The script is by Rankin-Bass's favorite writer, Romeo Muller; the music follows the favored R-B formula, starting with a classic Christmas tune and adding original songs by Maury Laws and co-producer Jules Bass. A touch of distinction is added by the choral work being performed by the Vienna Boys Choir.
A television sequel entitled The Little Drummer Boy: Book II was produced in 1976, also narrated by Greer Garson, but this time featuring Zero Mostel as the voice of Brutus.
This story has inspired several imitations and variations; for example one Puerto Rican TV Christmas Special was about a little boy who wanted to visit the Nativity to ask Baby Jesus to cure his dying father (in the apparent belief that the event repeats itself every year). A Christmas Miracle happens, of course. Similarly, the Spanish Christmas song Burrito Sabanero is about a boy riding a burro to reach the Nativity.
VeggieTales did a remake of this special in 2011.
This Christmas Special provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The original song just has a poor boy visiting the baby Jesus, having no gift to give him, playing his drum for him instead, and the baby smiling at him. All the other details found in the special (the boy's name being Aaron, his parents' murder and his resulting misanthropy, the details of how he arrives at the manger, all the other characters' roles, etc.) are new.
- Anachronism Stew: Though set in first century Judaea, the kings wear costumes more suggestive of 15th century European paintings of the Adoration of the Magi.
- With perhaps a bit of Misplaced Wildlife, it's pretty much impossible that a first century Israeli boy would have ever heard of an alligator, which only exist in the new world and China. A crocodile would have made more sense.
- Ass in a Lion Skin: During the song "Why Can't the Animals Smile?," Baba the lamb pretends to be a lion, a frog, and a hog; Joshua the camel pretends to be an alligator and an elephant; and Samson the donkey pretends to be a caribou.
- As the Good Book Says...: The show begins with Greer Garson reading from the beginning of the second chapter of Luke, with further readings from the infancy narratives throughout, ending with Matthew 5, 8.
- Slightly subverted in the fact that the Bible itself contains no mention of anyone remotely resembling The Little Drummer Boy; It started as a song in 1949, based loosely off a French legend only two centuries older than that.
- Christmas Special
- Darker and Edgier: Rankin Bass took some guts in making this most darkest stop-motion animated special. Aaron's parents get murdered by bandits, Aaron becomes bitter and full of hatred for other people, and the villains all get away scot free.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Aaron was once a happy farm boy, but bandits attacked his village, set it on fire and killed his parents, resulting in him escaping with three of the animals. From that day forth, he promised to hate all humans for what happened, and kept that promise since.
- Everyone Has Standards: Ben Haramad may be a hopelessly inept showman, but he knows good acting when he sees it, and when Aaron can't keep up his facade to the human audience any longer and ends up causing a riot, Ben Haramad is rather irritated with him.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: The main character's father being scene stabbed to death on screen, and his mother being burnt alive.
- Freudian Excuse: The reason Aaron hates people is because bandits murdered his parents and destroyed their home.
- Friend to All Living Things: Aaron is friend to all living things — except humans.
- Hard-to-Light Fire: In Book II, the tax collectors use Aaron's drum as kindling because they can't find any sticks that aren't wet. In a desert, mind you.
- HeelFace Turn: Aaron, who realizes when the Child smiles at him that his hatred for humanity has been wrong.
- Humans Are Bastards: What Aaron is convinced of, after his family is murdered by bandits.
- Karma Houdini: The two bandits who rob then murder Aaron's parents go unpunished for their crime.
- Ben Haramed kidnaps a child, forces him to work against his will, sells a camel that doesn't belong to him... and ends up getting quite well paid for his efforts.
- The tax collectors in the sequel are not punished for burning Aaron's drum.
- Kubrick Stare: Aaron gives one at the end of the flashback of losing his parents, as he vows to hate all humans after what happened.
- Large Ham: Zero Mostel in Book II, but then, what did you expect?
- Money Song: In Book Two.
- Narrator: Miss Greer Garson was cast as Our Storyteller.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Joshua the Camel, Samson the Donkey, and Baba the Lamb.
- Not Good with People: Aaron's a misanthrope, but he gets along fine with animals.
- The Power of Music: How Aaron taught his animals to dance.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Aaron's parents in the 2011 VeggieTales remake.
- Star of Bethlehem: How Aaron knows where to find Joshua.
- Stepford Smiler: Ben Haramed would rather Aaron be this than someone who doesn't smile, period.Ben Haramed: You stubborn little fool! Then wear a painted one.
- Surrounded by Idiots: The members of Ben Haramed's show caravan are all completely inept.
- Villain Song: Ben Haramed has "When the Goose is Hanging High."
- The previously listed Money Song also counts.