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Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc.
Type independent
Founded Early-1960s
Headquarters United States
Key people Arthur Rankin, Jr., Founder
Jules Bass, Co-Founder
Industry Stop-motion television production
Products Seasonal television specials
Website Rankin/Bass fan-made site

Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. (formerly Videocraft International, Ltd.), also known as Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment, was an American stop-motion production company, known for its seasonal television specials. With few exceptions, their library is currently owned by Classic Media (for the pre-1974 material) and Warner Bros. (for the post-1974 material).

Rankin/Bass stop-motion features are recognizable by their visual style of doll-like characters with spheroid body parts, and ubiquitous powdery snow using a animation technique called "Animagic." Often, traditional cel animation scenes of falling snow would be projected over the action to create the effect of a snowfall.

Contents

Origins

The company was founded by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass in the early 1960s as Videocraft International.

The majority of Rankin/Bass' work, including all of their "Animagic" stop-motion productions, were created in Japan. Throughout the 1960s, the Animagic productions were headed by Japanese stop-motion animator Tadahito Mochinaga. Their traditionally cel-animated works were animated by Toei Animation, Crawley Films and Mushi Production, and since the 1970s, they were animated by the Japanese studio Top Craft, which was formed in 1972 as an offshoot of Toei Animation. Many Top Craft staffers, including the studio's founder Toru Hara (who was credited in some of Rankin/Bass' specials), would go on to join Studio Ghibli and work on Hayao Miyazaki's feature films, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbor Totoro.

In addition to the 'name' talent that provided the narration for the specials, Rankin/Bass had its own company of voice actors. For the studio's early work, this group was based in Toronto, Ontario, where recording was supervised by veteran CBC announcer Bernard Cowan. This group included actors such as Paul Soles, Larry D. Mann, and Paul Kligman.

Later, the most notable voice was Paul Frees, who provided the voices for, among many others, the three wise men (The Little Drummer Boy), Burgermeister Meisterburger (Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town), the traffic cop (Frosty The Snowman), Jack Frost (Frosty's Winter Wonderland), and even Santa Claus himself (Frosty The Snowman). Other Rankin/Bass voice actors have included Andy Griffith, Burl Ives, Fred Astaire, Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, Boris Karloff, Jimmy Durante, Danny Thomas, Ethel Merman, Vincent Price, Bob McFadden, Robie Lester, Linda Gary, Mickey Rooney, Morey Amsterdam, Marlo Thomas, Greer Garson, Angela Lansbury, June Foray, Don Messick, Jackie Vernon, and Shelley Winters. Outside of the holiday specials, Larry Kenney had been with Rankin/Bass for years, doing characters on ThunderCats (notably as Lion-O) and SilverHawks.

Maury Laws has served as musical director for almost all of the animated films.

Romeo Muller was another consistent contributor, serving as screenwriter for many of Rankin/Bass's best-known productions including Rudolph, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman.

Output

One of Videocraft's first projects was an independently produced series based on the character Pinocchio. It was done using "Animagic", a stop motion animation process using figurines (a process already pioneered by George Pal's "Puppetoons" and Art Clokey's Gumby and Davey and Goliath). This was followed by another independently produced series using more traditional cel animation and based on already established characters, Tales of the Wizard of Oz in 1961.

Rudolph

One of the mainstays of the business was holiday themed animated specials for airing on American television. In 1964, the company produced a special for NBC and sponsor (and later owner of NBC) General Electric. It was a stop-motion animated adaptation of the Johnny Marks song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (which had been made into a Max Fleischer traditional animated short almost two decades before). With narrator Burl Ives in the role of Sam the Snowman, along with an original orchestral score composed by Marks himself, Rudolph became one of the most popular and longest-running Christmas specials in television history: it remained with NBC until around 1972, and currently runs annually on CBS. The special contained seven original songs, however General Electric had one additional song, "Fame And Fortune" added in 1965.

Other holiday specials

The success of Rudolph led to numerous other Christmas specials. the first of which was The Cricket on the Hearth (introduced in a live-action prologue by Danny Thomas), in 1967, followed by a Thanksgiving special, The Mouse on the Mayflower (told by Tennessee Ernie Ford), in 1968. Videocraft also tackled Halloween with the theatrical feature film Mad Monster Party (featuring one of the last performances of Boris Karloff) in 1967.

