Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Arthur Rankin, Jr. (1924-2014)

I know it has been a few days already since his passing.  Still, of all the losses this last week, the loss of Arthur Rankin, Jr. (1924-2014) is noteworthy to me.  I felt compelled to express a debt of gratitude to all of his wonderful work along with frequent partner Jules Bass as part of Rankin/Bass Productions founded in 1960 and with the understanding many creative minds were involved like Romeo Muller.

Rankin, Jr. was responsible for endless nights of fond childhood memories during those seemingly endless cold winter months.  Thanks to him my brother and I often plopped ourselves down in front of a television in Underoos or Feet Pajamas to enjoy the annual holiday repeats around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There was a whole host of holiday specials and without DVR or VCR or DVD or whatever, if you blinked, if you fell asleep and missed the night, if you didn't get the pocket-sized TV Guide, you were screwed for the year. It was done. It was over.  Bye bye. You missed out pal. In fact, this led to much taunting at the bus stop.  "What do you mean you missed The Year Without A Santa Claus? It was on last night and you missed it? How the heck did you miss it?" Okay, easy does it neighborhood friends. I missed it.

Without those wondrous specials I wouldn't have had those memories with my brother.  There was an endless run of fun provided by Rankin, Jr. in the form of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty The Snowman (1969), Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (1970) and The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974).  These were perhaps our favorites of which we never tired and sometimes missed forcing us to writhe in pain with the knowledge we must wait a full year for another shot at the brass ring.  Heat Miser and Cold Miser received much love from us as kids and Rudolph was infinitely quotable and can still be recited to this day. To a lesser extent we tolerated Rudolf's Shiny New Year (1976), which looking back feels a bit like the equivalent of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). It just never quite measured up, but it was probably better than Episode I. But who didn't love the characters from Rankin's world. Winter Warlock. Yukon Cornelius. Clarice. Hermie. Bumbles (they bounce ya know). The Land of Misfit Toys like Charlie-In-The-Box. And who didn't love to just say the word Burgomeister Meisterburger! It was like saying Salsa.

For a time, too, Rankin, Jr. collaborated in conjunction with Toho Studios in Japan, home of Godzilla, and Eiji Tsuburaya's Tsuburaya Productions.

King Kong Escapes (1968) was the massive fruit of those labors and remains a classic to this day. The film is headed to Blu-Ray this year.

Rankin, Jr. worked with Tsuburaya on the wonderful 1970s gem The Last Dinosaur (1977).  Other films include The Bermuda Depths (1977), of which I hope to review here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic in the future, The Ivory Ape (1980) and The Bushido Blade (1981) starring the late, great Toshiro Mifune as well as Sonny Chiba, James Earl Jones and the late Richard Boone, who starred in The Last DinosaurThe Ivory Ape features Jack Palance and remains extremely elusive to this day. It's made in the spirit of The Last Dinosaur and this Rankin, Jr. fan is still waiting for a release.

He also delighted animation fans with a version of The Hobbit (1977) and The Return Of The King (1980).  Another notable film was The Last Unicorn (1982), in yet another collaboration with a Japanese group called Topcraft Studios. Topcraft was involved in Barbapapa (1974-1975), Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984) and even contributed to Tatsunoko's Gatchaman (1972-1974) currently under consideration here at the blog.

So, it is with a heavy heart we bid farewell to one of the great American talents blessed with a rich, adventurous imagination.  I would be remiss not to pay tribute.  So given the profound influence upon my childhood, especially with the epic and unforgettable Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and its every single frame, I am sorry to see him go.


Francisco Gonzalez said...

This is super weird...I just bought a dvd with a couple of his christmas stop motion animation movies and saw them over the holidays! It brought back memories of my childhood...I had no idea he had died.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I hear ya. That happens to me once in a while and I discover these things by happenstance on other blogs as well.

Dar said...

This is really sad.

Rankin-Bass were legends in animation.

They also gave us "ThunderCats" and "Silver Hawks".

The one dark spot is that they were among the first American animation studios to begin outsourcing animation to Japan, which would really hurt the American animation industry. Something that Filmation Studios tried unsuccefully to counter.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

As much as I enjoyed some of those overseas collaborations, Rankin clearly worked with overseas animation studios.

Your point is notable particularly to those it affected within the industry. Certainly an interesting point Dar. Thank you.

El Vox said...

Yeah, he will be missed. I usually try and catch one of the Christmas specials when the holidays roll around. It just puts me in the mood. They are classic. I even like the Davey & Goliath stop motion, though not by Rankin.

Wow, I didn't know he was involved with those other features. Thanks for the head's up.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Um, El Vox, I LOVE Davey & Goliath! Just fantastic!