Rankin/Bass’ Arthur Rankin Jr. chats about his timeless Christmas specials

Arthur Rankin, Jr. is part of the duo team Rankin/Bass. He is a legend and does not need any introduction. Rankin/Bass created the timeless holiday specials “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, just to name a few. Media Mikes had a once in a lifetime chance to chat with Arthur about his work and how it has and will continue to entertain generation after generation. This interview originally was posted March 2012 but I wanted to revisit this post for the holiday season!

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s start with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Why do you think this special has become timeless after almost 50 years?
Arthur Rankin, Jr.: I really don’t have an answer to that. I think because it was the first special of its kind…I think that, in looking for something to watch for Christmas, parents put their children in front of the television. And the word went out that this was a nice show, etc., etc, etc. and so next year it had a bigger audience. And as the audience grew, so did the children that watched it. They grew up to become mothers. And they grew up to become grandmothers! And they also put their children and grandchildren in front of the television set. That’s been going on for all of these years. It’s a pattern. That’s why Disney keeps re-releasing it’s old pictures. Because there’s an audience. The theatre may have a child whose having his first experience with the film while his grandmother is having her fourth or fifth experience with it. And that’s what our audience consists of. It’s a memory of life. To many people, “Rudolph” means Christmas.

MG: Why did you choose to work with stop motion animation, which you refer to as “animagic,” as opposed to conventional animation?
AR: A trade delegation had come to America from Japan. There was one gentleman who represented the steel industry…another who was in textiles. And a third who represented their motion picture industry. The motion picture representative had a studio he wanted to promote. He asked a friend of his in Washington D.C. if he could be introduced to one of America’s foremost animators. And by mistake he was led to me (laughs). We got along very well. He had been born in the U.S. and after he graduated college he went back to Japan. We became close friends. He invited me to come over, look at his studios, and tell him what I thought. I did. I went over, toured the studios and saw an example of stop motion, which hadn’t been done in a long time and not in any great depth. I was very taken by it…I thought it was a new approach. Of course I got to re-design it but I used the technique. We started out making some short films and they turned out very well. I made a series that I syndicated about Pinocchio. And then Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lit up his nose. I lived in Greenwich Village at the time and my neighbor down the block (Johnny Marks) had actually written the song. I called him up and told him that there was a character there that would make a nice Christmas show. He was reluctant to do it at the time – do you know what ASCAP is? (NOTE: ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It is through this group that songwriters earn their royalties). “Rudolph” was a very successful song at Christmas time and he was afraid to jeopardize that income by doing anything with the song. I finally convinced him that the show would promote the song more. I took my idea to General Electric and they sponsored it. They put it on NBC for the first time in a spot they had used for “The College Bowl” – Sunday afternoon at 4:00. (NOTE: “The General Electric College Bowl” could best be described as the collegiate version of “Jeopardy.” It ran on NBC from 1959-1970). Now normally no one is watching television on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 but they were that day…”Rudolph” earned the highest rating of the week. And the rest is, “let’s have some more of those!”

MG: Your next Christmas project was “Frosty the Snowman,” which took a more traditional animation route. Why not stop motion?
AR: Because the subject lent itself better to the medium. Besides, by then I had several other films in production at my studio in Japan. I had no more room! We were into doing a feature in stop motion.

MG: You created so many great specials over the years. One of my favorites is “The Year without a Santa Claus.” Can you share any fun stories from that production?
AR: There’s a man who wrote a book about the motion picture industry. He said, “Remember one thing…nobody knows anything!” (NOTE: The book Mr. Rankin is referring to is “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” written by Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman. It is a must read for anyone curious about the inner workings of Hollywood). And it’s true. You never know when you’re going to have a hit. There was a time when you could put Barbra Streisand up against a curtain and have her sing and you’d have to lock the doors because she had so many fans. And then time goes on. It is true. In this business you take your best shot. That’s what I did. I rounded up all of the Christmas songs I thought could be made into a Christmas show…we acquired the rights to almost all of the ones that I wanted.