Videocraft also continued to produce programs themed for the Christmas holidays. Many of their specials, like Rudolph, were based on popular Christmas songs. In 1968, Greer Garson's dramatic narration carried through The Little Drummer Boy, set against the birth of the baby Jesus. Also in 1968, Videocraft, which had carried Rankin and Bass's production credits as part of its closing logo until then (see "The company origins" section above), changed its name to Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc., and adopted a new logo, although they retained a Videocraft byline in the new closing logo credit until 1971.

The following year (1969), Jimmy Durante sang and told the story of Frosty the Snowman, with Jackie Vernon voicing the title character of a snowman magically brought to life.

1970 brought another famous Christmas special, Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. Rankin/Bass was able to enlist Fred Astaire as narrator S.D. (Special Delivery) Kruger, a mailman answering the many questions about Santa Claus (and in turn, telling his origin). The story revolved around a young Kris Kringle (voiced by Mickey Rooney) and the Burgermeister Meisterburger (voiced by Paul Frees). Kringle later marries the town's schoolteacher, Miss Jessica (voiced by Robie Lester).

In 1971, Rankin/Bass produced the Easter special Here Comes Peter Cottontail, with the voices of narrator Danny Kaye, Vincent Price, and Casey Kasem (as the title character). It was based not on the title song, but on a 1957 novel by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich titled The Easter Bunny That Overslept. In 1977, Fred Astaire returned as mailman narrator Kruger in The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town, telling the tale of the Easter Bunny's origins.

In 1974, Rankin/Bass produced still another popular Christmas special, The Year Without a Santa Claus, which featured Shirley Booth (voicing narrator Mrs. Claus), Mickey Rooney (returning as the voice of Santa Claus, which he had performed previously in Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, of which this special is a semi-sequel), and supporting characters Snow Miser and Heat Miser. The Miser Brothers are unusual fictional characters in the annals of television; several of their fans have devoted entire websites to them. It was remade as a poorly-received live action TV movie shown on NBC in 2006 starring Delta Burke and John Goodman as Mrs. Claus and Santa.[1]

Throughout the 1970s, Rankin/Bass continued to produce animated sequels to its classic specials, including the teaming of Rudolph and Frosty in 1979's Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, with the voice of Ethel Merman as the ringmistress of a seaside circus, and Rooney again returning as Santa. The special features cameos by characters from several other Rankin-Bass holiday specials, including Big Ben from Rudolph's Shiny New Year and Jack Frost. Jack appeared in his own special later that year; Jack Frost, narrated by Buddy Hackett, tells the story of the winter sprite's love for a mortal woman menaced by the evil Cossack King, Kublai Kraus (Paul Frees, in addition to the Kublai, voiced Jack Frost's overlord, Father Winter himself).

Among Rankin/Bass's original specials was 1975's The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow, featuring the voice of Angela Lansbury as the narrating and singing nun, and the Irving Berlin Christmas classic White Christmas. Though only a half-hour long (as opposed to the standard hour time slot), it was critically acclaimed, telling the story of a blind shepherd boy who longs to experience Christmas.

Their final stop-motion style Christmas story was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, taken from the L. Frank Baum story of the same name and released in 1985. In this story, the Great Ak summons a council of the Immortals to bestow upon a dying Claus the Mantle of Immortality. To make his case, the Great Ak tells Claus's life story, from his discovery as a foundling in the magical forest and his raising by Immortals, through his education by the Great Ak in the harsh realities of the human world and his acceptance of his destiny to struggle to bring joy to children. [2] This special has recently been released as part of the Warner Brothers Archive Collection on a double-feature disc that also contains Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.

Many of these specials are still shown seasonally on American television, and some have been released to video and DVD.

The specials The Gift of Winter (1974) and Witch's Night Out (1978), sometimes mistakenly attributed to Rankin/Bass, were actually produced by John Leach and Jean Rankin for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Non-holiday output

Throughout the decade of the 1960s, Videocraft produced other stop motion and traditional animation specials and films, some of which were non-holiday stories. For example, 1965 saw production of Rankin/Bass's first theatrical film, Willy McBean and his Magic Machine, the first of four films produced in association with Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures. 1966 brought to life The Ballad of Smokey the Bear (narrated by James Cagney), the story of the famous forest fire-fighting animal seen in numerous public service announcements.

In 1972 and 1973, Rankin/Bass produced four animated TV-movies for The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie: The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters, Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid, The Red Baron, and That Girl in Wonderland.

