The Case of Rankin(g) and Bass

Well, Christmas is a-coming and bells begin to ring! Wreaths are on front doors, stores are crowded (though they really shouldn’t be) and Christmas music is assaulting our eardrums once more (just kidding…but am I?) But most of all, it’s that time again to watch the Rankin and Bass Christmas specials! 

Back in the 1960’s, the concept of a holiday TV special was brand new. It started with Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol in 1962. The idea was well-received, with advertisers jumping at the opportunity to profit on the undivided attention of families gathered for the holidays. In 1964, an animation studio known as Videocraft International created a Christmas special about a reindeer with a bright red nose. Although previous holiday specials were generally successful, this quirky stop-motion classic changed the game. 

The success of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was undeniable. The off-beat animation perfectly matched the eccentric, yet lovable characters. So, the animators went to work and produced more holiday specials for years to come. Soon Rankin and Bass, as the company was later known, was a fixture of the holiday season. Their work has become a holiday tradition, and some wouldn’t consider it Christmas without it. 

There are so many specials, we couldn’t possibly talk about all of them. So, we have picked our top 5 favorites! It’s time, cassettes, for Rankin(g) and Bass! 


Before we get into our favorite specials, let’s talk about the history of Rankin and Bass! 

  • In the early 1950’s, Arthur Rankin was an art director for ABC. Eventually he left the network to start his own business, making commercials for ad agencies. Through this experience, he met Jules Bass, when he would deliver materials from Gardner Advertising to Rankin’s studio.
    • The two decided to go into business together, combining Rankin’s experience in Art Direction and Bass’s advertising knowledge. Although it was a no-brainer for the two to create TV commercials, Rankin has always wanted to animate. So, the two men decided to create an animation studio called VideoCraft International (and later, Rankin/Bass.)
    • In the late 1950’s, a Japanese Delegation came to New York, and spoke with people in the entertainment business. One of them was Rankin, who decided to travel to the country in 1958. While he was there, he toured various studios, and fell in love with the animation techniques they employed, which he later called “animagic.” He was also impressed by the speed and quantity of animation that came through the studios; and ultimately, Rankin recognized the immense talent of these animators. Therefore, Rankin and Bass outsourced all the animation for their first series to studios in Japan.
    • Rankin and Bass chose Pinocchio first because he was a well-known character, and they wanted to draw in audiences. Their next series was cell animation, based on characters from The Wizard of Oz (since it had lapsed into the public domain.)
    • One company that was impressed by their work, was General Electric. They commissioned some TV commercial work from Rankin and Bass.
      • Due to the success of the advertisements, the men started planning something bigger for GE: an animated Christmas special!
      • Of course, this special would become the holiday staple known as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer–and as they say, the rest is history.
    • For the next 30 years, Rankin and Bass produced stop-motion and cell-animated holiday specials, TV shows, and live-action films. Their careers were so vast, they can be found all throughout American pop-culture, even in places you might not expect. From the 1980’s series Thundercats, to shows about The Osmonds and the Jackson 5, to specials about Easter, Thanksgiving, and Smokey the Bear–Rankin and Bass did so much more than Christmas specials. They were a full-fledged animation studio that influenced and entertained millions. 
  • But of course, it is Christmastime, so today we are talking about their contribution to the holiday. Let’s start Rankin’ our favorite Rankin and Bass Christmas specials! 


