You’ve wandered into the topsy-turvy world of Tulgey Wood, the blog of writer and historian Jim Fanning. Tulgey Wood celebrates artistry and creativity (and sometimes just plain madness): movies, animation, TV, books, comics—and of course Disney, lots and lots of true-blue, through-and-through Disney, including D23 and Disney twenty-three Magazine, and Sketches Magazine and the Walt Disney Collectors Society. Tulgey Wood is so fun, fascinating and full of frolicsome photos and facts, it’s scary. So wander through the wonder of it all, and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

One Star in the Night

Certainly one of the best Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, The Little Drummer Boy debuted on NBC on December 19, 1968. Reminiscent (in theme, at least) to Amahl and the Night Visitors (see here for more about that historic program), this Animagic special is based on the famous Christmas song written by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1941. As is typical of their finest productions, producer/directors Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, animation director Takeo Nakamura, composer Maury Laws and writer Romeo Muller did an impressive job of spinning a new story out of a well-known song. The tone is more solemn (though no less entertaining) than most of the Rankin/Bass holiday specials, befitting the use of the scriptural Nativity story as its background. Narrated by “Our Storyteller, Miss Greer Garson," The Little Drummer Boy is the story of Aaron who—because of the cruel tragedy that left him an orphan—has a deep hatred for all humanity. Aaron and his only friends, Joshua the camel, Samson the donkey and Ben Baba the lamb, encounter three kings who are traveling through the Judean desert, following a great Star that eventually leads to Bethlehem and a newborn King. Despite the cruelty he has experienced, Aaron discovers the power of love in offering a simple gift to the Infant—a song on his drum. In tandem with the special’s TV debut a View-Master adaptation of the show, with three-dimensional scenes created by View-Master master Joe Liptak, was released. For some reason The Little Drummer Boy is the only Rankin/Bass special to have been adapted into a View Master set (although Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was released as a View-Master set a few years ago). The puppet-like three-dimensional figures used in the “Animagic” stop-motion technique are obviously ideal for the three-dimensional View-Master format. In adapting other TV or movie productions (Tulgey Wood visitors are of course aware of the many Disney and Hanna-Barbera sets released by View-Master), figures and sets had to be constructed but much of that work had already been done for The Little Drummer Boy , which is one of the most charming, touching—and in-touch with “what Christmas is all about”—TV specials created by the legendary Rankin/Bass.

1 comment:

Kevin Kidney said...

You are pushing my buttons with this entry! Your knowledge of all things fun and wonderful is broad and far reaching. View-Master AND Rankin/Bass --what a combo! I have this wonderful set of reels and it truly is amazing to see those beautiful puppets almost like being there. The color on these reels is gorgeous, too, unlike the DVD print which is a little grainy and grayed down. I had heard that the original negative of "Little Drummer Boy" may have been lost or destroyed somewhere in time, and today's video transfers are from a surviving 16mm print. Do you know if this is true? Maybe Rick knows the answer. It is dumbfounding that other R/B puppet films were not given the View-Master treatment while in production (perhaps because they were filmed in far-off Japan, perhaps?). It's a relief though that slowly but surely the work of Rankin and Bass is being recognized and preserved at last. Better late than never!