MG: In today’s world of television ratings are everything. Were these specials successful? Did any disappoint?
AR: All of them were successful in their original run. That’s why they’re still on the air today. Warner Brothers distributes them for me. All during the Christmas season they run my shows. And they pay for that (laughs). A penny here…a penny there.

MG: What has happened to the puppets, sets and props used in these productions?
AR: Well what happened is that after awhile those things wear out. They have wire armature inside…they have faces made out of plastic that has been carved. The clothes were made by little ladies but, just like people that work too hard, they fall apart. Of course we always had a couple of standbys waiting. I have here in my home Rudolph pulling Frosty on a sleigh.

MG: Besides time constraints, what was one of the most difficult aspects of creating these specials?
AR: When we did “Year Without a Santa Claus” we had to invent new characters. We had these two brothers, Heat Miser and Cold Miser. They just jumped off the screen and became cult figures. And we just came up with them one afternoon while designing the picture…”let’s do this…Mother Nature has two sons and they don’t get along…one’s in charge of heat…OK, put that in.” (laughs)

MG: How did creating your feature film, “Mad Monster Party,” compare versus working on the television specials?
AR: First off, it was the first time it had ever been done in a long time. Not since Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein. And I thought I would be able to take so many more liberties with the stop motion process.
I concocted the idea and then got a couple of boys from “Mad” magazine (Harvey Kurtzman, who created the magazine, and Len Korobkin) to write it with me.

MG: “Mad Monster Party” was showcased in Rick Goldschmidt’s recent book “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.” How did you come to work with him?
AR: He called me one day. He had gotten an introduction from some one. And he was very knowledgeable. I usually don’t encourage people to do these things. First off, I can’t figure out why the hell they’re so interested. (laughs) But Rick had an awful lot of details. He sent me an outline of what the book would be like. He lives outside Chicago and I flew up to meet him. One of the rooms in his house is like a shrine. He had everything…things I had thrown out years ago. Old storyboards….he still gives me things he’s found that I had forgotten ever existed. He was very enthusiastic and wanted to do the book. So I told him “o.k.” but told him not to do the story of Arthur and Jules (Bass). You do stories on the pictures (the various specials/films). You have photos to go along with them and you’ve got a portfolio. He did that and it worked. It’s a great record of our work over the years.

MG: Have you ever considered writing your own memoirs?
AR: I’ve considered it because it’s been suggested before. But if I did it I’d want it to be straight…a lot of my old friends are still alive and what I might say about them wouldn’t be…(laughs)

MG: I read that you attempted to re-create “Mad Monster Party” using computer generated effects. What ever happened to that?
AR: We did. We made a test and it looked good. I went around Hollywood to the studios to see if they wanted to do it. Two of the studios said yes. But I was given to secondary people to deal with and I had to leave. It was no good. A studio will take your work away from you and do it themselves. They’ll rewrite. When I acquired the rights to “The King and I,” that was a very difficult property to acquire. I had to convince the families of (Richard) Rogers and (Oscar) Hammerstein that I knew what I was talking about. And I did. I wrote a script and they liked it. I was going to make that picture with my own investment with a co-partner in Japan. We were all set to do it. Then Warner Brothers calls up. They say “you don’t have to pay for it…we’ll pay you to do it for us.” “For us” meant here comes fourteen people that think they can do it better then I do. I’m not very proud of that picture. They changed a lot of the script and I was embarrassed for the Rogers and Hammerstein estate. (NOTE: The 1999 film, which was co-produced by Mr. Rankin’s production company, was both a financial and critical failure. The estates of Rogers and Hammerstein have since refused to allow any of their shows to become animated features).