  • The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow was the 8th Christmas special by Rankin and Bass, and first aired December 19th, 1975 on NBC. 
    • Video Link
    • Plot
      • After a young shepherd is left blind from a lightning strike, the nuns of a nearby abbey take him and his animals in. The priest insists that the nuns send the boy, named Lukas, to an orphanage after Christmas. Sister Theresa, the head nun, tells Lukas about the white Christmases she saw growing up. Lukas is fascinated by the idea of snow, since he has never seen it. His one wish for Christmas is for it to snow, and he asks a friend to describe it to him if it comes. 
      • While the abbey performs their nativity play, snow miraculously begins to fall (since they never have snow in their climate.) Lukas suddenly can see again, as the snow has seemed to cure his blindness. The priest and nuns decide to let Lukas stay with them at the abbey.
    • Making of
      • The special was written by Julian P Gardner, which was a pseudonym for Jules Bass! 
      • The music was done by Maury Laws with lyrics by Jules Bass, just like previous Rankin and Bass specials, but with a special appearance of “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin.
      • This special was made with “animagic,” the term coined by Arthur Rankin to describe the stop-motion process used by the studios in Japan.
        • Ichiro Komuro and Akakazu Kono were the production supervisors for the animagic process, which of course included characters made of foam and latex, with ball-in-socket joints. Animagic also used projected imagery on its miniature sets and characters to add a kind of visual magic to some scenes–like the scene where it snows.
    • Starring 
      • Angela Lansbury stars as Sister Theresa, and also narrates the special. This was of course before she was known as the gentle Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast, but after starring as Miss Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
        • Lansbury is a big name actress, but Rankin and Bass had already been known for introducing young audiences to legendary actors like Fred Astaire, and Mickey Rooney.
      • Cyril Ritchard plays Father Thomas, the priest that wants Lukas placed in an orphanage. Ritchard was a seasoned stage actor, well known for his version of Captain Hook in Mary Martin’s Peter Pan! (You know, the version of Peter Pan that every school library had on VHS in the 90s?) 
        • Ritchard appeared in other Rankin and Bass productions, including the animated Hobbit.
      • David Kelley only gave his voice to a couple other TV shorts in his career, but he is most well-known for the role of Lukas the shepherd boy.
      • Dina Lynn as Louisa
      • Iris Rainer as Sister Catherine
      • Joan Gardner as Sister Jean 
      • Sean Manning, Don Messick, Greg Thomas, and Hilary Momberger provided additional voices.
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • After watching a lot of Rankin and Bass (and we do mean A LOT,) we decided to include this sweet little special as our number 5 choice. When we think of Rankin and Bass, we imagine classic characters like Santa Claus and Frosty, a brightly-colored and non-religious representation of Christmas. But, Rankin and Bass also created specials based on Christian stories, with passages from the bible and the birth of Christ. 
        • Back in the 1960’s, it was frowned upon to use religious messaging in specials, and A Charlie Brown Christmas really paved the way for more religious subject matter in TV entertainment. This is likely why Rankin and Bass’ first special was secular.
      • The most notable of these is possibly The Little Drummer Boy, which takes place in Bethlehem and features biblical characters. But if you’re looking for a special with religious themes that doesn’t also include murder and brief animal violence, The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow is a great choice.
      • This special is short, and features the comforting voice of Angela Lansbury. For any kids that were raised in Christian households, it features familiar components like the annual nativity play, where the main character plays an angel (a rite of passage for every christian child.)
      • But, more than anything, this special isn’t as heavy-handed as other religious material. The story of Christ isn’t the focus, and there is no hard-learned lesson about believing in God. Instead, the focus is on the simple joy of snow on Christmas.


