Christmas Specials Wiki
Christmas Specials Wiki

Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass.

Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. (formerly Videocraft International, Ltd.) was a television production company, known for its seasonal television specials and animated series such as ThunderCats.

Company origins[]

A Videocraft International Limited Production

The company's original name and logo, as seen in the end credits of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The company was founded by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass on September 14, 1960, under the name Videocraft International. One of Videocraft's first projects was an independently produced series, The New Adventures of Pinocchio. The series was produced using "Animagic", a stop-motion animation process pioneered by George Pal's "Puppetoons" and Art Clokey's Gumby and Davey and Goliath.

Rankin and Bass followed the Pinocchio series with a traditional cel-animated series, Tales of the Wizard of Oz, in 1961.

Holiday tales[]

Videocraft began producing Christmas specials, many of which would be based on popular Christmas songs, with 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, based on Robert L. May's 1939 story and Johnny Marks' 1949 song of the same name. In 1967, they adapted Charles Dickens' Cricket on the Hearth, with Roddy McDowall voicing the titular Cricket Crocket. In 1968, Greer Garson's dramatic narration carried through The Little Drummer Boy, set during the birth of the baby Jesus. That same year, Videocraft became Rankin/Bass Productions and adopted a new logo, although they retained a Videocraft byline in their new closing logo until 1971.

The following year (1969), Jimmy Durante sang and told the story of Frosty the Snowman, with Jackie Vernon voicing the titular snowman. 1970 brought another famous special, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, which starred Fred Astaire as narrator Special Delivery Kluger, a mailman answering many questions about the origins of Santa Claus, voiced for the first of several times by Mickey Rooney. Another popular special was 1974's The Year Without a Santa Claus, based loosely on Phyllis McGinley's 1956 poem of the same name. Two supporting characters created for the special, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, proved to be breakout characters, to the point that they later starred in their own special, produced by Warner Bros. Animation in 2008.

In the later half of the 1970s, Rankin/Bass created a few sequels to its classic specials, culminating in the 1979 feature film Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July. Also among Rankin/Bass' output in that decade was 1975's The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow, the story of a blind shepherd boy who longs to experience Christmas. In 1980, Rankin/Bass revisited their roots with Pinocchio's Christmas, a new stop-motion special based on The Adventures of Pinocchio. Their final stop-motion special was 1985's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, adapted from the L. Frank Baum story of the same name. The company shut down production on March 4, 1987.

In 2001, FOX aired Rankin and Bass's first original Christmas special in sixteen years, Santa Baby! (like many past specials, based on a popular Christmas song), starring Eartha Kitt and Gregory Hines, and featuring primarily African-American characters, a change from previous specials.

Rankin/Bass' stop-motion specials are recognizable by their visual style of doll-like characters with spheroid body parts, and ubiquitous powdery snow. Often, traditional cel animation scenes of falling snow would be projected over top of the action to create the effect of a snowfall.

Title Narrator Release date
Title-rudolph Burl Ives
(as Sam the Snowman)
December 6, 1964
Cricketonthehearth Danny Thomas
Roddy McDowall
(as Cricket Crocket)
December 18, 1967
Title-littledrummer Greer Garson December 16, 1968
Title-frosty Jimmy Durante December 7, 1969
Title-cometotown Fred Astaire
(as S.D. Kluger)
December 13, 1970
Title-nightbefore-rankin Joel Grey
(as Joshua Trundle)
December 8, 1974
Yearwithout-titlecard Shirley Booth
(as Mrs. Claus)
December 10, 1974
Title-firstxmas1Title-firstxmas2 Angela Lansbury
(as Sister Theresa)
December 19, 1975
Title-winterwonderland Andy Griffith December 2, 1976
Title-shinynewyear Red Skelton
(as Father Time)
December 10, 1976
Title-drummer2 Greer Garson December 13, 1976
Title-nestor Roger Miller
(as Speiltoe)
December 3, 1977
Stingiest Man in Town 1978 Tom Bosley
(as B.A.H. Humbug, Esq.)
December 23, 1978
July01 Mickey Rooney
(as Santa Claus)
November 25, 1979
Title-JackFrost Buddy Hackett
(as Pardon-Me-Pete)
December 13, 1979
Title-pinocchio none December 3, 1980
Title-leprechauns Art Carney
(as Blarney Kilakilarney)
December 23, 1981
Advsanta Alfred Drake
(as The Great Ak)
December 17, 1985
Santababytitles Patti LaBelle December 17, 2001

Outside of the specials themselves, Rankin/Bass only produced one Christmas-themed episode for any of their episodic series - the Festival of Family Classics episode "A Christmas Tree", based on the story of the same name by Charles Dickens.


Beginning with Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rankin/Bass' holiday specials became known for their star-powered narration and quirky hosting characters. This included such stars as Andy Griffith, Buddy Hackett, Angela Lansbury and Art Carney. Pinocchio's Christmas and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus were the only Christmas specials without narrators, while Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July only has narration at the beginning.