MG: This coming year there are no less than three stop motion films being released, including Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” Do you think this process will continue to inspire?
AR: You’d think there were a lot of people that could do stop motion but they just don’t exist. This is the tech age. Computer animation…those with a technical background find it much faster. Stop motion animation is a devilish job. I’ll tell you how we worked. We would have a figure…or a group of figures…on a stage in miniature. Each figure had a human person assigned to it. And the way you get it to work…the camera clicks off one frame…the human person goes up and changes the figure ever so slightly…microscopically. The camera clicks off another frame. The human person goes over and changes it again. If a character is lifting a glass to his lips, you may have as many as 250 “motions.” The human person didn’t have anything on a computer. He knew in his mind what he had to do. Just like as if he was an actor. And we’d have to finish the scene in one day. There was no taking a break or going home for dinner and coming back the next day. We would try to start a scene as early in the morning as possible because we knew we could be working late into the evening…all night if necessary if the scene wasn’t finished.

MG: Have you ever considered returning to the business to produce or direct again?
AR: Not this Christmas, but next, I’m going to do a play in Bermuda. Everyone asks me why I’m doing it in Bermuda. We have a wonderful theater here…the Town Hall Theater. It seats around 700 people. Much bigger then many of the off-Broadway theaters with great acoustics. And if I say I want to do a Christmas play they’ll throw open the doors for me. It’s wonderful to have such cooperation. And anybody who works on the play, both on and back stage, works for nothing. All box office proceeds go to whatever charity I choose. Everybody jumps in. It’s what keeps me kicking my heels!

MG: This interview wouldn’t be complete without asking if you have a favorite project and, if so, why?
AR: I don’t have a favorite. They’re all my children. I don’t want to sound self-serving but they have remained in the public’s hearts for decades. It’s like a great painting by van Gogh or Reubens. There work is still in the public eye…the public has recognized their work for centuries. Maybe the measure of success is longevity. Things that last must be better then things that don’t!

 

Related Content

Disney archivist Justin Arthur and D23's Billy Staneck talk about D23's Fanniversary 2013

D23, the official fan club of the Walt Disney Company, stopped in Newark on Saturday for Fanniversary 2013. The Fanniversary is a presentation touring ten cities in the US celebrating the milestones of all things Disney that will occur in 2013. This year’s show highlights included rarely seen concept art from unproduced short “Mickey’s Toothache” as well as bringing along a pumpkin used in the production of Tim Burton classic The Nightmare Before Christmas (which is turning twenty this year.)

As well as discussing the anniversaries reached of major properties such as Peter Pan turning sixty, the show shined a light on some more obscure Disney features and attractions. For example, the D23 audience was shown concept art from Norway attraction, Maelstrom, which is turning thirty this year having opened in Orlando’s Epcot theme park in 1983. Given the scope of the company, it was up to a small team of Disney archivists to narrow down what makes it into this ninety minute show.

Enthusiastic hosts Justin Arthur, a Disney archivist, and Billy Staneck, web editor for D23.com and writer for the

D23 Magazine talked with MediaMikes after the presentation about what goes into making the show as well as the work of the Disney archives.

BILLY STANECK: “I love the Fanniversaries because we get to celebrate all these great shows and attractions that we don’t normally get to really talk about, you know? And that also gives us the opportunity to go into the archives and open up boxes that were stowed away back in the 1970s or 1980s or even you know, just a couple years ago. We’ll open them up and start going through them and looking for things that we think our fans might like. And so that’s where we come up with these old clips and concept art…Like the concept art for Mickey’s Toothache that you today.”

MediaMikes: Was there anything that had to get cut out of today’s show?
STANECK: “We had so much content for this presentation that we had to cut and cut and cut because there’s only so much we can do– we do about a ninety minute presentation, because it is a touring show that you know, we can’t do eight hours in each city. We have enough content to do that but we had to end up cutting quite a bit. We actually had some Pirates [of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, celebrating it’s tenth anniversary in 2013] stuff in there.”