  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town first aired on December 14th, 1970 on ABC.
    • If you’ll notice, these specials appeared on all different networks, and this was because Rankin and Bass created them specifically for brands and companies, while the network then aired it as an ad for that brand. That’s right, your favorite Christmas specials are just very intricate commercials! 
    • Back in the 60’s and 70’s, there were fewer commercials on TV, so the special is often edited for modern TV viewing, to keep the full runtime under an hour. Sometimes songs are removed, or more troubling scenes will be omitted. 
  • Plot
    • Santa Claus is coming to Town follows the origin story of Kris Kingle, a toymaker who eventually becomes Santa Claus. It starts with a train conductor, reading children’s questions about Santa, which then leads into the story. The special explains where Santa comes from, why he brings toys to children, how he met Mrs. Claus, and why he lives at the North Pole.
    • This framing device is similar to the one Rankin and Bass used for Rudolph, with an outside character addressing the audience and narrating the story. It was a popular style for many live-action specials, giving these programs a feeling of legitimacy–they were like any other Christmas specials, but animated.
  • Making of
    • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is their fifth Christmas special made, and unlike the first special on our list, it was one hour long
    • Written by Romeo Muller, the movie was based around the Christmas song with the same name, with music and lyrics by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, and  originally sung by the American comedian and singer Eddie Cantor in 1934.
      • While the film featured the famous song, it was in amongst original songs by Maury Laws who did the music and lyrics by Jules Bass.
        • This team created most of the Rankin and Bass musical catalog, but they counted this soundtrack among their absolute favorites!
          • Maury Laws later said that this was a very enjoyable project for him because the animation and music gelled so nicely. He said that Mickey Rooney, who played Santa, had the perfect voice to animate to.
      • The script was also slightly influenced by the book by L. Frank Baum entitled The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. While they would later adapt this book into a more faithful adaptation in 1985, some details were used for this film.
    • The story is set in Germany, with the name Kris Kringle coming from German folklore. Many people have noted that most of the characters with German accents are villainous, except for Santa’s mother. Because of this, some have made the connection that the German mayor burning the toys of children is a metaphor for the Nazis burning literature and art during WWII.
  • Starring
    • Fred Astaire as the Postman Narrator, SD Kluger
      • Astaire added some star power to the special, as someone who often hosted his own holiday and TV specials.
        • Kluger was a character of Fred Astair himself, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the performer.
      • The character was so popular, Rankin and Bass brought him back for another special: “The Easter Bunny is Comin to Town.”
    • Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle/ Santa Claus
      • Rooney had a long and legendary career in show business before playing Kris Kringle at age 50, and continued working long after until his death.
      • He reprised his role as Santa Claus in a later Rankin and Bass special that we will talk about here shortly! 
    • Keenan Wynn plays the Winter Warlock
      • Keenan Wynn was the son of famous character actor Ed Wynn, and he had a career of his own as a character actor.
      • He played live-action Disney villains in “The Absent-Minded Professor,” “Son of Flubber,” and “Herbie Rides Again.”
      • His full name was Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn.
    • Paul Frees makes several appearances as Burgermeister Meisterburger, Grimsley, Soldiers, Townsmen, and the Doctor.
      • Frees was a legendary comedian and voice actor, who would often provide voices for the Rankin and Bass specials, even after his retirement.
      • The Burgermeister was one of his most well-known roles, and Frees personally loved voicing him. In case anyone was wondering, a Burgermeister is a German mayor–a “City Master.” 
      • Frees was also known for providing the voice of Professor Ludwig Von Drake, Donald Duck’s paternal uncle. This character hosted episodes on the Wonderful World of Disney, as well as the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sing-along tape.
    • Joan Gardner as Tanta Kringle the Matriarch of the Kringle family and Kris’ adoptive mother. 
      • Gardner was a voice actress that lent her voice to many characters, including Tiny Tim in “Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and Bonnie in “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”
      • She also played Sister Joan in our number 5 pick! 
    • Robie Lester as Miss Jessica/ Mrs. Claus
      • Lester was a voice actor and musician that often provided singing voices for characters.
      • She was the singing voice of Bianca in The Rescuers, and Duchess in The Aristocats.
  • Impact/Why we chose it
    • There is no doubt that Santa Claus is Coming to Town is one of the most famous of the Rankin and Bass specials. It still airs every year on regular cable, and is included in holiday special collections. But why did we choose it? This special certainly has star power, with Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney, but it also is one of the most consistent in terms of its music. Sure, there are a couple strange-ish songs, like when Mrs. Claus realizes her love for Kris, or when Kris sings about how each child must kiss him to get a gift–but those cannot undo “One Foot in Front of the Other” and “First toy-maker to the king.” 
    • For many children, this was their first exposure to the lore behind Santa Claus. And although some explanations for Santa were written specifically for this special, there is something to be said for introducing children to the more mythical side of the man that brings them presents every Christmas. There are different Santa origin stories from all over the world, and this shows children that he doesn’t belong to one just one culture, but to everyone. 


