If you're an American and have had a childhood since the 1960s, then you know Rankin/Bass Productions.
Founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass in 1960 as Videocraft International, the New York City-based studio is responsible for a series of (usually) Stop Motion puppet animated (called "Animagic") holiday specials that are virtual fixtures of seasonal television programming. Such titles as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail have been seen more or less annually since they first aired, and many subsequent holiday specials produced by other companies will contain salutes to these shows.
The general formula of these holiday specials was to take one or more classic holiday songs and to build a script (usually by staff writer Romeo Muller) around the music, featuring a celebrity narrator as an Ink-Suit Actor in the story and interspersing it with original songs with music by Maury Laws and lyrics by co-producer/co-director Jules Bass. Very likely a majority of the characters were voiced by Paul Frees.
Rankin/Bass also produced non-holiday Animated Shows. Best known is probably ThunderCats; its other series included Tales from the Wizard of Oz, The King Kong Show, The Jackson 5ive and The Osmonds. The popularity of ThunderCats resulted in two follow-up series, SilverHawks and TigerSharks (the third appearing along with three other shows as The Comic Strip). By the time of ThunderCats, the studios were now owned by Lorimar-Telepictures; Telepictures had acquired the studio in 1983 after distributing their post-1974note library from Telepictures' founding in 1978. Warner Bros. now owns the rights to those programs, having acquired L-T in 1989.
Its most ambitious projects were animated adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien's books, with The Hobbit and The Return of the King. (Not to be confused with Ralph Bakshi's ill-fated attempt, which bridged the series.). Along with The Last Unicorn and The Flight of Dragons, these films were the first major U.S.-Japanese animation production crossovers. The co-producing Japanese company was known as Topcraft and soon after, they went on to form the company Studio Ghibli.
Although Rankin-Bass shut down in 1987, the company still manages its trademarks. In 2001, it released its latest holiday project, Santa, Baby!, which featured a mostly black cast. The duo also had a part in the ThunderCats Continuity Reboot. Nonetheless, Rankin/Bass will forever be remembered for virtually defining the concept of specialized holiday programming.
Arthur Rankin Jr. passed away from an illness on January 30, 2014.
Shows Produced or Distributed by Rankin/Bass
TV Specials (with Narrator)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman
- The Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show (1965; unaired pilot)
- The Ballad of Smokey the Bear (1966) James Cagney
- Cricket on the Hearth (1967) Roddy McDowall as Cricket Crocket
- The Mouse on the Mayflower (1968) Tennessee Ernie Ford
- The Little Drummer Boy (1968) Greer Garson as Our Storyteller
- Frosty the Snowman (1969) Jimmy Durante
- The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians (1970)
- Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970) Fred Astaire as S.D. ("Special Delivery") Kluger, also established Mickey Rooney as the official voice of the Rankin/Bass Santa.
- Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971) Danny Kaye as Seymour S. Sassafras
- The Enchanted World of Danny Kaye (1972)
- 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) George Gobel as Father Mouse
- The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus
- The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975) Angela Lansbury as Sister Theresa
- The First Easter Rabbit (1976) Burl Ives as the older Stuffy the Rabbit
- Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976) Andy Griffith
- Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976) Red Skelton as Father Time
- The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976) Greer Garson as Our Storyteller
- The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town (1977) Fred Astaire as S.D. Kluger
- Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977) Roger Miller as Speiltoe, Santa's donkey
- The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) Tom Bosley as B.A.H. Humbug
- Rankin Bass Jack Frost (1979) Buddy Hackett as "Pardon-Me" Pete the Groundhog
- Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979) Mickey Rooney as Santa
- Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)
- The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold (1981) Art Carney as Blarney Kilarney
- The Coneheads (1983)
- The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)
- Santa, Baby! (2001)
- The New Adventures Of Pinocchio (1960)
- Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1961)
- The King Kong Show (1966)
- The Smokey Bear Show (1969)
- The Tomfoolery Show (1970)
- The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad Show (1970)
- The Jackson 5ive (1971)
- The Osmonds (1972)
- Kid Power (1972)
- Festival of Family Classics (1972)
- ThunderCats (1985)
- The Comic Strip (1987)
- The Mini Monsters
- Karate Kat
- Street Frogs
- Return to Oz (TV; no relation to Disney's 1985 live-action film) (1964)
- Willy McBean and his Magic Machine (1965)
- The Daydreamer (1966)
- Wacky World of Mother Goose (1966)
- Mad Monster Party (1967)
- King Kong Escapes (1968)
- The Red Baron (TV) (1972)
- Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid (TV) (1972)
- Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters (TV) (1972)
- That Girl in Wonderland (TV) (1974)
- Marco (Live Action) (1973)
- The Last Dinosaur (live action) (1976)
- The Hobbit (TV) (1977) (produced with Japanese studio Topcraft)
- The Bermuda Depths (live action) (1977) — In which Burl Ives is eaten by a giant turtle
- The Bushido Blade (live action) (1979)
- The Return of the King (TV) (1980) (produced with Japanese studio Topcraft)
- The Ivory Ape (live action) (1980)
- The Last Unicorn (1982) (produced with Japanese studio Topcraft)
- The Sins of Dorian Gray (live action) (1983)
- The Flight of Dragons (TV) (1986) (produced with Japanese studio Topcraft)
- The Wind in the Willows (1985) (TV) (1985) note (produced with Taiwanese studio Cuckoo's Nest Studio)
- The King and I (1999) (with Morgan Creek Productions and Nest Family Entertainment)
Rankin-Bass Productions provides examples of:
- International Coproduction: All of their shows, movies and specials were co-produced with many Japanese companies. Particularly Topcraft throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.
- Laugh Track: The only shows that used this practice were The Jackson 5ive, The Osmonds and Kid Power, played on Saturday mornings from 1971-1972. Eleven years later, it was used on their Coneheads special.
- Shared Universe: Their Christmas specials have several subtle connections between each other (the shot of Santa's sleigh flying at the end of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being replicated or referenced multiple times throughout the specials, for example), and they outright have a crossover in Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July.
- The Wiki Rule: The Rankin/Bass Wiki.