MM: Was there anything that you thought must be kept in the show?
JUSTIN ARTHUR: “One thing we didn’t have in the original show was Maelstrom, the Norway attraction, and I think it is the most bizarre, wonderful ride. I originally said ‘We need to have everybody quote it!’ but the people on the west coast may not know it…That was one I was very adamant about. I know Billy and I were both very adamant both Roger Rabbit [turning twenty-five in 2013] and Nightmare Before Christmas having plenty of stuff to show people. Because those were two of our very very near and dear favorites. And sometimes too it depends on what we have that’s cool to show. Something might be a great movie or attraction and we may not have a great clip or a really great artwork to accompany it. So it kind of depends on what we have and what we want to get out there and show.”

MM: Besides D23 presentations, what is a day-to-day task of the Disney Archives?
STANECK: “Whatever movie they’re working on at the studio, the archives is there to help them make sure that information is accurate. Like Saving Mr Banks that they’re doing with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney that’s coming out for Christmas, they all came into the archives to do research with an archivist. So stuff like that. Disney Epic Mickey [for Nintendo Wii] they went into the archives, they did a lot of research…We also have a massive photo library where people are constantly requesting images from.”

MM: With Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars & Marvel does the archive suddenly get annexed?
ARTHUR: “It kind of depends. The films as they come along, we do take in more of those things, they are our films at this point. As far as the research side of it, the book side of it…we collect everything, it just adds on to all of things that we’re looking out for…I’m a huge geek of all those things, so for that I’m very thankful!”

MM: Important fan question, what is your favorite Disney ride or attraction?
STANECK: “I love Roger Rabbit’s cartoon spin at Disneyland, it’s one of my favorite attractions, it’s unique to Disneyland and it’s just such a cool, fun ride. I love that movie.”
ARTHUR: “Oh that’s a tough one, there’s so many! Um…I love the Indiana Jones Adventure.”

MM: Another Disneyland one!
ARTHUR: “I grew up on the east coast so let me pick a Florida one too! I love Expedition Everest. I think it’s one of the coolest rides ever. It’s terrifying, it’s beautiful, it’s just kind of the perfect attraction.”

D23’s Fanniversary has two stops remaining in its tour: Seattle on Friday April 5th and San Francisco on Sunday April 7th. For more information check out D23’s official website.

Rankin/Bass’ Arthur Rankin Jr. chats about his timeless Christmas specials

Arthur Rankin, Jr. is part of the duo team Rankin/Bass. He is a legend and does not need any introduction. Rankin/Bass created the timeless holiday specials “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, just to name a few. Media Mikes had a once in a lifetime chance to chat with Arthur about his work and how it has and will continue to entertain generation after generation. This interview originally was posted March 2012 but I wanted to revisit this post for the holiday season!

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s start with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Why do you think this special has become timeless after almost 50 years?
Arthur Rankin, Jr.: I really don’t have an answer to that. I think because it was the first special of its kind…I think that, in looking for something to watch for Christmas, parents put their children in front of the television. And the word went out that this was a nice show, etc., etc, etc. and so next year it had a bigger audience. And as the audience grew, so did the children that watched it. They grew up to become mothers. And they grew up to become grandmothers! And they also put their children and grandchildren in front of the television set. That’s been going on for all of these years. It’s a pattern. That’s why Disney keeps re-releasing it’s old pictures. Because there’s an audience. The theatre may have a child whose having his first experience with the film while his grandmother is having her fourth or fifth experience with it. And that’s what our audience consists of. It’s a memory of life. To many people, “Rudolph” means Christmas.

