Rankin/Bass Productions

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Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc.
IndustryFilm industry
FateShut down
PredecessorVideocraft International/Arthur Rankin Jr. Associates
FoundedSeptember 14, 1960 (As Videocraft International)
November 23, 1968 (As Rankin/Bass Productions)
FoundersArthur Rankin, Jr.
Jules Bass
Defunct1987
HeadquartersNew York, New York, United States
Key people
Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Jules Bass
ProductsTelevision specials
Television shows
Feature films
OwnerIndependent (1960–1971, 1974–1983)
Tomorrow Entertainment (1971–1974)
Telepictures Corporation (1983–1987)
Warner Bros. Television (1988-present)[1]

Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. (founded as Videocraft International, Ltd. and later known as Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment) was an American production company, known for its seasonal television specials, particularly its work in stop motion animation. Rankin/Bass stop-motion features are recognizable by their visual style of doll-like characters with spheroid body parts, and ubiquitous powdery snow using an animation technique called "Animagic". Often, traditional cel animation scenes of falling snow would be projected over the action to create the effect of a snowfall.

Nearly all of the studio's animation was outsourced to at least five Japanese animation companies: MOM Production, Toei Animation, TCJ (Television Corporation of Japan), Mushi Production and Topcraft.[2][3]

History[edit]

The company was founded in New York City by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass on September 14, 1960, as Videocraft International. The majority of Rankin/Bass' work, including all of their "Animagic" stop-motion productions (which they were well known for), were created in Tokyo, Japan. Throughout the 1960s, the Animagic productions were headed by Japanese stop-motion animator Tadahito Mochinaga at his studio, MOM Production. He was credited for his supervision as "Tad Mochinaga"

At that same time, Rankin/Bass' traditionally cel-animated works were subcontracted to Crawley Films in Canada, and later, the other Japanese animation studios: Toei Animation, TCJ (now Eiken) and Mushi Production. And from the 1970s to the early 1980s, the others were animated by another of Tokyo's animation studios, Topcraft, which was formed in 1972 as an offshoot of Toei Animation. Many Topcraft staffers, including the studio's founder Toru Hara (who was credited as an animation supervisor in some of Rankin/Bass' specials), would go on to join its successor Studio Ghibli and work on Hayao Miyazaki's feature films, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbor Totoro.

In addition to the "name" talent that provided the narration for the specials, Rankin/Bass had its own company of voice actors. For the studio's early work, this group was based in Toronto, Ontario, where recording was supervised by veteran CBC announcer Bernard Cowan. This group included actors such as Paul Soles, Larry D. Mann, and Paul Kligman.

Maury Laws served as musical director for almost all of the animated films. Romeo Muller was another consistent contributor, serving as screenwriter for many of Rankin/Bass's best-known productions including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman.

Output[edit]

One of Videocraft's first projects was an independently produced series, The New Adventures of Pinocchio, based on Carlo Collodi's novel The Adventures of Pinocchio and featuring "Animagic", a stop motion animation process using figurines or puppets (a process already pioneered by George Pal's "Puppetoons" and Art Clokey's Gumby and Davey and Goliath), managed by Mochinaga and his MOM Production staffers for Videocraft with Dentsu. This was followed by another independently produced series using more traditional cel animation and based on already established characters, Tales of the Wizard of Oz in 1961.

Rudolph era[edit]

One of the mainstays of the business was holiday-themed animated specials for airing on American television. In 1964, the company produced a special for NBC and sponsor General Electric, later owner of NBC. It was a stop motion animated adaptation of the Robert L. May story "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the song it inspired, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," written by May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks. It had been made into a cartoon by Max Fleischer, brother and former partner of Dave Fleischer, as a traditional animated short for the Jam Handy Film Company almost two decades earlier. This featured Billie Mae Richards as the voice of the main title character, Rudolph.

With Burl Ives in the role of Sam the Snowman — the narrator, and an original orchestral score composed by Marks himself, Rudolph became one of the most popular, and longest-running, Christmas specials in television history: it remained with NBC until around 1972, and currently runs several times during the Christmas season on CBS. The special contained seven original songs. In 1965, a new song was filmed in "Animagic" to replace "We're a Couple of Misfits" titled "Fame and Fortune."

