Sunday, February 18, 2018

Top 5 Rankin/Bass Christmas Villains



This essay is a part of the Classic TV Villain Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click HERE to view the complete blogathon schedule. Read the other essays too--they're good!




We just love to hate our favorite villains, don't we? Christmas entertainment is no different. I thought it would be fun to rank everyone's favorite evildoers in Rankin/Bass holiday animation. You know Rankin/Bass--they're the producer/directors of 20 animated Christmas and New Year's classics, among their many projects. They created both cel animation (the traditional style that Saturday morning cartoons were created in) and stop motion animation (the technique they charmingly referred to as "Animagic"). Some of these TV characters are well-known, but I'm hoping I surprise you and stimulate your childhood memories for a couple of these. Is there a Rankin/Bass animated Christmas villain you would add to this list?


Both sing about themselves, "I'm too much!"


#5. The brothers Heat Miser and Snow Miser, from The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

The personification of the natural forces of cold and warmth, the delinquent brothers Heat Miser and Snow Miser are trouble for Mrs. Claus and the elves Jingle and Jangle. The argumentative, name-calling siblings are territorial, petty, jealous, irrational, and uncompromising. When they refuse to cooperate, Mrs. Claus goes straight to their mother--Mother Nature, that is--and tattles on them! These TV villains overshadow the plot of this Christmas special, which concerns itself with the two elves and Mrs. Claus finding someone with enough Christmas spirit that Santa won't cancel Christmas. Who cares, right? TV viewers just want to see more of the crazy, misbehaving Miser brothers.

These two villains are prominent because they are featured in an extremely catchy tune--you know you want to sing along...."I'm Mr. Green Christmas, I'm Mr. Sun..." They also earned their own spin-off animated special, 2008's A Miser Brothers' Christmas. To be fair, you can't really call yourself a fan of these villains until you've seen Harvey Fierstein and Michael McKean play the brothers in the 2006 live-action movie adaption of The Year Without a Santa Claus.


"If that hat is magic, I want it BACK!"

#4. Professor Hinkle, from Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Professor Hinkle is not mentioned in the original lyrics of the song, however this villain was created for the animated TV special as explanation for the snowman's magic hat. If you'll remember, Hinkle is the entertainment for the class Christmas party, described as "the worst magician in the world." When he fails at his magic performance, he throws away his hat which brings Frosty to life--only for Hinkle to re-claim ownership of the hat regardless of the consequences. When the children plead with him to let Frosty live, he refuses and calls them silly. Professor Hinkle's villainy also includes being mean, nasty, and greedy (he sees himself becoming a millionaire magician with the magic hat). He's also relentless in his pursuit of Frosty and Karen on their journey up north for the snowman's comfort and survival.


Villainy, thy name is Hinkle!

Professor Hinkle's most villainous act: he's the one who shuts the greenhouse nursery door on Karen and the snowman, trapping them inside and causing Frosty to melt! Don't worry--Santa Claus comes to the rescue and helps re-freeze Frosty. When Hinkle still wants to claim his hat, taking the life from the snowman, Santa threatens the magician telling him he'll never receive another Christmas present as long as he lives! Whoa. No one wants to be on Santa's naughty list.


NOT Henry Kissinger--it's the Burgermeister Meisterburger.

#3. Burgermeister Meisterburger, from Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)

The Rankin/Bass Christmas villain with the name most fun to pronounce, the Burgermeister Meisterburger is the mayor of Sombertown who hates toys. Not only is he mean and grouchy, he refuses to help the orphaned baby Claus. When he trips on a rubber duckie on the steps, he breaks his funny bone and outlaws toys for everyone. The Burgermeister Meisterburger is a tyrant, and an abuser of power. His extreme behavior leads him to light a bonfire of a pile of confiscated toys. His villainy is so ruthless, he turns the rebel toymaker Kris Kringle into a local hero.

The despot is palatable in this Christmas special because he's also portrayed as foolish--he keeps stabbing his own broken foot with his cane, and he's ultimately ineffective at his job. His unreasonable hatred for toys also makes this villain seem ridiculous. Has modern medicine figured out how to repair broken funny bones yet?


King of the Kossacks Kubla Kraus.