    • Rankin and Bass’s most popular cell-animated Christmas special aired on December 7, 1969 on CBS.
    • It was based on the song, “Frosty the Snowman,” written by Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson.
      • The song was originally performed by Gene Autry, but has since been covered by countless artists. Autry and the songwriters were hoping for a hit as big as “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but the song unfortunately didn’t achieve the same level of popularity.
      • We covered the history of the song in last year’s episode, “A Brief Case in the Snow, man!” So please give that a listen if you would like to hear more about how the song came to be. 
      • Just as a refresher, some believe the song was based on a snowman character created by author Ruth Burman. Songwriter Jack Rollins said it was inspired by his step-granddaughter, who cried after her snowman melted overnight.
    • The special follows Frosty, a snowman brought to life by the magical hat of a failing magician named Professor Hinkle. After seeing what the hat is capable of, Hinkle tries to steal it back and pursues Frosty and a young girl named Karen as they attempt to travel to the North Pole, in search of a place where Frosty will never melt.
      • This was not the first time someone animated Frosty, as United Productions of America made a 5 minute animated short to the song 15 years earlier!
    • Making of
      • Rankin and Bass wanted the special to look like a greeting card, so the characters were designed by Paul Coker Jr, an incredibly talented artist whose illustrations appeared in Mad Magazine, and on Hallmark cards. After Frosty, Coker continued to work with Rankin and Bass for years, often designing cover art and promotional material.
        • The animation supervisor was Steve Nakagawa, who had the same role for “The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians” and “The Smokey the Bear Show,” two more Rankin and Bass productions.
      • This was not Rankin and Bass’ first cell-animated special, as they produced Cricket on the Hearth and Mouse on the Mayflower years earlier. Like all their other animation, however, it was produced in Japan.
      • Romeo Muller, the writer known for Rudolph, Santa Claus is coming to town, and many other Rankin and Bass specials and shows, adapted the story from the popular song.
    • Starring
      • This special was narrated and sung by Jimmy Durante, a well-known musician and actor, and this was reportedly his last performance.
        • Durante had covered the song years earlier, but had to re-record it specifically for the special. The original song didn’t mention anything about Christmas, but since this needed to be specifically a Christmas special, the lyrics were changed to say, “He waved Good-bye saying, ‘don’t you cry, I’ll be back on Christmas day.” 
      • Comedian Jackie Vernon voiced Frosty
        • Although Frosty was well-known before the special, Jackie Vernon really gave Frosty his warm and loving personality. Now it’s impossible to think of the character without imagining his jolly voice exclaiming, “Happy Birthday!” 
        • Vernon’s portrayal of Frosty is iconic, and the special would likely not have been nearly as popular without it.
      • Veteran character actor Billy D. Wolfe played Professor Hinkle.
        • Wolfe was a regular on the Doris Day show.
        • Rankin said that his vocal performance was one of the best they ever had, and his vocal patterns were perfect for animation.
      • Additional voices of Paul Frees and June Foray
        • Of course Paul Frees was part of the fun, bringing the voices of the traffic cop and ticket clerk.
        • June Foray played the children’s school teacher, but she also recorded all of Karen’s lines as well. Karen was re-cast and a different voice actress plays her in the special. Foray later said that this disappointed her, but she still loved the special anyway. There is no known reason for the casting change, though perhaps some executive wanted a child to play the role? 
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • Much of the Charm of Rankin and Bass specials comes from the animation. They are so well-known for stop-motion, audiences often forget that Frosty is one of their creations. Frosty was able to capture the charm of a Christmas card, and the sweet innocence of playing in the snow. It has a killer cast, all delivering incredible performances. The special reminded viewers of their childhood, bringing back a popular Christmas song, sung by a familiar voice. 
      • Frosty’s story is fun, but also succinct and complete. No time is wasted with extra songs, and it leaves viewers satisfied with a happy conclusion.
      • Frosty still airs every Christmas and it deserves a top spot among all Christmas specials, not just those of Rankin and Bass.


