Some people get in the holiday spirit by decorating a tree, polishing the menorah or baking something from an old family recipe…I pull out the movies!
For me, nothing says Christmas like the old stop-motion animated cartoons from the early 70’s. The Little Drummer Boy (1968), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) come to mind. Even though I couldn’t remember the title of one of my favorite cartoons from childhood, I could hum the theme “Put One Foot In Front of the Other” — finally I had to go search the interwebs. The film is Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.
There’s a charm and simplicity to these Rankin/Bass Productions. They’re endearing. There are catchy songs, And they feature a hero’s journey….sometimes all the way to the Island of Misfit Toys! All of them are about the outsider; the individual that doesn’t fit in, who triumphs over adversity. Though there’s an up-lifting moral, the characters must face the villains. Back in the day, there seemed to be little worry about scaring the kids with The Abominable Snowman or the Heat Miser. Of course, everything turns out alright in the end. Bad guys lose their teeth or are forced to stay in their own realms and the hero saves the day.
The Heat Miser Song — The Year Without Santa Claus, 1974
Watching them again as an adult, I was struck by how many similarities there are between these older cartoon specials that aired on television and some of our popular animated films of today. There are super-star vocal talents featured (Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney), quirky side-kicks and musical interludes that were popular when the cartoons aired. I was reminded of the cartoons when watching the beautifully-animated Klaus (Netflix, 2019) with it’s origin story of Santa Claus. Would children used to faster pacing and slicker animation still enjoy these simple stop-motion features? I don’t know but I hope some parents will pull out the Holiday Classics and share them with their kids.