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Rankin-Bass thoughts

Friday 12/23/22

Santa Claus is often an unpleasant handful in the Rankin-Bass universe. In Rudolph, he's judgmental, belittling, dismissive, haughty, selfish, cruel to the youth, and shames the defenseless and innocent. In The Year Without a Santa Claus he's moody, narcissistic, a pain to live with, and someone who uses his depression as a weapon against others. But in Frosty the Snowman, he's kind and good, gentle and decent. He's supportive, empathetic. But it's a one-off for him.

Rankin-Bass had it going on with Frosty. When places of the imagination have unstated rules, they charm us. There's a natural order in place. We don't need it explained to us, but we need it to be consistent. That it isn't explained to us means that it doesn't have to be gotten over to us. It just is. We get up to speed.

This is a great way to go, and it's a way that very few authors understand. They waste their time explaining the rules, saying why this is different. You don't have to do that. The world you have created just needs to be consistent to its natural order. The way it is.

So in Frosty, you can take a train to the north pole, this place that doesn't really exist. You can't go and stand there, I mean. And Karen wants to be back for dinner with her family. In the middle of the woods is a greenhouse. I have always found that so appealing and enchanting. That's my favorite part about the special. Isn't that magical? A warm, well-lit greenhouse in the middle of the woods. And then when the evil magician has been busted and has to do his penance, he can race back to town--on foot. The stretching of time and place appeals to us. These rules appeal to us. It adds up to a kind of magic. That's why people like this special. They don't articulate it, but it's that kind of stuff that makes the best Rankin-Bass work what it is, why it continues to appeal.

There's a real Stalin-esque vibe to 1970's Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. Makes me think of the Russian writers of OBERIU covertly creating their work during a period of censorship and military and police force.


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