    • This special aired on December 10, 1974 on ABC. 
    • Plot
      • Santa has a cold, and doesn’t want to deliver the Christmas presents this year. This attitude is made worse by a grouchy doctor who tells Santa that no one cares about Christmas anyway. Mrs. Claus, concerned for her husband and the fate of Christmas, sends two elves and the baby reindeer Vixen out into the world to find Christmas cheer. The three of them ultimately land in some trouble, after getting caught in the crossfire between the heat and snow misers, two brothers responsible for cold and hot weather. Afraid for their safety, Santa goes out looking for them, and ends up discovering that the world does still care about Christmas.
    • Making of
      • It’s important to note that this is one of the only two specials on this list that wasn’t created around an existing Christmas carol–yet we heavily considered it for our number one spot. 
      • William J Keenan wrote the special, which was based on a book by Phylis McGinley.
      • This was a one-hour animagic special, featuring songs by Jules Bass and Maury Laws.
        • Although there are several songs throughout the special, none of them compare to the sheer greatness of the heat miser and snow miser songs. In fact, no other Rankin and Bass original song is as memorable.
        • Maury Laws said years later, “People knock on my door and ring me up about that song.”
      • Although the animation was done in Japan, storyboard artist Don Duga was responsible for giving animators a mood to follow. He had worked on several Rankin and Bass productions before this one, like Frosty the Snowman, and was often credited as a continuity artist.
      • Ichiro Komuro and Akakazu Kono were the production managers for the project (they lead many of the Rankin and Bass productions) while the production design was done by Paul Coker Jr.
    • Starring
      • Shirley Booth as both the singing narrator and Mrs. Claus
        • Shirley Booth is best known as the title character in the tv show Hazel, a sitcom about the misadventures of a live-in maid.
        • This was her last role before retiring from acting, so she went out on a good one!
      • Mickey Rooney (once again) as Santa Claus
        • A few years after starring in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Mickey Rooney returned to play Santa, cementing his place in the Rankin and Bass Christmas universe. 
      • Dick Shawn as Snow Miser
        • Shawn was an off-the-wall comedian, often described as a counterculture favorite, as he was bit of an acquired taste.
        • He appeared on shows like “The Love Boat” and “Captain Kangaroo” as well as many films like, “The Producers” and “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” 
      • George S. Irving as Heat Miser
        • Irving was an actor that appeared in many projects. Besides this special, he was most well-known as the narrator in Underdog! 
      • Colin Duffy as the little boy Ignatius Thistlewhite or Iggy for short
      • Ron Marshall as Mr Thistlewhite
      • If you look closely, you can see that Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character appears as a citizen of Southtown USA in the Mayor’s song “It’s Going to Snow Right Here in Dixie.”
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • Why did we choose this special as our number 2? Honestly? The songs. I mean, there are other great aspects to this special, like the unique story and the message that no one is too old to believe in the magic of Christmas, but the songs really seal the deal. Is there anything funnier than the mini heat misers hopping around on pogo sticks as their leader sings about himself? It really is too much. 
      • Rankin and Bass were well-known for the iconic characters they created in their specials, and their depictions of Christmas have had a major impact on the aesthetic of the holiday, and this special was no exception. 


