For big kids of certain age, it wasn’t really Christmas until all those silly Christmas specials produced by Rankin& Bass, usually with stop motion animation that looked like toy rooms come to life but sometimes with more traditional hand-drawn animation, started showing up on prime time TV. Sure, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the original animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas are classics, but it’s the goofy tales of Rudolph and Frosty and Santa Claus that we looked forward to, and they remained staples for decades.
Here are five holiday specials from the seventies that you can see as part of your Amazon Prime service. Share them with your kids or settle in for a second childhood this Christmas.
You could say that Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970) is revisionist history, in that it makes up explanations for the Santa legends: why he wears a red suit, why he uses the chimney for his deliveries, why elves make his toys and his reindeer fly. But the reason this special has endured is the cast of characters around Kris Kringle (voiced by Mickey Rooney), notably the Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn) and the grinchy Burgermeister Meisterburger (Paul Frees). Fred Astaire gets his very own animated caricature as the narrator.
Mickey Rooney is back to voice Santa in A Year Without a Santa Claus (1971) as Mrs. Santa (Shirley Booth) and the elves try to rouse him out of the doldrums. Yes, even Santa gets the holiday blues and it takes a village (this one in the North Pole) to raise his spirits by finding evidence of the Christmas Spirit. The story is cute but it’s the feuding brothers Heat Miser and Snow Miser that steal the show.
Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976), a sequel to the better-know Frosty the Snowman, is produced in the traditional hand-drawn animation style but it brings back the distinctive voice of Jackie Vernon as Frosty, give him a wife named Crystal (Shelley Winters), and features Jack Frost (Paul Frees) and Andy Griffith as narrator.
Though it’s hardly a classic, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979) is a Rankin and Bass greatest hits medley of sorts, bringing back not just Rudolph and Frosty but Santa, Jack Frost, Crystal, the original voice actors of each character, and the animagic of their trademark stop motion animation.
Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (1977) is not part of the Rankin & Bass Christmas tradition but a Jim Henson production, a gentle family tale of a poor family (of otters) in the backwoods and the plucky son who puts together a band in the hopes of winning the prize money of a talent contest to give his family a Christmas. It’s beautifully produced, with loving detail in the miniature sets, and features original music by Paul Williams, who also wrote the songs for The Muppet Movie, and Kermit the Frog as narrator.