The success of Rudolph led to numerous other Christmas specials. The first was The Cricket on the Hearth, with a live-action prologue by Danny Thomas and the animation by TCJ, in 1967, followed by a Thanksgiving special, Mouse on the Mayflower told by Tennessee Ernie Ford and animated by Toei Animation, in 1968.

Other holiday specials[edit]

Many of their other specials, like Rudolph, were based on popular Christmas songs. In 1968, Greer Garson provided dramatic narration for The Little Drummer Boy, based on the traditional song and set during the birth of the baby Jesus, and starring Puerto Rican actor José Ferrer as the voice of Ben Haramend. During that year, Videocraft (whose logo dominated the Rankin/Bass logo in the closing credit sequences), changed its name to Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc., and adopted a new logo, retaining a Videocraft byline in their closing credits until 1971 when Tomorrow Entertainment, a unit of the General Electric Company acquired the production company. The "Animagic" process for The Little Drummer Boy took place at MOM Production, which was renamed Video Tokyo Production after Tadahito Mochinaga left Japan for his return trip to China following the completed production of Mad Monster Party?, thus ending his collaboration with Arthur Rankin. Takeo Nakamura, the director of Sanrio's 1979 stop motion feature Nutcracker Fantasy, was among the "Animagic" team, but was never credited as a supervisor.

The following year, in 1969, Jimmy Durante sang and told the story of Frosty the Snowman, with Jackie Vernon voicing Frosty and Osamu Tezuka's Mushi Production handling the animation with supervision by Hanna-Barbera employee Yusaku "Steve" Nakagawa.

1970 brought another Christmas special, Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. Rankin/Bass enlisted Fred Astaire as narrator S.D. (Special Delivery) Kluger, a mailman answering children's questions about Santa Claus and telling his origin story. The story involved young Kris Kringle, voiced by Mickey Rooney, and his nemesis the Burgermeister Meisterburger, voiced by Paul Frees. Kringle later marries the town's schoolteacher, Miss Jessica, voiced by Robie Lester. Kizo Nagashima, the associate director of Rankin/Bass' previous "Animagic" productions, was credited as a production supervisor.

In 1971, Rankin/Bass produced the Easter special Here Comes Peter Cottontail, with the voices of Danny Kaye as the narrator Seymour S. Sassafrass, Vincent Price as the evil rabbit January Q. Irontail, and Casey Kasem as the title character Peter Cottontail. It was not based upon the title song, but on a 1957 novel by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich titled The Easter Bunny That Overslept. This is the final "Animagic" production to be supervised by Kizo Nagashima. In 1977, Fred Astaire returned as S.D. Kluger in The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town, telling the tale of the Easter Bunny's origins. From there, Masaki Iizuka serves as an associate producer for Rankin/Bass. Back in 1973, Iizuka was the production assistant of Marco — a live-action musical film based on the biography of Marco Polo, filmed at Toho Company in Tokyo and on location throughout East Asia, and featuring the "Animagic" sequence of the Tree People.

In 1974, Rankin/Bass Productions was relaunched once again as an independent production company, and produced another Christmas special, The Year Without a Santa Claus, featuring Shirley Booth, voicing narrator Mrs. Claus, Mickey Rooney, returning as the voice of Santa Claus, and supporting characters Snow Miser (voiced by Dick Shawn) and Heat Miser (voiced by George S. Irving). It was the first Rankin/Bass "Animagic" production in which Akikazu Kono — another animator, shares his supervision with puppet maker Ichiro Komuro. It was remade as a poorly received live action TV movie shown on NBC in 2006 starring Delta Burke and John Goodman as Mrs. Claus and Santa.[4]

Throughout the 1970s, Rankin/Bass, with Video Tokyo and Toru Hara's Topcraft, continued to produce animated sequels to its classic specials, including the teaming of Rudolph and Frosty in 1979's Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, with the voice of Ethel Merman as the ringmistress of a seaside circus, and Rooney again returning as Santa. The special features cameos by characters from several other Rankin-Bass holiday specials, including Big Ben from Rudolph's Shiny New Year and Jack Frost. Jack appeared in his own special later that year. Jack Frost, narrated by Buddy Hackett, tells the story of the winter sprite's love for a mortal woman menaced by the evil Cossack king, Kubla Kraus (Paul Frees, in addition to Kubla, voiced Jack Frost's overlord, Father Winter himself).

