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Creator / Rankin/Bass Productions
aka: Rankin Bass

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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 animated holiday specials that are virtual fixtures of seasonal television programming. Such titles as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail have been shown more or less annually since they first aired, and many subsequent holiday specials produced by other companies will contain homages 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. While some of the specials use traditional cel animation, most of them feature a puppet-based Stop Motion technique known as "Animagic".

Rankin/Bass also produced non-holiday Animated Shows. Best known is probably ThunderCats; its other series included Tales of 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 adaptation, 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. Earlier productions, such as Frosty the Snowman, had been animated by Mushi Productions, albeit without any input from Osamu Tezuka.

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. Jules Bass would also pass away from an age-related illness on October 25, 2022 at an assisted living facility in Rye, New York.

While Rudolph the-Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman still air annually on CBS every Christmas season, as does Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town on ABC, near the end of the 2010s, these specials would also begin airing on Freeform as part of their 25 Days Of Christmas block, including the 1968 special The Little Drummer Boy.

The company's lesser-known Christmas specials (such as Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey and The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow) and followups (The Little Drummer Boy II, Rudolph's Shiny New Year and Frosty's Winter Wonderland) currently air on AMC for their Christmas block Best Christmas Ever. Sometimes the channel would air a marathon of Rankin-Bass Holiday specials during the weekends after Thanksgiving. Prior to AMC, these specials used to air on "ABC Family" (now "FreeForm") between the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s decade.

Shows Produced or Distributed by Rankin/Bass

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    TV Specials (with Narrator) 

    TV Series 


Rankin-Bass Productions provides examples of:

  • Animesque: While the character designs for their specials were done in the U.S., their specials and series animated in Japan often feature the Limited Animation and artistic touches like Cheeky Mouth common in actual anime of the era. Even future industry heavyweights like Osamu Dezaki cut their teeth working on shows like Frosty the Snowman, and Topcraft itself would eventually form the backbone of Studio Ghibli. 1978's The Stingiest Man in Town, a Topcraft co-production, was actually broadcast in Japan concurrently with its U.S. premiere, causing it to be listed in some anime sources such as The Anime Encyclopedia.
  • Christmas Special: They were responsible for many of the most iconic ones.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to their future Christmas Specials, their second stop-motion Christmas Special The Little Drummer Boy has a very melancholy and somber tone. Since Aaron (the special's main protagonist) is angry at humanity after witnessing a group of thieves killing his parents and stealing his parent's flock of sheep. Alongside being one of the only Rankin/Bass specials to show an on-screen murder even if it's bloodless.
  • Famous for Being First:
    • Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town: As an origin story for Santa Claus, the special features a fictionalized account of where the first Christmas presents, Christmas stockings, and Christmas tree came from.
    • The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town: In the same vein as the previous Santa Claus Is Comin To Town but for Easter, the special features a fictionalization of where certain American Easter traditions came from, including the first Easter eggs, the first chocolate bunny, and the first Easter lily.
    • Discussed in "Someone's Gotta Be First", with the Aesop that people have to try new things in order to make progress.
      Someone's gotta be first! All things gotta be faced! Someone's gotta brave the worst, Someone's gotta take a taste!
  • Heel–Face Turn: A recurring theme in many of their specials is the villain eventually learning the errors of their ways and befriending the heroes.
  • International Coproduction: All of their shows, movies and specials were co-produced with many Japanese companies. Particularly Topcraft and to a minor extent, Tsuburaya Productions 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.

Alternative Title(s): Rankin Bass