities. I also like The First Easter Rabbit, which is traditional hand-drawn animation, but I suppose that's all getting slightly off topic. ;)

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  10. I don't know what this says about me but...I frequently find myself singing "One Foot in Front of the Other" when I'm struggling with a large project or running a particular difficult 5k race. Maybe it says I watch too much TV. LOL! I love this Christmas TV special <3

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