Stink! Stank! Stunk! My thoughts on the new Christmas Rankin/Bass releases
I have been the official Rankin/Bass Productions Historian/Biographer now for Thirty three years. I have written six books on Rankin/Bass Productions and I am planning my 7th. Producer Arthur Rankin, jr. was my biggest supporter and closest friend from the Rankin/Bass crew, but I worked with all of them including Jules Bass, Maury Laws, Paul Coker, Jr., Don Duga, Antony Peters, Gene Muller, etc. They all shared their wonderful history and archives with me and left it in my care. Those that know me, know that I like to focus on positive things and the good things in life, so I have avoided talking about these DVD and Blu Ray releases, since they began coming out in 2018. Many people are now asking me what I think of the blu ray box set release that came out on Halloween 2023 (Appropriate day! The Horror of it all!), so here goes!
If you want my advice, I would say, save your money and wait until they release this material the correct way. In fact, I suspect at some point these releases will be pulled from release (I will explain later). There are so many things wrong with these releases, that I don't know where to begin. In the past, Universal put out the syndicated, edited version of Here Comes Peter Cottontail on blu ray. It was missing about eight minutes of the special and had edits all over the place. I don't think they ever fixed it. Then I picked up The Little Drummer Boy on blu ray to see if they ever found the 35mm negative. Not only did they not find the 35mm negative, but there were fades to black right in the middle of scenes. Strike two.
This past September I decided to pick up the 4k Blu Ray set of Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus Is Comin' to town. The first thing I noticed, was that it looked like they didn't go back to the negatives on these. I think they call this upscaling to a new format. Maybe I am missing something, but I did not see an improvement. Nor did I hear an improvement, as Rudolph and Frosty and even Santa, still have sound warbles in the music. There are also sound effects missing (ala Rankin/Bass' The Hobbit), most notably Topper's sigh after Kris names the penguin Topper (He was changed to Waddles from 1979-1981). Aaron's drum sound effects are still missing in The Little Drummer Boy too. In fact, there are many sound effects missing from all of the specials. Years ago I interviewed Rankin/Bass' sound guy, Phil Kaye about these effects. Phil and Jim Harris handled most of the sound effects, which were recorded on a separate track.
I looked for value in the extras and I found none at all. In 2008 WARNER BROS and Sparkhill asked me to round up people who worked for or with Arthur and Jules for the documentary "We are Santa's Elves." I rounded up Seven people including Producer Arthur Rankin, Jr. and myself. It was used on the blu ray of The Year Without a Santa Claus and the DVD set of their Christmas classics. For the documentary used on all of these blu ray and dvd releases, they got a total of zero people that worked for or with Rankin/Bass Productions (Or that really even knew them). As the Rankin/Bass Productions historian/biographer, I really couldn't identify most of the people in it! But the biggest shock of all, was seeing several of my copyrighted photographs (right out of my first four books) used without my knowledge or permission, along with a video clip that was transferred and paid for by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and myself, from the Rankin/Bass archives. I have worked with many companies over the years including Weigel Broadcasting (Collector's Call), Warner Bros, Studio Canal, Anchor Bay, Lionsgate and most recently Umbrella Entertainment on the finest Rankin/Bass Productions blu ray to date, Mad Monster Party. None of these companies would use any of my copyrighted photographs, without a signed release. In Fact, Dreamworks licensed three of my behind-the-scenes Rankin/Bass photographs for Rudolph's 50th in 2014! This was not "Fair use" and I just pulled the receipt for Universal Pictures, of a purchase by the party behind this, who bought my first four books from our website www.miserbros.com. I believe these products will be pulled.
The documentary I believe called Restoring the puppets Santa and Rudolph, did not age well. It is on the Rudolph disc and features my good friends from Screen-Novelties, Seamus and Robin Walsh and Mark Caballero. When I connected them with my friend Kevin Kriess (Who bought the Rudolph and Santa Animagic figures) in 2006, we all thought these were the "Screen used" puppets. In fact, we thought this for several years after. It wasn't until I wrote my book in 2018 called The Making of Santa Claus Is Comin' to town and The Daydreamer (Miser Bros Press), that I discovered otherwise. If you study the Tad Mochinaga exhibit photos in my book of Santa Claus, you will see his beard was shaped differently and has the lines for movement, that the Santa in the Animagic has. The Santa and Rudolph Animagic figures that were brought to New York were used for the Publicity photographs and then later put in a display cabinet at NBC in the Rockefeller Plaza. Many people saw this display on school field trips, but I have yet to find a photograph. For more on this topic, read my article on the ReMind Magazine website titled, "Is the mystery of Rankin/Bass Rudolph puppets solved?"
There is another doc on the Rudolph disc titled Reimagining Rudolph in 4D? My question is why? Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass Produced the perfect holiday special in Animagic. Writer Romeo Muller and Designer Antony Peters created all of the wonderful characters that surrounded Rudolph. It doesn't get any better than this, even with new technology. I hate to say it, but this new stuff looked so bad, I had to fast forward through the whole thing. It made me ill. I know new animators want to work on things that inspired them to become animators, but reimagining a classic is the wrong way to go! Create something new and original! I will take Rankin/Bass' Animagic over 4D any day!
The BEST releases to date of the Rankin/Bass Christmas classics still remains the Golden Books dvds from 2000. The ones that have the CBS logo and ABC Family logo on the front covers. I supplied the copyrighted image of Rudolph on the Rudolph cover, and Producer Arthur Rankin, Jr. did introductions for the Rudolph and Frosty dvds as a favor to me. The introductions feature my first book on the table next to him, and include my copyrighted photographs during the introductions. The Rudolph dvd even has the "Fame and Fortune" segment (Which was broadcast on NBC and CBS from 1965-1998) and a vintage Rudolph NBC Promo/commercial. When the name Rankin/Bass was removed from the dvd front covers in 2003, Arthur made a phone call (When I was there in his New York Penthouse) and said take my introductions off the dvds. It was contractual. Since that time, it has been all downhill for Rankin/Bass Christmas blu rays and dvds. Arthur would be very angry about these new releases too! I am hopeful that one day the Rankin/Bass Christmas classics will get the treatment they deserve. As I have mentioned before, I have the 1964 original ending to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in color, among many other things. These TV Specials are part of Americana and deserve The Wizard of Oz Treatment, not the same cheap cash grab that we keep getting.