Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Santa Claus Painting in the Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials

For me, the Christmas season is not complete unless I've seen my favorite Christmas specials on TV. I don't think I'm alone in my admiration and love of the Rankin-Bass specials. What holiday season is complete without watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus is Comin' to Town or one of the myriad of others? Perhaps they are a little cheesy and overly sentimental- but isn't that what you want to enjoy during this, the most wonderful time of the year. And thanks to technology, they are more readily available than ever. Gone are the days when if you missed it on TV, you missed it for good. And thank the Lord for that!
The Year without a Santa Claus (1974)
Of course, I consider the wonderful animation in those little specials an art of their own: officially known as "animagic." But I'm going to concentrate on art within the art. The art within the art of film, if you know what I mean. Because, if you are intimately familiar with these specials as I am, you will know that art, of course, inhabits these little, miniature, moving worlds. In particular, because it is Christmas, I'm going to focus on two very similar paintings of Santa that I saw in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and The Year without a Santa Claus. At first, I thought they were the same painting, but close observation has proved otherwise.

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)

Towards the end of  Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970), a painting of the Burgermeister Meisterburger falls down, only to be replaced with a wonderful painting of Santa. Why some kid's decision to hang a painting of Santa in the center of this provincial German town's hall of government is neither questioned or disputed by the audience or townspeople. But, as Santa represents the forces of good in the film (and in all things, for that matter), it only seems right that he should triumph in the end.

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)

The painting shows Santa in his sleigh being pulled by his eight tiny flying reindeer. In the painting, Santa looks absolutely thrilled, as you or I would look if we were in a flying sleigh. Now, I am assuming (pretty rationally), that as Rankin-Bass animates little miniature figures, this painting must be absolutely tiny. Which makes it so impressive. Sure, it's no Monet, but at least it is a clear picture.
The Year without a Santa Claus (1974)
Now, four years later, a very similar painting is seen hanging in the North Pole in A Year without a Santa Claus. In this film, Santa wanders over to the painting when fretting over his one day of work in the whole year. While similar in subject matter, the painting is somewhat different. The angle of the sleigh and the coloring are all a little difference. I guess this works for continuity. After all, the painting in the Somber town City Hall couldn't also hang in Santa's bedroom.
The Year without a Santa Claus (1974)

My guess, and this is pure conjecture, is that when they were making A Year without a Santa Claus, an animator thought of the other little painting. Everyone probably thought it would look nice in the room but couldn't find the original. So another very talented miniaturist went to work and voila!
Just to appreciate the scale of the Christmas specials-
here's a behind the scene look

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)
Either way, they are rather delightful little paintings.  Simple, perhaps, and not overly advanced, but they are something that I've always noticed in the films and thought I'd share with the world. Of course, I'm not sure about their artistic merit or thematic importance, but, really, that's not was this post was about.  If anyone has any more knowledge about them- let me know! Merry Christmas!

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