In addition to the narrators, Rankin/Bass had its own company of voice actors. Early on, this group was based in Toronto, Ontario, where recording was supervised by veteran CBC announcer Bernard Cowan. It included actors such as Paul Soles, Larry D. Mann, Billie Mae Richards, and Paul Kligman. In later years, a mixture of New York and Hollywood talent, led by veteran voice actor Paul Frees, would be used.

Maury Laws served as musical director for almost all of the animated films. Another regular contributor was Romeo Muller, who served as screenwriter for many of the studio's best-known productions.

Many of Rankin/Bass' animated productions, both traditional and stop-motion, were animated in Japan. Throughout the 1960s, the Animagic productions were headed by Japanese stop-motion animator Tadahito Mochinaga. Starting with Frosty the Snowman, MAD Magazine artist Paul Coker Jr. was the main art director.

Many of the traditionally cel-animated works were animated by the Japanese studio Top Craft, which was formed in 1972 as an offshoot of Toei Animation. Many Top Craft staffers, including its founder Toru Hara, would go on to join Studio Ghibli and work on Hayao Miyazaki's feature films, including Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbor Totoro.

Video and broadcast rights[]

General Electric's Tomorrow Entertainment acquired the original Videocraft International in 1971. Rankin/Bass' pre-1974 library (including the "classic four" Christmas specials) remained under the ownership of GE until 1988, when Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video acquired the rights. In 1995, Broadway Video's children's division became Golden Books Family Entertainment, and in turn became Classic Media (which is where the rights stand today after merging with Entertainment Rights). In 2012, Classic Media was acquired by DreamWorks Animation, which was in turn acquired by NBCUniversal in 2016. The post-1974 library, meanwhile, is currently owned by Warner Brothers, a unit of WarnerMedia. Santa, Baby! is the only special not owned by either company, instead being owned by Perisphere Pictures.

Television rights to the post-1974 Rankin/Bass library are held in the United States by the AMC television network, where they are currently aired as part of the channel's annual programming event, Best Christmas Ever. Meanwhile, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town continues to air annually on ABC, while the broadcast rights for the original Rudolph and Frosty specials are currently held by CBS. Those three specials, plus Cricket on the Hearth and The Little Drummer Boy, also now air annually on Freeform as part of the 25 Days of Christmas. (Prior to 2018, most of the post-1974 specials had also aired as part of the 25 Days of Christmas.)

Complete Rankin-Bass Christmas Collection

The cover to the 2022 Complete Rankin/Bass Christmas Collection DVD set.

Home videos of the pre-1974 specials have been released by various distributors over the years, including Family Home Entertainment, Sony Wonder, Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment, and Anderson Merchandisers; they are now distributed by Universal Home Entertainment. Meanwhile, the post-1974 specials were previously released on VHS by Lightning Video and Vestron Video before being bought by Warner Bros. Universal and Warner released all the specials (except for Santa, Baby!, due to it being owned by Perisphere) together in a 9-disc DVD box set titled The Complete Rankin/Bass Christmas Collection, on October 18, 2022, with a 5-disc Blu-ray version following on October 31, 2023.


In the years following Rankin/Bass' closure, a few unofficial sequels to their Christmas specials were produced by other animation studios. Broadway Video produced Frosty Returns, an indirect follow-up to Frosty the Snowman, which has accompanied the original special's annual broadcast on CBS every year since 1992, as well as on most of its DVD releases. Another Frosty sequel, a direct-to-video film titled The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, was released in 2005. Prior to that, Goodtimes Entertainment released Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, a direct-to-video sequel to Rudolph, in 2001. In 2008, Warner Bros. Animation produced A Miser Brothers' Christmas, a spin-off sequel starring the breakout characters from The Year Without a Santa Claus. In addition, a graphic novel midquel to Rudolph, titled The Island of Misfit Toys, was published in 2014 for the special's 50th anniversary.

The look and style of Rankin/Bass' holiday specials have influenced later holiday films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Elf, and the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "It's a SpongeBob Christmas!" They have also been parodied by various comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and South Park. The Merry Nickmas interstitial shorts featured parodies of Rudolph and Frosty starring the characters from Nickelodeon's animated shows.

External links[]

Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerCricket on the HearthThe Little Drummer BoyFrosty the SnowmanSanta Claus is Comin' to Town • "A Christmas Tree" • 'Twas the Night Before ChristmasThe Year Without a Santa ClausThe First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas SnowFrosty's Winter WonderlandRudolph's Shiny New YearThe Little Drummer Boy, Book IINestor, the Long-Eared Christmas DonkeyThe Stingiest Man in TownRudolph and Frosty's Christmas in JulyJack FrostPinocchio's ChristmasThe Leprechauns' Christmas GoldThe Life and Adventures of Santa ClausSanta, Baby!