In 1977, Rankin/Bass produced an animated version of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It was followed in 1980 by an animated version of The Return of the King, the final volume of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. (The animation rights to the first two volumes were held by Saul Zaentz, producer of Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation The Lord of the Rings.) Other books adapted include The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and Peter Dickinson's The Flight of Dragons the plot though is mainly from Gordon Dickson's The Dragon and the George.

In the 1970s, Rankin-Bass' Saturday-morning output included animated adventures of The Jackson 5ive (co-produced with Motown Productions) and The Osmonds.

Rankin/Bass also produced the popular cartoon series, ThunderCats (1985), a cartoon and related toy-line about battling cat-like people in a post-apocalyptic future. It was followed by two similar cartoons about animal-like people, Silverhawks (1986), and Tigersharks (as part of the series The Comic Strip in 1987) which never enjoyed the same commercial success.

Rankin/Bass also attempted live-action productions, such as 1967's sequel King Kong Escapes, the 1976 telefilm The Last Dinosaur, and the 1978 made-for-TV movie The Bermuda Depths.

Rankin/Bass today

After its last output in 1987, Rankin/Bass became dormant, and for many years to come, no new holiday or non-holiday specials or theatrical films were produced. In the meantime, Arthur Rankin Jr. split his time between New York City, where the company still has its offices, and his summer retreat in Bermuda; similarly, Jules Bass commuted between New York and Paris.

In 1999, Rankin/Bass joined forces with James G. Robinson's Morgan Creek Productions and Nest Entertainment, creators of the animated trilogy The Swan Princess, for the first and only animated adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I, based on a treatment conceived by Rankin. Distributed by Warner Bros., the film flopped at the U.S. box office and many U.S. film critics took it to task for its depictions of "offensive ethnic stereotyping."

After amicably dissolving the Rankin/Bass partnership, Jules Bass became a vegetarian; a decade later, he wrote Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon,[3] the first children's book character developed specifically to explore moral issues related to vegetarianism. The original story along with a follow-up cookbook became bestsellers for independent publishing house Barefoot Books.

In 2001, the Fox network aired Rankin/Bass's first new, original Christmas special in sixteen years, Santa Baby! (like many past specials, based on a popular Christmas song), featuring voices by Eartha Kitt and Gregory Hines and featuring primarily African-American characters, a change from its previous specials.[4]Unlike previous Rankin/Bass holiday specials, which made no use of Hanna-Barbera sound effects, Santa, Baby! made total use of them.

Many of Rankin/Bass' films are shown on ABC Family during their December "25 Days of Christmas" broadcast, though several are heavily edited with scenes shortened and entire songs removed.

Library and rights

The Rankin/Bass library is now in the hands of other companies. General Electric's Tomorrow Entertainment acquired the original Videocraft International in 1971. The pre-1974 library (including the "classic four" Christmas specials) remained under the ownership of GE. In 1988, Lorne Michaels' production company Broadway Video acquired the rights to the pre-1974 Rankin/Bass television material from GE. In 1995, Broadway Video's children's division became Golden Books Family Entertainment, and in turn became Classic Media.

The Rankin/Bass feature film library (with the exception of Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July and The Last Unicorn) is now owned by French production company StudioCanal.

In 1978, Telepictures Corporation acquired all of the post-1974 Rankin/Bass library. All Rankin/Bass material from 1974-1989 (except The Last Unicorn) are now owned by Warner Bros. (through the studio's 1989 acquisition of Lorimar-Telepictures). In 2008, Jack Frost (1979) was officially released on DVD by Warner Home Video (after several years of being in the public domain).

The Last Unicorn is owned by ITV Global Entertainment Ltd., with Lionsgate handling video distribution under ITV's license.

Television rights to The Jackson 5ive are owned by CBS Television Distribution due to being the successor to Worldvision Enterprises. Classic Media does have ancillary rights, however.

Television rights to most of the Rankin/Bass library are held in the United States by ABC and ABC Family, with the exceptions of the original Rudolph and Frosty specials, which are held by CBS.

Filmography

Feature films

Animated TV specials

Animated series

Sequels to Rankin-Bass specials not made by Rankin-Bass

Several sequels were made to Rankin-Bass specials not really made by Rankin-Bass itself. Most of the non-Rankin/Bass sequels were made by both of Rankin-Bass's current rights holders Classic Media and Warner Bros.


Television.svg This film, television or video-related list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it with reliably sourced additions.

References

  1. ^ The Year Without a Santa Claus (2006) (TV)
  2. ^ The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985) at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon, 1999, ISBN 978-1902283364
  4. ^ Santa Baby! (2001) at the Internet Movie Database

External links








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