Rankin/Bass created another tyrant in 1979's Jack Frost.  Kubla Kraus is the nasty, greedy tyrant of January Junction where Jack Frost wants to live. Kraus owns every house, the only horse, all the gold, and he wants Elisa to be his wife--the same woman that inspires Jack Frost to become human. One thing I love about Kubla Kraus is his steampunk styling--he has an iron-works horse and an iron ventriloquist dummy friend. This villain shares much in common with the Burgermeister Meisterburger, including an Eastern European accent and despotism. His name is also fun to repeat over and over.


Yikes! The terrifying Winter Warlock

#2. Winter Warlock, from Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)

The Winter Warlock is described as a strange hermit of the North who lives alone in his ghostly palace of ice where he practices his spells and incantations. He threatens those who pass through his snowy territory, frightening the Kringle elves from delivering their toys. Years later, when Kris Kringle finally musters his courage to pass through, a wicked tree under Winter's power comes to life and grabs Kris. I still remember how scary the Winter Warlock was when I was a child. If you peek though your fingers while watching, you'll see Kris befriends the warlock, offering his a choo-choo train he's made, melting the evildoer's frozen heart. To cement the warlock's transformation from bad to good, Kris teaches him the song "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" to instruct him to take small steps toward his goals. It's a lesson we can all sing along with.


The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold draws upon Irish folklore to tell its Christmas story.

Rankin/Bass knew a good villain when they created one. You can see echos of the Winter Warlock in the banshee Old Mag the Hag in 1981's The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold. She's an evil fairy in search of gold for Christmas however, she's not as easily put off as Winter. She can only be tamed by failing to acquire the gold by Christmas Eve, or by Saint Patrick himself.



King Winterbolt is part magical being and part tyrant, but ALL villain.
 
TV viewers can see the influence of the Winter Warlock in the character of King Winterbolt from Rankin/Bass' 1979 theatrical release animated movie Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July too. Again, the appearance is similar. King Winterbolt is a tyrannical ruler of the North who destroys or drives away anyone who defies him, by using the magic in his ice scepter. He wants the love children have of Santa Claus for himself, so he sets out to replace Santa on his annual toy delivery. King Winterbolt's sleigh is pulled by a team of snakes. You read that right--snakes! What some villains will do for power!


King Winterbolt also has two dragons under his power to help him create a storm of snow and fog. How cool is that?


Gggrrrhhh! He's kind of like a white, furry King Kong with blue skin.


#1. The Abominable Snow Monster, from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

This may come as no surprise, but Rankin/Bass' number one villain of course, appears in their most popular TV special--and arguably, the most important Christmas TV special of all time. Not only has this TV special aired in prime time on a major network every year since it was created, but it still earns significant ratings each year too. We love to fear the Abominable Snow Monster, or the Bumble as Yukon Cornelius calls him.

What do we know about the Bumble? Nearly all of our information about him comes from the prospector. The Bumble is mean, nasty, and hates everything that has to do with Christmas. He has one weakness: he sinks (or doesn't like to swim). The Bumble prefers pork to deer meat (remember Hermey's lure of oinking like a pig?) And, in the end, we learn that Bumbles bounce.


The strongest of villains require an extraordinary hero to bring them under control.


Twice we see the narrator Sam the Snowman shake in fright from telling the story of the Abominable Snow Monster. Not only is this Christmas villain a scary creature, but he's only overcome once his teeth are removed! I remember this frightened me quite a bit as a child. Are there any other TV villains who are conquered by a wannabe dentist? I'm doubtful.


King Awgwa looks like he could stand to have a few teeth pulled.

Rankin/Bass created a a couple more Christmas villains worth mentioning even if they failed to make the top five list. In 1985's The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, the Awgwas are described as a villainous group that live in the Rocky Mountains and influence children to do bad things. They can also make themselves invisible. King Awgwa throws a rock through Santa's window with the message "no more toys." Later they use their invisibility to steal toys from Santa, preventing him for delivering them to children.


Christmas monster? yup.

Winter is Here--in 1985 too.

My favorite is the three-eyed one!

As scary and intimidating as they look, these foes are easily defeated when the Immortals battle them on behalf of Santa Claus. To be considered serious villains, the Awgwas need to wage better defenses. Just saying.


