Rankin/Bass Productions

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Just in the Christmas special subgenre alone, Rankin/Bass made 18 specials, of varying length and ambition, between 1964 and 1985. Nearly all of these films revolve around the performance of some Christmas song or another. Nearly all of them deal with the crippling scars of childhood shame.
And nearly all of them are completely off-the-rails insane.

If you had a childhood (in an English-speaking country during the middle-late 20th century, at least), you know Rankin/Bass Productions. Founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass as Videocraft International, the company is responsible for a series of (usually) Stop Motion puppet animated (called "Animagic") holiday specials that are virtual fixtures of seasonal television programming. Works such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Frosty the Snowman and Here Comes Peter Cottontail have been airing almost continuously since the early 1960s, when they were first produced. Many subsequent holiday specials produced by other companies will contain salutes 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 Jules Bass. Very likely a majority of the characters will be voiced by Paul Frees.

Rankin/Bass also produced non-holiday Animated Shows. Best known is probably ThunderCats; its other series included King Kong, 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.

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 ill-fated attempt, 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. Many of the animators of The Hobbit went on to work for Studio Ghibli.

Now dormant, the company still exists. In 2001, it released its latest holiday project, Santa, Baby!, which featured a mostly black cast. Nonetheless, Rankin/Bass will forever be remembered for virtually defining the concept of specialized holiday programming.

Shows Produced or Distributed by Rankin/Bass

TV Specials (with Narrator)

TV Series

  • The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1960)
  • Tales of The Wizard of Oz (1961)
  • The King Kong Show (1966)
  • The Smokey Bear Show (1969)
  • The Tomfoolery Show (1970)
  • The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad Show (1970)
  • The Jackson 5ive Show (1971)
  • The Osmonds (1972)
  • Kid Power (1972)
  • Festival of Family Classics (1972)
  • ThunderCats (1985)
  • Silverhawks (1986)
  • The Comic Strip (1987)
    • TigerSharks
    • The Mini-Monsters
    • Karate Kat
    • Street Frogs


  • Return to Oz (TV; no relation to Disney's 1985 live-action film) (1964)
  • Willy McBean and his Magic Machine (1965)
  • The Daydreamer (1966)
  • Wacky World of Mother Goose (1966)
  • Mad Monster Party (1967)
  • King Kong Escapes (1968)
  • The Red Baron (TV) (1972)
  • Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid (TV) (1972)
  • Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters (TV) (1972)
  • That Girl in Wonderland (TV) (1974)
  • Marco (Live Action) (1973)
  • The Last Dinosaur (Live Action) (1976)
  • The Hobbit (TV) (1977)
  • The Bermuda Depths (Live Action) (1977) -- In which Burl Ives is eaten by a Giant Turtle
  • The Bushido Blade (Live Action) (1979)
  • The Return of the King (TV) (1980)
  • The Ivory Ape (Live Action) (1980)
  • The Last Unicorn (1982)
  • The Sins of Dorian Gray (Live Action) (1983)
  • The Flight of Dragons (TV) (1986)