Friday, July 25, 2014

Rudolph And Frosty's Christmas In July

Premiered June 30, 1979.

It's late June, but in the North Pole it's still chilly.  Rudolph is hanging out with his best friend Frosty and his snow family.  Santa shows up to tell us (the viewers) that the North Pole was not always such a nice place to live.

Years ago, an evil sorcerer named Winterbolt ruled the North.  Lady Boreal, Queen of the Northern Lights, ended his reign by using her power to put Winterbolt into a deep, but not permanent, sleep.

During Winterbolt's long nap, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in the North Pole and set up their toymaking workshop with the Kringle elves.

Winterbolt awakens and learns, from his Ice Genie, that Santa is the most beloved man on Earth due to his kindness to children at Christmas.  The sorcerer is jealous and creates a terrible blizzard to keep Santa grounded and force the cancellation of  Christmas.

At the same time, Lady Boreal's powers are dwindling.  She pays a visit to the baby Rudolph and tells him that she has empowered his red nose in order to help Santa.  However, if Rudolph ever uses his nose for evil, it will no longer shine.   We all know the story of how "the most famous reindeer of all" uses his nose to save Christmas, so Rudolph definitely has used his shiny nose for good purposes.

We cut to the "present day", where Rudolph receives a visit from his friend Milton, an ice cream man who sells his product from a hot air balloon.

Milton is sad because he is unable to marry Lanie Lorraine, a high wire performer in the circus.  They were set to marry when they had to cancel since the circus, owned by Lanie's mother, Lilly is near bankruptcy.

The circus will have to go on the road to make money, thus preventing Milton and Lanie from being together.  Meanwhile, a nasty businessman named Sam Spangles is maneuvering to acquire ownership of the circus for himself.

Winterbolt watches all of this in a crystal snowball and gets some evil ideas.  He manipulates Milton into asking Rudolph to perform at the circus on the 4th of July.

Frosty's kids, Millie and Chillie, are excited about the concept of a circus and beg to go see one. Their mother Crystal agrees that it would be a good experience, but Frosty reminds them they'll melt in the Summer sun.  Winterbolt conveniently materializes in front of them and gives the Frosty family medallions that will allow them to see the circus and the fireworks on Independence Day.

There's a catch though,  the medallions will stop working when the final firework of the 4th has been detonated.  Prompted by Winterbolt, Santa says he can whisk away the snow family near the end of fireworks.

Rudolph and Frosty's circus act is a rousing success.   Winterbolt still schemes to destroy Rudolph's power. He recruits a reindeer of dubious morals named Scratcher to get a job at the circus.

That way Scratcher can frame Rudolph for robbery.  Rudolph inadvertently  gives the circus' revenue to Sam Spangles, who impersonates a police officer.  This somehow violates Lady Boreal's rule and Rudolph's nose shines no more.  

Back in the North, Winterbolt causes a tornado to threaten Santa and Mrs. Claus, slowing down their arrival at the Circus By The Sea.   Excessive delay could lead to the melting of Frosty and his family.

Will Winterbolt succeed in his quest to take over the world, starting with the North Pole?  Can Lilly keep her circus?  Is this the end for Rudolph and Frosty?

J.A. Morris says:

According to its wiki, Rudolph And Frosty's Christmas In July received a theatrical release, but only overseas.  I recall first watching it on HBO in 1981.  I've long had mixed feelings about this movie.

I'll start with the positives:

It's great to see Frosty and family get the Animagic treatment.  It was also nice to see Rudolph and Frosty, Rankin-Bass' most popular characters, interact on screen.

The voice acting is excellent.  Billie Mae Richards and Jackie Vernon reprise their roles as Rudolph and Frosty, respectively.  Shelly Winters, Red Buttons, Don Messick and Paul Frees are also good as usual.

Lilly is voiced by the legendary Ethel Merman.  Any movie with Merman voicing a cowgirl can't be all bad, right?  And we get to hear Merman sing "Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer", in her own inimitable style.