Among Rankin/Bass's original specials was 1975's The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow, featuring the voice of Angela Lansbury as the narrating and singing nun, and the Irving Berlin Christmas classic "White Christmas". Though only a half-hour long (as opposed to the standard hour time slot), it was critically acclaimed, telling the story of a blind shepherd boy who longs to experience Christmas.

Their final stop-motion style Christmas story was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, taken from the L. Frank Baum story of the same name and released in 1985. In this story, the Great Ak summons a council of the Immortals to bestow upon a dying Claus the Mantle of Immortality. To make his case, the Great Ak tells Claus's life story, from his discovery as a foundling in the magical forest and his raising by Immortals, through his education by the Great Ak in the harsh realities of the human world, and his acceptance of his destiny to struggle to bring joy to children.[5] This special has recently been released as part of the Warner Brothers Archive Collection on a double-feature disc that also contains Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey which is often paired with The First Christmas on holiday broadcasts.

Many of these specials are still shown seasonally on American television, and some have been released to video and DVD.

Non-holiday output[edit]

Throughout the 1960s, Videocraft produced other stop motion and traditional animation specials and films, some of which were non-holiday stories. 1965 saw the production of Rankin/Bass's first theatrical film, Willy McBean and His Magic Machine, the first of four films produced in association with Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures. 1966 brought The Ballad of Smokey the Bear, narrated by James Cagney, the story of the famous forest fire-fighting bear seen in numerous public service announcements.

The theatrical feature film Mad Monster Party? saw theatrical release in spring 1967, featuring one of the last performances by Boris Karloff. The film features affectionate send-ups of classic movie monsters and their locales, adding "Beatle"-wigged skeletons as a send-up of the era's pop bands, and a writing staff borrowed from Mad magazine. It is also the last "Animagic" project that Tadahito Mochinaga supervises.

In 1972 and 1973, Rankin/Bass produced four animated TV movies for The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie: Mad Mad Mad Monsters, Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid, The Red Baron, and That Girl in Wonderland.

In 1977, Rankin/Bass produced an animated version of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It was followed in 1980 by an animated version of The Return of the King (the animation rights to the first two volumes were held by Saul Zaentz, producer of Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation The Lord of the Rings). Other books adapted include The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, a rare theatrical release, Peter Dickinson's The Flight of Dragons and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

In addition to their prime time specials, Rankin/Bass produced several regular cartoon series, including The King Kong Show, The Jackson 5ive, co-produced with Motown Productions, and The Osmonds. Perhaps the best-remembered[who?] of these was ThunderCats (1985), a cartoon and related line of toys. It was followed by two similar cartoons about humanoid animals, SilverHawks (1986), and TigerSharks, as part of the series The Comic Strip in 1987. Neither enjoyed the same commercial success.

Rankin/Bass also attempted live-action productions, such as 1967's King Kong Escapes, a co-production with Toho; 1976's The Last Dinosaur; 1978's The Bermuda Depths; and 1983's The Sins of Dorian Gray. With the exception of King Kong Escapes, all were made for television.

Demise[edit]

After its last series output, Rankin/Bass shut down its production arm on March 4, 1987.

Arthur Rankin, Jr. would split his time between New York City, where the company still has its offices, and his home in Bermuda. He formed Rankin Productions to produce a few cartoons, such as the remake of Krazy Kat; that company was later absorbed in 1990.[clarification needed] Rankin died at Harrington Sound, Bermuda on January 30, 2014 at the age of 89.[6] Jules Bass commuted between New York and Paris.[when?] Bass became a vegetarian; a decade later, he wrote Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon,[7] the first children's book character developed specifically to explore moral issues related to vegetarianism. The original story and a follow-up cookbook became bestsellers for independent publishing house Barefoot Books.

