It’s the last Sub-Basement of 2014! Catch some sketches this Thursday, Like and Follow us, and come back next week when we’re back to a double-dose of Sub-Basement strips every week! And why not catch up on some previous stories:
The Voice (relevant to the topic at hand)
The title of Chairman of the Christmas Special Board is undoubtedly shared by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. Starting with the original Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964, Rankin/Bass Productions (then called Videocraft) spent the next twenty-one years owning Christmas, and making strong claims on several other holidays.
Given that I start building my Christmas playlist less than a week after Halloween, and start keeping the “Christmas” folder of my downloaded videos permanently open, it should be no surprise that Christmas movies and specials continued to get consumed in the Sub-Basement well into January. We burn through the Holy Trinity – Charlie Brown, The Grinch, Rudolph, – in short order (interspersed with essential movies like A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation) and are left with the deep cuts. We keep telling ourselves, “I’ll just watch The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas and call it a night,” and next thing you know it’s 3 a.m. and we’re singing along to the “Barbecue” song from Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. I collect adaptations of A Christmas Carol, with Scrooges ranging from Henry Winkler to Mr. Magoo, ranking them on criteria such as “Added Comedic Or Creepy Business” and “Lameness Of Song When Young Scrooge Breaks Up With Belle”
Having spent a good ten weeks gorging on The Year Without A Santa Claus and The Little Drummer Boy Book II, naturally Mowrer and I go into a bit of withdrawal the rest of the year, shivering and trembling until we get our sweet Animagic fix with The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ To Town. We’ll even pop in the supremely disappointing Mad Monster Party? come October, and sometimes we even get more than halfway through it before switching to The Fat Albert Halloween Special.
(And no, I can’t articulate exactly why Mad Monster Party? (note integral question mark) bores me. I keep trying, and wanting to like it, but I just can’t seem to get into it. Is there some subtle undertone that I’m missing?)
As a young comic-book obsessive, I was drawn to the shared universe of the Rankin/Bass specials, where Santa always sounded like Andy Hardy (apart from his first appearance) and Mrs. Claus was named Jessica. The Rankin/Bass continuity has been expertly compared to DC by Chris Sims of Comics Alliance, and he’s right. There’s even a Golden Age version with a slightly different origin, as well as an unsuccessful modern reboot. How long before the Rudolphs team up for Christmas On Infinite Earths?
And nowhere are those comic-book tendencies more pronounced than Rankin/Bass’ magnum opus, Rudolph And Frosty’s Christmas In July. This is the Avengers of the Rankin/Bassverse; if Rudolph is the optimistic, proactive Captain America, Frosty is the tragic Hulk, striving to do good while cursed by his physicality, with Santa, naturally, as the Nick Fury.
Christmas In July has some fun stuff with a circus whose ringmaster is enthusiastically voiced by Ethel Merman, as well as a villainous reindeer named Scratcher, with a wierdly Andy-Dick-kind of vibe. But before it gets to that, the movie dives deep into its own mythology, providing a supernatural origin for Rudolph’s idiosyncrasy – it’s not just the reindeer equivalent of the X-Gene.
I appreciate a movie that rewards obsessive study of its universe’ fictional rules – it’s what allows me to overlook the flaws in Superman Returns – but I recognize that a majority of the potential audience will not be invested enough to appreciate it.
The last Animagic special from Rankin/Bass was 1985’s The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus.
At that point, the studio were at the top of their craft, investing the special with artistry and craftsmanship that honored its source material, a 1905 novel by L. Frank Baum. But not only does the Santa Claus backstory it presents completely disregard the canonical events of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, it once again becomes a victim of heavy mythology. We are presented a whole new pantheon of mystical beings, including talking lions and something called Awgwas, all presided over by a 7 foot badass wizard called The Great Ak. None of it makes a damn bit of sense, but man, is it pretty to watch.
And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.