Today I’m excited to discuss Rankin/Bass films in which some combination of Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa exists. I’d also like to note that I’ve been calling such movies “the clay people” all my life because I always thought they looked little clay figures. I learned this week that “claymation” isn’t quite the right term, as small puppets like Rudolph, for example, are actually crafted out of wood and felt. I’m no expert with the mechanics of it, but you can read about Rudolph and Santa’s 2000s restoration.
All within the world of Rankin/Bass, specials featuring Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer abound. There are also a few knock-offs out there, but we won’t be talking about those. I’d like to take another trip down memory lane and see where three of the best wintry figures (and maybe a couple of others) work together.
Frosty the Snowman (Frosty meets Santa)
Frosty the Snowman (1969) is an obvious collision of Frosty and Santa. This feature was cel-animated (looks hand-drawn), not stop-motion (like Rudolph). In this classic, Frosty the Snowman (voiced by Jackie Vernon) is born by the good faith of children and the hat of a an evil magician (“think nasty, think nasty!”). Said magician, Professor Hinkle, is none too happy that Frosty has used his hat to come to life. Frosty and Karen are on the run to get Frosty back to the North Pole before it’s too late. There are some tears, and there is some melting, but there’s also an animated Santa Claus! Santa looks different from all his stop-motion iterations, but he helps Frosty learn how to manage the changing seasons, and he inspires Professor Hinkle to change his ways. This one is told and sung by Jimmy Durante. Happy Birthday!
Bonus: Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (Frosty meets Jack Frost)
Ok, so this 1976 special has neither Santa nor Rudolph, but it has a special place in my heart. Frosty and his kiddie friends are playing in the snow on a non-descript winter day (I really don’t think it’s Christmastime. I’d guess either November or late January/early February). Long story short, Frosty needs a snowy companion, so the gang builds Crystal to be his wife. Jack Frost is jealous of the famed snowman, so he takes after Professor Hinkle and sets out to ruin Frosty by stealing the snowman’s hat, but the plan backfires in many ways. In a plot twist, Crystal and Frosty make Jack Frost feel special by putting him in their wedding, so he agrees to prolong the winter so that the snow people can stay with the kids. The parson reminds everyone of the beauty of spring, though, so Frosty and Crystal have to go back to the North Pole. This one is told and sung by Andy Griffith.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Rudolph meets Santa)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) is the first huge Christmas special for Rankin and Bass. Rudolph (voiced by Billie Mae Richards) is born in this program. Rudolph is Donner’s son, and Santa pressures Donner to do something about Rudolph’s shiny red nose. The nose makes Rudolph an outcast, but a pretty reindeer named Clarice thinks he’s cute. Also in the North Pole, we meet an elf named Hermey (yeah, it sounds like Herbie, but it’s Hermey) is fed up with making toys and just wants to be a dentist, for crying out loud. Rudolph and Hermey are two peas in a pod, so they go on a journey to find themselves, which leads them to gold prospector Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowman, and the Island of Misfit Toys. You’ll have to rewatch the special to see how Rudolph finds his way back to Santa’s sleigh. This one is told and sung by Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman.
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (Rudolph sees Santa again)
Rudolph has learned that he is a valuable being, and people who tease him are just mean. He’s ready to mentor a new character, Baby New Year. The Baby must be installed at Father Time’s castle in order for the New Year to commence, but Baby New Year is missing. Santa sends Rudolph to consult with Father Time. The Baby ran away because he was so upset when everyone made fun of him for his big ears. With a walking clock (General Ticker) and a camel (Quarter Past Five) in tow, Rudolph sets out to rescue Baby New Year, also called Happy, before an ominous vulture named Aeon can get him. The wild goose chase takes Rudolph and friends through multiple scenes and stories (like the Arch of Pellico Islands) before they can find and help Happy. All the turmoil is worth the New Year’s celebration at the end. This one is told and sung by Father Time himself, voiced by Red Skelton.
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (Santa and Rudolph, barely)
In this traditional tale, we see that Santa was orphaned and blew through the wind to the land of Sombertown. A minion to the ruling Burgermeister picks up the baby, who has a tag that reads, “Claus.” The Burgermeister scorns the baby and has the minion take him to the orphanage, but the wind sweeps Claus away again. Forest animals protect the baby from the powerful and cruel Winter Warlock, transporting him to the Kringles’ place on the Rainbow River Valley. Tanta Kringle and the Kringle elves are the first toymakers to the king. They take Baby Claus in, name him Kris, and teach him their ways. He quickly becomes a young man on a mission to smuggle toys back into Sombertown. In the process, Kris accrues a penguin named Topper, he melts the Winter Warlock’s cold heart and befriends him, and he finds the love of his life, Jessica. Though it’s a long and dangerous journey, Christmas cheer prevails. Oh, and Rudolph? Blink, and you’ll miss him, but the narrator fills out Santa’s story by briefly mentioning the famed reindeer. This one is told and sung by Fred Astaire as mailman S.D. Kluger, who would also narrate Rankin/Bass’s The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town.
Rudolph & Frosty’s Christmas in July (Rudolph, Santa, Frosty)
This 1979 production is the only one to have a feature-length run time at 98 minutes. While Rudolph and Santa had already seen stop-motion a few times, this was Frosty’s first and only stop-motion appearance. The three favorites are voiced by the same actors who gave them life in their title specials. In the story, Rudolph’s nose is starting to burn out due to a new evil wintry character, Winterbolt. The mythology here is a little hard to follow, but it involves the 4th of July, a circus, and magic amulets to keep Frosty and his family from melting, courtesy of the evil Winterbolt, who also has a genie create an evil reindeer named Scratcher. Despite all the trickery and confusion of the seasons, it’s nice to see Frosty here with his wife, Crystal, and their two kids, Milly and Chilly. Santa and Mrs. Claus aren’t the stars of the show, but they’re present and accounted for. You really need to see it for any of this to make sense. I almost forgot that Jack Frost is in this movie, too!
My Nostalgia Thoughts
I came up with this specific post because I always loved seeing Rudolph, Frosty, Santa, and other characters cross over from one film to another. They don’t look exactly the same from program to program, but that makes the spectacle even more interesting. I suppose it made me feel closer to them as a child to see them communicate and inhabit the North Pole in various ways. I casually collect paraphernalia from these films because the characters are still so dear to my heart. Here is a large, beautiful storybook of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. I’ve used it well in the years that I’ve owned it!
I’m so pleased to have spent some time studying these characters once again. I definitely have more Rankin/Bass energy in me for this season, though. Before I continue working on the next idea, I want to acknowledge historian Rick Goldschmidt. He is the foremost authority on all things Rankin/Bass, and I’m so grateful for the resources he has created on these movies that are so special to me. I have him to thank for the tip about Hermey, for the insights on how characters’ appearances change throughout the films, and for reminding me how long the Christmas in July movie is!
While I write for the blog, I’ve got a few fun Rankin/Bass pieces coming up on ScreenRant, too. The music is an integral part of the specials, so I hope you can take a look at a piece where I will focus specifically on that aspect. Thanks for taking the time to read. If these movies are special to you, I’d love to talk with you sometime! 🙂