Aeon the giant vulture has potential as a TV villain.

And, 1975's Rudolph's Shiny New Year includes the malevolent Aeon the Terrible, a giant vulture that "terrorizes the sands of time." Rudolph is helping Father Time find the baby Happy New Year who has run away because he's hurt by everyone laughing at his protruding ears. But Aeon knows that keeping Happy from ringing in the new year on Dec. 31st will stop time and allow the vulture to live--not just a thousand years--but forever.


He even captures the baby new year twice--but ultimately fails as a convincing Christmas/New Year's villain.


Aeon doesn't make the top five villain list either because he "laughs himself silly," and falls out of his nest and down the cliff when he sees the baby Happy New Year's ears. Rendered helpless, Rudolph is able to rescue the baby and get him to Father Time before midnight. Successful TV villains need to keep their giggling better under control.

Do you have a favorite Rankin/Bass Christmas villain I didn't mention? Be sure to check out the other essays on TV villains in the Classic TV Blog Association blogathon.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned here can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

17 comments:

  1. Joanna, I love your writing style! It's eloquent & thoughtful. You've hit all the high notes w/ the villains, so pleased that Kubla Kraus made the list. An honorable mention for me would be Brutus from the Little Drummer Boy: Book II. Voiced by Zero Mostel, he plays a greedy Roman centurion. Now you can't get this on DVD but it is on DailyMotion

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Brutus, huh? Maybe I need a Top 10!! hahaha :D

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    2. Last time I looked, Little Drummer Boy: Book II was available on DVD from Warner Archives.

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  2. I'd have to find room somewhere for "Albert" from "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Sure, he's just a misguided kid, and he may know "algebree", but look at all the trouble and destruction he caused!

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    1. Thanks for joining the conversation. I made the judgement that that young mouse was more a misguided mischief-maker rather than a villain. Most definitely a TROUBLE-maker! LOL. Thanks for your comment :)

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  3. Some big hits here, but also some deep dives! Love the variety and how you fit so many into a Top 5 - LOL I remember as a kid how much the Bumble frightened me. But Aeon was also quite scary, to me. As for Hinkle, he is very cruel. Letting Frosty melt while Karen had to watch? Egad!

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    1. YEAH! That Hinkle is a devil :D hahahaha. Thanks for commenting Joe.

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  4. Joanna, you've written some excellent posts over the years and this one is surely among my favorites. The Bumble will always rank as my top R/B villain, too. His design and the animation are marvelous, but it's his personality that always delighted me. Often, the misunderstood baddies are the best ones. As for the Winter Warlock, he is--hands down--the scariest. Thanks for pointing his influence in later R/B villains, too.

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    1. Thanks for your generous words :) It was hard to keep my list down to just five. These villains who are often created for children sometimes have some sophisticated textures to entertain adults as well. Villains such as Burgermeister Meisterburger, Kubla Kraus, and even the Bumble have some depth that is easily overlooked. I have just one question: if a Bumble bounces but he sinks in water--what is going on there? LOL.

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  5. Terrific list, and very well done! Very perceptive comments about each of the villains. As others have said, it's always a joy reading your pieces, especially when you go deep like this.

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  6. Great list - though the Misers wuz robbed. :)

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    1. Should they have been higher in the ranking? I purposefully placed them low because the consequences of the threat they pose didn't seem that great. What do you think?

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  7. Fantastic list! Thank you, Joanna. I like the thought of there being a version of Frosty the Snowman out there that includes Prof. Hinkle in it. "Professor Hinkle/ He was kind of a big jerk./ With his bright pink shirt and his big mustache./ And his tie tied in a bow." (It doesn't rhyme. That's probably why they took the verse out.)

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    1. Animators now have incentive to create yet another Frosty TV special--to incorporate your song! LOL Maybe Burt Reynolds is still available. Coming Christmas 2018. I can't wait :D Thanks Dan.

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  8. What a terrific idea! This tribute brought back tons of memories, including a few of being afriad of these creatures. I don't visit these classic cartoons as often as I should. Everyone should take a look at this entertaining read.

    Aurora

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