MG: Why did you choose to work with stop motion animation, which you refer to as “animagic,” as opposed to conventional animation?
AR: A trade delegation had come to America from Japan. There was one gentleman who represented the steel industry…another who was in textiles. And a third who represented their motion picture industry. The motion picture representative had a studio he wanted to promote. He asked a friend of his in Washington D.C. if he could be introduced to one of America’s foremost animators. And by mistake he was led to me (laughs). We got along very well. He had been born in the U.S. and after he graduated college he went back to Japan. We became close friends. He invited me to come over, look at his studios, and tell him what I thought. I did. I went over, toured the studios and saw an example of stop motion, which hadn’t been done in a long time and not in any great depth. I was very taken by it…I thought it was a new approach. Of course I got to re-design it but I used the technique. We started out making some short films and they turned out very well. I made a series that I syndicated about Pinocchio. And then Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lit up his nose. I lived in Greenwich Village at the time and my neighbor down the block (Johnny Marks) had actually written the song. I called him up and told him that there was a character there that would make a nice Christmas show. He was reluctant to do it at the time – do you know what ASCAP is? (NOTE: ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It is through this group that songwriters earn their royalties). “Rudolph” was a very successful song at Christmas time and he was afraid to jeopardize that income by doing anything with the song. I finally convinced him that the show would promote the song more. I took my idea to General Electric and they sponsored it. They put it on NBC for the first time in a spot they had used for “The College Bowl” – Sunday afternoon at 4:00. (NOTE: “The General Electric College Bowl” could best be described as the collegiate version of “Jeopardy.” It ran on NBC from 1959-1970). Now normally no one is watching television on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 but they were that day…”Rudolph” earned the highest rating of the week. And the rest is, “let’s have some more of those!”

MG: Your next Christmas project was “Frosty the Snowman,” which took a more traditional animation route. Why not stop motion?
AR: Because the subject lent itself better to the medium. Besides, by then I had several other films in production at my studio in Japan. I had no more room! We were into doing a feature in stop motion.

MG: You created so many great specials over the years. One of my favorites is “The Year without a Santa Claus.” Can you share any fun stories from that production?
AR: There’s a man who wrote a book about the motion picture industry. He said, “Remember one thing…nobody knows anything!” (NOTE: The book Mr. Rankin is referring to is “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” written by Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman. It is a must read for anyone curious about the inner workings of Hollywood). And it’s true. You never know when you’re going to have a hit. There was a time when you could put Barbra Streisand up against a curtain and have her sing and you’d have to lock the doors because she had so many fans. And then time goes on. It is true. In this business you take your best shot. That’s what I did. I rounded up all of the Christmas songs I thought could be made into a Christmas show…we acquired the rights to almost all of the ones that I wanted.

MG: In today’s world of television ratings are everything. Were these specials successful? Did any disappoint?
AR: All of them were successful in their original run. That’s why they’re still on the air today. Warner Brothers distributes them for me. All during the Christmas season they run my shows. And they pay for that (laughs). A penny here…a penny there.

MG: What has happened to the puppets, sets and props used in these productions?
AR: Well what happened is that after awhile those things wear out. They have wire armature inside…they have faces made out of plastic that has been carved. The clothes were made by little ladies but, just like people that work too hard, they fall apart. Of course we always had a couple of standbys waiting. I have here in my home Rudolph pulling Frosty on a sleigh.

MG: Besides time constraints, what was one of the most difficult aspects of creating these specials?
AR: When we did “Year Without a Santa Claus” we had to invent new characters. We had these two brothers, Heat Miser and Cold Miser. They just jumped off the screen and became cult figures. And we just came up with them one afternoon while designing the picture…”let’s do this…Mother Nature has two sons and they don’t get along…one’s in charge of heat…OK, put that in.” (laughs)

MG: How did creating your feature film, “Mad Monster Party,” compare versus working on the television specials?
AR: First off, it was the first time it had ever been done in a long time. Not since Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein. And I thought I would be able to take so many more liberties with the stop motion process.
I concocted the idea and then got a couple of boys from “Mad” magazine (Harvey Kurtzman, who created the magazine, and Len Korobkin) to write it with me.

