World Magazine, Issue 2.12, March 1998
World of Rankin/Bass
by Rick Goldschmidt
book review by Scott Maiko
What the publishing industry needs is a Burgermeister Meisterburger-type executive to pass an edict whereby no over-zealous fans may write books about the subjects on which they obsess. Either that or we need Mad Monster Party's evil scientist Baron Von Frankenstein to clone the very competent Jerry Beck and let him (them?) write all such books.
Case in point: the new Rankin/Bass (R/B) book. Fan-turned-writer Rick Goldschmidt might have been more accurate in titling it, "The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass/Goldschmidt." Goldschmidt admits that he focused the book toward the fans. "Rankin and Bass deserve a book and a larger place in animation history," he stated. His love is fairly clear by the illustrations peppered throughout the book, like the Jack Davis drawing of Rick and his wife, the photos of him with his collection of Rankin/Bass memorabilia, and his awkward writing style which often falls into the first person (such as when he notes which of the animation team's productions are among his favorites), that this is a book not so much about Rankin/Bass' history but about why some guy named Rick Goldschmidt likes Rankin/Bass.
Aside from the poor writing and lengthy synopses of each of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass' larger productions (Do we really need to know that, "[The character named] Blarney uses many Irish sayings like, 'Don't chew your cabbage twice' and 'Begorrah,'" in The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold ?), the book is amazingly short on behind-the-scenes info, anecdotes, and photos. While the animation was done in Japan, we still want to know the production details. Who made the puppets and how were they made? How big were the sets? How long did it take to film an average Rankin/Bass special? While Goldschmidt concedes that fans of the Animagic (R/B's trademark for their stop-motion process) productions are most fascinated with the stop-motion figures, his only remarks about them are contained in two succinct sentences (eighteen words!) noting that the puppets are in Rankin and Bass' private collections. End of story! What of that reasonably well-known account that many of the puppets were in fact thrown out in the mid-1980's? Why is a book about the production company whose hallmark is a stop-motion reindeer with a light bulb nose so quick to brush off this entire subject?
Speaking of Rudolph, what happened to her? 'Her' being Billie Mae Richards, the woman who voiced the red-nosed reindeer in the original special and two sequels, not to mention other characters in numerous other R/B productions. Where is she today? Her only "appearance" in the book, aside from her name listed in the credits of various specials, is in a small photo, showing her leaning on a piano with the rest of the Rudolph cast. Is she even still alive? How hard could it have been to include some info on or quotes from this woman, who most certainly would have a few interesting anecdotes to share? Instead, Goldschmidt manages to contact one-time R/B voice actors Morey Amsterdam (who offers us the fascinating insight, "It was a pleasure to work on Rudolph's Shiny New Year...") and Art Carney ("It was a pleasure working on something that children can enjoy...Rankin/Bass should be proud of what they have been able to accomplish in family entertainment.").
Adding insult to injury, there's not even a cursory explanation of the stop-motion animation process. Sure, such a side bar may seem to be extraneous information to most readers of this review, but the general public, who probably got this book as a Christmas present, would have appreciated some insight into the actual physics of making the Animagic films.
While the author explains in his introduction that the book to follow is not a "complete personal history" of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, the fact that he glosses over their early commercial work (examples of which exist at least on VHS tapes of unlicensed, fan-compiled vintage commercial collections) is a disappointment.
On the plus side, the book is illustration-heavy with numerous stills from the productions. It covers the aforementioned Animagic films, their numerous cel-animated specials and series, and even their lesser known live-action works. Plus, yes, there is pre-production artwork a lot of which was executed by frequent R/B collaborator and MAD artist Paul Coker, Jr., images of old and new Rankin-Bass related merchandise, lobby cards, ads which ran in Variety , and some behind the scenes photos. All are fascinating to see, but a lot of these illustrations aren't documented very well. A photo of sheafs of sheet music from Rudolph implies that there was an 'Abominable Snowman' song that was apparently cut from the final version of the special, though the author makes no mention of this anywhere in the text. In fact, there's a lot about Rudolph that was left out. A short quote from Larry Mann, the voice of Yukon Cornelius, hints that Burl Ives was brought in after the original soundtrack was recorded. This would explain why the Sam the Snowman character has no interaction with the other characters; his scenes were filmed later. But Goldschmidt never follows through on this, nor are we given any idea of what was snipped from the hour-long special to make room for Ives' narration scenes.
Still, points must be given to Goldschmidt for including a few interesting tidbits, including photos of the numerous recent unlicensed resin kits of the more popular characters and a side bar and two stills from MAD TV's hilariously violent and profane Rudolph parodies [Ragin' Rudolph by Corky Quakenbush]. Unfortunately, despite this, the book still comes up short.
Perhaps King Moonracer, the beneficent leonine monarch of the Island of Misfit Toys will bend the rules and give this unfortunate book a home until the more thoroughly-researched and more professionally-written second edition makes its way to bookstores.
The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass by Rick Goldschmidt, Tiger Mountain Press, 1997. 176 pages, illustrated. ISBN: 0-9649542-8-1. (U.S. $18.95)
To purchase Rankin/Bass videos, visit the AWN Store.
Scott Maiko is an LA-based freelance writer having been published in such obscure zines and magazines as MOO juice, Thrift SCORE, Wild Cartoon Kingdom, A to Z, and Snackbar Confidential. Time, The New Yorker, and Variety are but a few of the much more widely-known publications for which he's never written. In his spare time, Scott enjoys writing short, three-sentence-long bios about himself in the third person.
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