Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 20, 2012)
For a look at four obscure Christmas specials, we go to a compilation called Rankin/Bass TV Holiday Favorites Collection. Here’s what it gives us:
The Little Drummer Boy Book II (1976, 23:45): A sequel to the 1968 classic, Book II visits protagonist Aaron (voiced by David Jay) right after the events of the first show. Wise man Melchior (Ray Owens) asks Aaron to come with him to find bell-maker Simeon (Allen Swift). They want to ring special silver bells to hail the arrival of the baby Jesus. However, Roman tax collectors seize the bells as payment, so Aaron needs to retrieve them.
The original Drummer Boy has its flaws, mainly due to too much comedy; the special achieves some scenes of real darkness that support its message, and the slapstick undercuts those. Nonetheless, it’s still a good program – and it looks spectacular compared to the forgettable Book II.
Many sequels are created as “product”, and that feels true here. There’s little reason for the show to exist other than to capitalize on the first program’s popularity. Jay is a limp Aaron, as he fails to portray the edgy personality of Teddy Eccles, and the story lacks drive. This is a mediocre special.
Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold (1981, 24:44): When ship cabin boy Dinty Doyle (voiced by Ken Jennings) tries to retrieve a Christmas tree, he inadvertently releases an evil banshee (Christine Mitchell). She plans to steal the gold owned by the clan headed by Blarney Kilakilarney (Art Carney). Blarney and Dinty team together to fight off the banshee and save the gold.
Gold provides a tremendously plot-heavy affair. Sure, it tosses in a few songs and some character moments, but usually it maintains a relentless focus on its tale.
Not that there’s all that much to this inconsequential piece, especially since lead character Dinty is a moron; cans of Dinty Moore stew show more cleverness than Dinty Doyle. It’s an unusual spin on a Christmas special since we don’t normally – or ever, honestly – connect Leprechauns with the holiday, but it’s not a memorable show.
Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980, 49:11): Pinocchio (voiced by Todd Porter) experiences his first Christmas. To get a present for Gepetto (George S. Irving), he sells the book he got as his gift, but sleazy critters Fox (Allen Swift) and Cat (Pat Bright) cheat him out of the cash. This leads Pinocchio on adventures as he attempts to enjoy his initial yuletide.
Like Gold, this one focuses on a character not associated with the holidays. The show sounds like some sort of marketing synergy: “Kids love Pinocchio and Christmas, so let’s combine them!”
Whatever crass motivation may have sparked this special, it’s actually not bad. It’s certainly superior to the other three bonus shows, and it has some good moments. Though I wouldn’t classify it on a level with the usual Christmas classic suspects, this one entertains.
Stingiest Man in Town (1978, 49:50). Another telling of A Christmas Carol, miser Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Walter Matthau) needs to learn the spirit of the season to save his soul.
Walter Matthau seems well-cast in the lead role, but otherwise this presents a mediocre edition of the tale. It packs in too many bad songs and doesn’t do anything special to differentiate itself from all the other versions of Carol. Matthau tries his best but he can’t elevate Town into something positive.
(By the way, note that the first three specials use the Rankin/Bass stop-motion “Animagic” techniques. Town features standard cel animation.)