Mickey Rooney plays Santa Claus, who he voiced in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and A Year Without A Santa Claus.  Rooney always made a great Santa.

The featured song "You Are Everything I've Ever Wanted" isn't the best song of the Rankin-Bass oeuvre, but it's sung well and contains some sweet sentiment.  The movie also includes a performance of "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree".  This song, was written by Johnny Marks, who also wrote "Rudolph, The Rednosed Reindeer."

There are also attempts to maintain some continuity between this and earlier Rankin-Bass specials.  Big Ben from Rudolph's Shiny New Year makes a cameo appearance.  Clarice, Rudolph's girlfriend from the first special, is seen in a flashback.  Jack Frost, previously featured in Frosty's Winter Wonderland and his own self-titled special, plays a small but important role.

There aren't many 4th of July specials, so it has that going for it as well.

The main problem is that the plot is very convoluted.  Winterbolt's plan is way more elaborate than it needs to be.

And there are loose ends at the end.  Scratcher plays an important role in framing Rudolph, but we never learn Scratcher's fate.  Did he get punished?  Was he reformed?  Is Scratcher evil or just misunderstood?

One other thing I need to mention.  Lilly's circus troupe contains three "Indians" who are ugly stereotypes. I'm sure the people behind the movie meant no harm, but they should have known better than to include this depiction of Native Americans by 1979.

Rudolph And Frosty's Christmas In July isn't bad, but it's not something I watch every year either.  Worth checking out at least once for the Animagic and the great voice-actors.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half candy canes.

Or should it be 2 and half Flags?


RigbyMel says:

I really wanted to like this movie better than I did.   It has Rudolph as well as Animagic Frosty and family.  It has attempts at tying various strains of Rankin-Bass continuity together.    It contains great voice work.  It has an evil antisanta-type wizard with a sled pulled by snakes.

Snake-y Sled!!
 And Ice Dragons too!  

Ice dragons! 
The summer/Christmas in July theme is an interesting idea, but the story is way too complicated to make it a classic.

Did we really need a retcon explaining what made Rudolph's nose shiny?  
What happens to the wrong side of the tracks reindeer Scratcher?  He just disappears.      
Why would Rudolph's innocent mistake in helping give the money to someone he thought was a policeman cause him to lose his powers?  Does Lady Boreal's spell not take intentions into account?  That seems a bit draconian.

If you grew up watching Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas In July,  it might bring back fond memories,  but I came away feeling a bit disappointed.    For me,  Rudolph and company are happier in a Christmas context.  This special strikes me as something of an interesting misfit.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 candy canes

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Greetings from Baltimore!

A couple weekends ago, I celebrated my birthday with a trip to Baltimore, MD, one of my favorite cities in the known universe!

I was accompanied by my co-blogger Rigbymel and several family members.  We saw an Orioles game at Camden Yards (they lost to the Yankees, but it was still a good time).  We also took a Water Taxi from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point, where we had some pizza at Baltimore's locally owned Brick Oven Pizza. We crammed in just about everything you can do in a single afternoon, and it was cooler than usual for the summer.  All in all, it was a great day.  But we had a "classic tv"-related added bonus.

The Fells Point Water Taxi stop just happens to be next to the old City Recreation Pier.  This famously served as the exterior of the police station on Homicide: Life On The Street, one of the best series of the 1990s and in my opinion, the best police procedural drama of all time.  We featured a review of Homicide's Christmas episode last December. 

Cast of Homicide poses on the steps of the Recreation Pier.
So we figured it would make for a good blog photo-op!

The Baltimore P.D. gets two new detectives!
Here's the same spot from the series' 1994 Christmas episode:

We were a bit taken aback by the current state of the building.  The Recreation Pier has fallen into disrepair in the 15 years since Homicide ended.  Note the peeling paint on the lampposts in the above photo.  But  we've since learned that the Pier will be repaired and converted into a hotel, more info about that project here.