In 1999, Rankin/Bass joined forces with James G. Robinson's Morgan Creek Productions and Nest Family Entertainment, creators of The Swan Princess franchise, for the first and only animated adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I, based on a treatment by Rankin. Distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment, the film flopped at the American box office and many American film critics took it to task for its depictions of "offensive ethnic stereotyping."

In 2001, Fox aired Rankin/Bass's first new original Christmas special in sixteen years, Santa, Baby!, which like most of Rankin/Bass's other specials was based on a popular, similarly-titled Christmas song. Santa, Baby! stood out from its predecessors due to its use of African-American characters and voice performers, such as Patti LaBelle (the narrator), Eartha Kitt, Gregory Hines, Vanessa L. Williams and Tom Joyner.[8] Santa, Baby! turned out to be the final Rankin/Bass-produced special; the Rankin/Bass partnership was dissolved shortly after, with most of its remaining assets acquired by Warner Bros. Television.

Many of Rankin/Bass' films are shown on Freeform during their December "25 Days of Christmas" seasonal period. Starting in 2018, Rankin/Bass' specials will also be shown on AMC during their "Best Christmas Ever" seasonal period. Both Rankin and Bass were involved in the new ThunderCats series on Cartoon Network until its cancellation. In the series, a magical item called the Forever Bag was activated by the word "Rankin-Bass".

Rankin/Bass library[edit]

Sections of the Rankin/Bass library are now in the hands of other companies. General Electric's Tomorrow Entertainment acquired the original Videocraft International in 1971. The pre-1974 library, including the "classic four" Christmas specials, remained under the ownership of GE. In 1988, Lorne Michaels' production company Broadway Video acquired the rights to the 1960–1973 Rankin/Bass television material from GE. In 1996, Golden Books Family Entertainment acquired Broadway Video's family entertainment library and was later folded into Classic Media in 2001. In 2012, DreamWorks Animation bought the studio, and renamed it DreamWorks Classics. In 2016, Dreamworks Animation was bought by NBCUniversal.

Videocraft International's theatrical feature film library, except Willy McBean and His Magic Machine, is now owned by French film production and distribution company StudioCanal, a subsidiary of Vivendi. Willy McBean and His Magic Machine was retained by GE and Broadway Video, and is also owned by Universal Pictures on behalf of DreamWorks Classics.

In 1978, Telepictures acquired all of the post-1973 Rankin/Bass library except The Last Unicorn. Telepictures then acquired Rankin-Bass on January 24, 1983 and was renamed as Rankin-Bass Animated Entertainment.[1] This library is now owned by Warner Bros. (now part of AT&T), through the studio's 1989 acquisition of Lorimar-Telepictures.

Since 1999, The Last Unicorn has been under the ownership of a British company, ITV Studios Global Entertainment, as the successor to ITC Entertainment, via Carlton Communications, who acquired the rights from Polygram Entertainment.

The Jackson 5ive is now distributed by CBS Television Distribution due to being the successor to Worldvision Enterprises. Ancillary rights are owned by DreamWorks Classics.

Logos[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Feature films[edit]

Stop motion[edit]


Traditional animation[edit]

Live-action[edit]

Animated TV specials[edit]

Stop motion animation

Traditional animation

Episodes of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie[edit]

Animated series[edit]

Stop-motion

Traditional

Live-action TV-movies[edit]

Franchises[edit]

Title Release date
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1964–1979
The Little Drummer Boy 1968–1976
Frosty the Snowman 1969–1979
Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town 1970–1977

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Programming". Broadcasting: 82. 1983-01-24.
  2. ^ "The Japanese Studios of Rankin/Bass". cartoonresearch.com. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  3. ^ Clements, Jonathan; McCarthy, Helen (9 February 2015). "The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation". Stone Bridge Press. Retrieved 17 March 2018 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "The Year Without a Santa Claus". 11 December 2006. Retrieved 17 March 2018 – via www.imdb.com.
  5. ^ The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985) on IMDb
  6. ^ Obituary for Arthur Rankin, Jr. from The Royal Gazette, 1/31/2014
  7. ^ Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon, 1999, ISBN 978-1-902283-36-4
  8. ^ Santa Baby! (2001) on IMDb
  9. ^ ""Smokey and His Friends" -". cartoonresearch.com. Retrieved 17 March 2018.

External links[edit]