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.