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  Rudolph's Shiny New Year May You All Shine On
Year: 1977
Director: Arthur Rankin, Jules Bass
Stars: Red Skelton, Frank Gorshin, Morey Amsterdam, Harold Peary, Paul Frees, Billie Mae Richards, Don Messick, Iris Rainer
Genre: Animated, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Co-directors/producers Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass created such a well-loved yuletide classic with the stop-motion animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) their subsequent output became a fixture of the holiday season. The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Here Comes Santa Claus (1970) and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1975) were among those that followed before the studio eventually made a sequel to their biggest hit.

Old Father Time (voiced by Red Skelton) acts as our narrator, intoning in rhyming couplets how everybody knows how Rudolph “with his nose so bright led Santa’s sleigh on Christmas night. But there’s more story to tell. Rudolph saved the New Year as well!” Somewhat like 24’s Jack Bauer, poor little Rudolph (Billy Mae Richards) never gets any rest. Picking up where his previous adventure left off, on Christmas Eve, the shiny-nosed reindeer returns home to the North Pole where he receives an urgent telegram from Father Time. It seems Happy, the baby new year, has run away from home because people keep laughing at his oversized ears. At the end of every December, the aging spirit of the year passes his mantle to a baby year who will grow to maturity over the passing months. If young Happy is not sitting on his throne come midnight, something very nasty will happen to the space-time continuum. Or as Father Time puts it: “Rudolph with your nose so bright, you have six days to set things right!”

Fortunately, Father has a good idea where Happy went - the Archipelagos islands, each ruled by a former lord of time and frozen in that particular era. Along his search Rudolph picks up allies in the form of One Million B.C. (Morey Amsterdam), a jolly caveman who talks like Al Jolson for some reason, Sir Ten-Two-Three (Frank Gorshin - yes, the Riddler from Batman (1966)! - doing a Richard Burton impression) who speaks in ye olde English, and Seventeen Seventy-Six, who resembles Benjamin Franklin. However, someone else in on the lookout for Happy. The horrible giant monster bird Eon, who plots to use the time baby to prolong his lifespan.

Can Rudolph save the day? Well, considering Father Time rather gave the game away in his opening narration, there isn’t much room for doubt but Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is a heck of a fun ride anyway. Two vital ingredients that make this a perennial Christmas treat, the sing-along musical numbers composed by Johnny Marks and the fine scripting by Romeo Muller. Muller crafts idiosyncratic stories full of lively, eccentric characters and memorably offbeat ideas. Though the catalyst for the plot essentially replays the misfit analogies from the original Rudolph to somewhat less poignant effect, the unfolding adventure borrows ideas from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books and Ray Harryhausen monster movies and weaves some winning philosophical undertones amidst the holiday cheer.

Rankin-Bass’ animation is that little more lavish, showcasing some beautiful design work, without losing any of that handmade charm. Included among the time-themed supporting cast are General Ticker, a clockwork soldier, The Great Quarter Past Five - a camel with a clock built inside his hump who helps our heroes cross the sands of time - and Big Ben (Harold Peary), an enormous friendly blue whale who scares nasty Eon away. In fact, if there is one criticism, the film has more characters than it knows what to do with. A handful either disappear or sit on the sidelines while Rudolph does his thing, something the original cartoon was careful to avoid. However, each character remains memorable and inhabits engagingly detailed fantasy worlds, be they the prehistoric isle where One Million B.C. leads a chorus line of singing dinosaurs (!) on “It’s Raining Sunshine”, or Sir Ten-Two-Three’s medieval kingdom which is a wonderland full of fairy princesses and make believe creatures, with cameos from Little Miss Muffet, Cinderella and Humpty Dumpty. On Seventeen Seventy-Six’s island every day is the Fourth of July, which lets Rankin-Bass shoehorn three holidays into one seasonally-themed movie!

Red Skelton lends his warm tones to both Old Father Time and the lovable Baby Bear who, along with Mama and Papa, briefly adopt little Happy into their family. Cartoon buffs will appreciate the stirring vocal work from veterans Billy Mae Richards, Don Messick and Paul Frees, who voices no less than four characters here including Eon, Santa Claus, General Ticker and Seventeen Seventy-Six. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would return, teamed with another enduring Christmas icon, in Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979).

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Jules Bass  (1935 - )

American animator and producer who, after a career in advertising, set up a company with Arthur Rankin to create animated specials for television, such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. From the sixties onwards, they created a few films for cinema, such as Daydreamer, Mad Monster Party?, Flight of Dragons and The Last Unicorn. Also a composer of songs.

 
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