That's all for now, check back soon for this blog's celebration of Christmas In July!


Friday, July 4, 2014

Ben & Me

Premiered 10 November 1953

Human Tour Guide: "Benjamin Franklin was one of the most extraordinary men of the 18th century.  Philosopher, inventor and patriot, he rose from obscurity to become one of the greatest figures in American history.   In our struggle for freedom, much credit must be given to this illustrious ... "

Mouse Tour Guide: "... MOUSE. For it was Amos who was REALLY responsible for the great deeds attributed to Benjamin Franklin."

A human tour guide sets the stage

This Disney animated short subject tells the story of Amos, a poor Philadelphia church mouse who sets out to seek his fortune and finds refuge and employment in the print shop of one Benjamin Franklin.

A mouse tour guide sets the record straight
We learn that Amos was responsible for helping Franklin with many of his best known inventions including bifocals and the Franklin stove.

By George, bifocals! 

 He also helps start the Pennsylvania Gazette (and muckraking reportage).

Amos introduces himself to Ben Franklin
Franklin keeps Amos and his contributions (literally) under his hat.  Amos helps his friend Ben with correspondence and with printing the Gazette.

Ben and Amos working hard on the Pennsylvania Gazette

Amos becomes frustrated with Ben pottering around with inventions and zapping him with electricity.
Ben promises to behave better, but instead involves his small friend in a certain well-known kite-flying experiment with "shocking" results.

Amos is incensed, leaves Ben and returns home to his church mouse family.

The "Liberty Bell" makes a cameo
Time passes and the political situation in the Colonies becomes serious.   Franklin is sent as an envoy to the King of England but his efforts are unsuccessful.

It is now 1776,  and Franklin comes to the church to beg Amos for help.   Our mouse hero agrees, but only on condition that Franklin adhere to the terms and conditions of a document drawn up by Amos.

Said document inadvertently becomes Thomas Jefferson's inspiration for the Declaration of Independence!

Jefferson reads the Declaration (note Amos in Franklin's pocket)
RigbyMel says:

I remember watching this film in elementary school.  I enjoyed it then and enjoy it now.  The animation is top notch and the voice actors are Disney regulars from this time period.

Sterling Holloway (perhaps best known today as the voice of Winnie the Pooh) voices Amos the Mouse and Charles Ruggles (aka the big game hunter in Bringing Up Baby) give voice to Benjamin Franklin.

To my mind, the only slight misstep in casting is the use of the great Hans Conried  as Thomas Jefferson. Conried is unforgettable as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney's Peter Pan (which was released earlier in 1953),  but his booming voice seems jarring coming from Thomas Jefferson who was said to have been very soft-spoken.

Jefferson suffering (loudly)  from writer's block
That being said, Ben and Me is a fun little film based on a fun children's book (written and illustrated by Robert Lawson and published in 1939).   It's a nice introduction to the history and is definitely worth sharing on or around the 4th of July seeing as the Declaration of Independence does figure prominently.

RigbyMel's rating:


3  1/2 waving flags

J.A. Morris says:
I mostly concur with my co-blogger on Ben And Me.  I first recall seeing it as a cartoon that played before a Disney movie (can't remember which one) when I was very young.

Speaking as a someone who holds a degree in history, I believe films like this one can encourage kids to be more interested in learning the real story.  Things like Ben And Me and Schoolhouse Rock always had that effect on me.  The scene that features the angry protest against the King is especially dramatic and intense for a cartoon aimed at children.

Amos helps invent the Franklin Stove.
Ben And Me is available on dvd several ways.  The most accessible is a disc called Walt Disney's Timeless Tales Vol. 3, which may be found here.

This short cartoon is recommended for Independence Day viewing and any other time of year.  Ben And Me is also a must-see for fans of Sterling Holloway and Hans Conreid.

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 1/2  flags.