    • The crowned jewel of Rankin and Bass aired December 6, 1964 on NBC, as part of General Electric’s Fantasy Hour. For a few years, Rankin and Bass had been creating commercials for GE, and since they had been well-received, they decided to make a Christmas special as well.
    • Back in the 1930’s, Montgomery Ward would give out free storybooks to children. One of their catalog writers, Robert L May, created the perfect story to include, about an outcast reindeer named Rudolph.  The store printed 2 million copies that Christmas, and they received letters from children and parents all over the country. Rudolph was a hit! Two years later, the store gave the rights to the story to May, who then teamed up with his brother-in-law  to make it into a song. 
    • In 1948, that song was covered by famous country singer Gene Autry, and a Christmas tradition was born. “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” became one of the most played Christmas songs. 
    • So, in the early 1960’s, Arthur Rankin turned his attention to the story for a Christmas special. Johnny Marks, the songwriter and May’s brother-in-law, was very protective of the property. But, it just so happened that Rankin was his next-door neighbor! Rankin finally convinced his neighbor to let him make the special, and the rest was history.
    • Plot
      • Narrated by Sam the snowman, this special follows the life of Rudolph, a reindeer born with a strange nose that glows red. After being made fun of by the other reindeer, he teams up with Hermey the elf. Together they run into characters like Yukon Cornelius and the abominable snowman, and end up on the island of misfit toys.
    • Making of
      • Rankin wanted a particular look to his specials, and he hired talented artists that weren’t well-known. His goal overall was none of his specials to look the same, so that every story had its own feeling. That’s why Rudolph felt so unique, because no one ever made anything like it before or since.
      • This special was written for the screen by Romeo Muller, and this started a long career partnership between him and Rankin and Bass. It was also directed by Larry Roemer, with assistant director Kizo Nagashima.
      • The songs were written, as usual, by Jules Bass and Maury Laws, with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” both written by Johnny Marks.
        • The song ‘Fame and Fortune’ was not featured in the special until the next year, 1965.
      • The special had about $500,000 in production costs, which was immediately covered by the GE when they purchased the rights to the property for two airings.
        • Because of this, during the first airings, the title page said, “GE presents” while on the DVD versions, it says, “Rankin/Bass Present.”
      • This was the biggest premier of stop-motion television so far, with “animagic” created in Japan.
        • Ichiro Komuro created the puppets, while Tadahito (Tad) Mochinaga was the animation supervisor. 
          • The 22 room sized sets which took a year to complete.
          • The figures had ball joints and each one cost $5000 which included multiple lip and eyepieces. 
      • In later years, the special has been released on DVD with minor changes from the original. The biggest change is the ending. The original airing had the end credits immediately after Santa flies to the island of misfit toys. The credits appear on packages being thrown by an elf from the sleigh. 
        • In the later version of the credits, names are spelled incorrectly.
        • They also shortened one scene from the special to make room for a few moments of the misfit toys getting on to Santa’s sleigh. 
    • Starring
      • Narrated by Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman who was recognized for this role for many years afterwards. He even noted that this role overshadowed even his Oscar win in 1958’s The Big Country.
      • Larry D. Mann as Yukon Cornelius the loveable arctic prospector aiding Rudolph and Hermey on their journey.
        • Larry D. Mann was in several things but most notably as the train conductor in “The Sting”and Watkins in “The Heat of the Night.”
      • Billie Mae Richards as Rudolph (you know him.)
        • She is not only known for being the voice of Rudolph but also Tender Heart Bear in the first and second Care Bear Movies.
      • Paul Soles as Hermey the elf that does not want to make toys but be a Dentist!
        • Paul Soles has made appearances in many things but some of his most notable are when he played Danny in the movie “The Score” and Stanley in “The Incredible Hulk.” (The Hulk with Edward Norton in it.) 
      • Stan Francis as Santa Claus
        • Stan Francis only acted in a few things like “Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans” and “The New Adventures of Pinocchio.”
      • Alfie Scopp as Charlie in the Box, Fireball, and some of the Reindeer.
        • Alfie Scopp was Avram the bookseller in “The Fiddler on the Roof” and has also done voice work for several other projects.
      • Janet Orenstein as Clarice, the little doe that fancies Rudolph before he was cool.
      • Paul Kligman as Donner, Clarice’s Father, and Comet the Coach.
        • Paul Kligman is known for the 1955 musical drama series “Folio” and as General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross in the 1966 “Hulk” series.
      • Carl Banas as the Head Elf, Spotted Elephant, and some of the Other Toys.
        • Carl Banas has done voice work on several things, one being the character Sweetums in the 1971 “Tales from Muppetland: The Frog Prince.”
      • Corine Conley as the Doll and others.
        • Corine Conley has many credits. She has been in a range of movies and tv shows including “Days of Our Lives”, the 2019 “Anne With an ‘E,’” and the 2018 movie “A Simple Favor.”
      • Peg Dixon as Mrs. Donner, Mrs. Claus, and other voices.
        • Peg Dixon was in the 1956 tv movie “Anne of Green Gables,” the 1967 “Spider-Man” tv series, and several characters in the 1972 “Festival of Family Classics” tv series.
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • When Rudolph first aired, it captured 55% of viewers, and those numbers didn’t decrease for over 30 years. It remains to be the longest-running animated Christmas special, and its popularity has never declined. In 1995 it was the highest rated animated program for the entire year. Rudolph wasn’t just a big deal for Rankin and Bass, but for TV in general. It paved the way for more specials. If not for Rudolph, would we have How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Or A Charlie Brown Christmas? This special also highlighted an unpopular type of animation style, and inspired creators like Tim Burton and other stop-motion artists. 
      • Rudolph not only had incredible songs, but it also yielded colorful characters that audiences would not soon forget. 
      • But most of all, Rudolph is about intolerance. It’s the story of a young reindeer whose father is ashamed of him, of an elf ostracized by his coworkers. It’s a timeless story about people in search of acceptance, and that the parts of us that seem to be our weaknesses may be our best qualities 


So on Twitter, we asked you guys for your favorite Rankin and Bass Christmas specials, and your ranking was: 

4. Frosty the Snowman

3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town

2. Year Without a Santa Claus

  1. Rudolph 

We used your ranking to decide our number one! We had one comment that we would like to read as well, from Andrew Boynton @guthbrand: “The Hobbit! Before you say that’s not a Christmas special, remember the elves. Also Gandolf is basically a low-carb Santa” So The Hobbit is officially an honorable mention. Thank you Andrew!

Our other honorable mentions are: 

  • The Stingiest Man in Town(1978)
  • Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
  • Twas’ the Night Before Christmas
  • Nestor, the Long-eared Christmas Donkey
  • Jack Frost
  • The Leprechaun’s Christmas gold

Rankin and Bass wasn’t just a Christmas special machine, they were a full-fledged animation studio that heavily influenced animation for years to come. But, their contribution to Christmas is incalculable. We encourage everyone to go and watch all the Rankin and Bass specials, and make a ranking of your own–you won’t regret it!


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