Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment created some of the most enduring holiday TV specials of all time featuring Rudolph, Frosty, and more. Here’s how you can stream some of those beloved claymation, stop-motion, and animated holiday classics.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
The first Rankin/Bass animated Christmas special is also still the most famous, with regular annual TV airings during the holiday season since its premiere on NBC in 1964 (making it the longest-running Christmas special in TV history). Inspired by the classic song and narrated in warm tones by Burl Ives, it tells the story of outcast reindeer Rudolph, whose glowing red nose eventually earns him a prominent place pulling Santa’s sleigh on Christmas.
The Little Drummer Boy
Based on the holiday song of the same name, The Little Drummer Boy follows the tragic but hopeful story of young drummer boy Aaron. He plays for his animal friends (a camel, a donkey, and a lamb), and follows the Magi to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Jesus, where he plays his drum for the newborn savior.
The Little Drummer Boy is available for digital purchase ($9.99) from Vudu.
Frosty the Snowman
After Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman is the most popular and enduring animated Rankin/Bass character, who got his start in this special expanded from the popular song. Legendary comedian and singer Jimmy Durante gave his final performance narrating the story of the snowman who magically comes to life and is then aided by Santa Claus so that he can return every Christmas.
Frosty the Snowman is available for digital purchase ($9.99) from Vudu.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
An all-star cast (including Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney) provide voices for this Santa Claus origin story taken from the hit song of the same name (which is also prominently featured, sung by Astaire). It chronicles Kris Kringle’s life, from his birth through the establishment of major Christmas traditions, when he becomes the Santa Claus everyone knows and loves.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town is available for digital purchase ($9.99) from Vudu.
The Year Without a Santa Claus
Based on the 1956 children’s book by Phyllis McGinley, this special tells the story of Santa’s decision to take one Christmas off (He’s feeling a bit under the weather.) and the disastrous consequences that ensue (of course, eventually, Christmas is saved). The Year Without a Santa Claus also introduced the popular characters of the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser, who control the world’s weather.
The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow
Angela Lansbury narrates this story about a blind young shepherd who encounters snow for the very first time. He is taken in by a group of nuns who cast him as an angel in their Christmas pageant, where he experiences a Christmas miracle. The characters sing Irving Berlin’s classic song “White Christmas,” although the story isn’t drawn from the lyrics (unlike many other song-based Rankin/Bass specials).
Frosty’s Winter Wonderland
This sequel to Frosty the Snowman (narrated by Andy Griffith) finds the magical snowman tormented (and then eventually befriended) by Jack Frost and gifted with a companion in the form of Crystal, who becomes his snow-wife (They are, of course, married by a snow-parson.).
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
The success of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer inspired this rather odd sequel. Technically, it’s set after Christmas (The opening scenes feature Santa and Rudolph returning from delivering presents.), with Rudolph traveling through a series of islands representing various historical time periods in order to recover Happy the Baby New Year and save New Year’s Eve.
Although traditionally aired on TV around Christmas, this special about the adventures of the famous winter spirit is really more about the festive holiday of Groundhog Day. Wanting to sleep for another six weeks, groundhog Pardon-Me Pete (voiced by Buddy Hackett) makes a deal with Jack Frost to extend winter.
Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July
This feature-length special (which was also released theatrically in some countries) is sort of the Rankin/Bass equivalent of an Avengers movie, starring not only Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, but also the Mickey Rooney-voiced Santa Claus from Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus, plus other supporting characters from the Rudolph and Frosty specials. Here, Rudolph and Frosty team up to stop the sinister King Winterbolt from destroying Christmas.
Although Pinnochio is still strongly associated with Disney, the character created by author Carlo Collodi has been adapted in many forms, and here Rankin/Bass tells the story of the first Christmas experienced by the marionette who became a real boy. Pinocchio and his father/creator Geppetto both try to find perfect Christmas gifts for each other, leading Pinocchio to a series of misadventures that resolve in learning the true meaning of the holiday.
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