MG: “Mad Monster Party” was showcased in Rick Goldschmidt’s recent book “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.” How did you come to work with him?
AR: He called me one day. He had gotten an introduction from some one. And he was very knowledgeable. I usually don’t encourage people to do these things. First off, I can’t figure out why the hell they’re so interested. (laughs) But Rick had an awful lot of details. He sent me an outline of what the book would be like. He lives outside Chicago and I flew up to meet him. One of the rooms in his house is like a shrine. He had everything…things I had thrown out years ago. Old storyboards….he still gives me things he’s found that I had forgotten ever existed. He was very enthusiastic and wanted to do the book. So I told him “o.k.” but told him not to do the story of Arthur and Jules (Bass). You do stories on the pictures (the various specials/films). You have photos to go along with them and you’ve got a portfolio. He did that and it worked. It’s a great record of our work over the years.

MG: Have you ever considered writing your own memoirs?
AR: I’ve considered it because it’s been suggested before. But if I did it I’d want it to be straight…a lot of my old friends are still alive and what I might say about them wouldn’t be…(laughs)

MG: I read that you attempted to re-create “Mad Monster Party” using computer generated effects. What ever happened to that?
AR: We did. We made a test and it looked good. I went around Hollywood to the studios to see if they wanted to do it. Two of the studios said yes. But I was given to secondary people to deal with and I had to leave. It was no good. A studio will take your work away from you and do it themselves. They’ll rewrite. When I acquired the rights to “The King and I,” that was a very difficult property to acquire. I had to convince the families of (Richard) Rogers and (Oscar) Hammerstein that I knew what I was talking about. And I did. I wrote a script and they liked it. I was going to make that picture with my own investment with a co-partner in Japan. We were all set to do it. Then Warner Brothers calls up. They say “you don’t have to pay for it…we’ll pay you to do it for us.” “For us” meant here comes fourteen people that think they can do it better then I do. I’m not very proud of that picture. They changed a lot of the script and I was embarrassed for the Rogers and Hammerstein estate. (NOTE: The 1999 film, which was co-produced by Mr. Rankin’s production company, was both a financial and critical failure. The estates of Rogers and Hammerstein have since refused to allow any of their shows to become animated features).

MG: This coming year there are no less than three stop motion films being released, including Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” Do you think this process will continue to inspire?
AR: You’d think there were a lot of people that could do stop motion but they just don’t exist. This is the tech age. Computer animation…those with a technical background find it much faster. Stop motion animation is a devilish job. I’ll tell you how we worked. We would have a figure…or a group of figures…on a stage in miniature. Each figure had a human person assigned to it. And the way you get it to work…the camera clicks off one frame…the human person goes up and changes the figure ever so slightly…microscopically. The camera clicks off another frame. The human person goes over and changes it again. If a character is lifting a glass to his lips, you may have as many as 250 “motions.” The human person didn’t have anything on a computer. He knew in his mind what he had to do. Just like as if he was an actor. And we’d have to finish the scene in one day. There was no taking a break or going home for dinner and coming back the next day. We would try to start a scene as early in the morning as possible because we knew we could be working late into the evening…all night if necessary if the scene wasn’t finished.

MG: Have you ever considered returning to the business to produce or direct again?
AR: Not this Christmas, but next, I’m going to do a play in Bermuda. Everyone asks me why I’m doing it in Bermuda. We have a wonderful theater here…the Town Hall Theater. It seats around 700 people. Much bigger then many of the off-Broadway theaters with great acoustics. And if I say I want to do a Christmas play they’ll throw open the doors for me. It’s wonderful to have such cooperation. And anybody who works on the play, both on and back stage, works for nothing. All box office proceeds go to whatever charity I choose. Everybody jumps in. It’s what keeps me kicking my heels!

MG: This interview wouldn’t be complete without asking if you have a favorite project and, if so, why?
AR: I don’t have a favorite. They’re all my children. I don’t want to sound self-serving but they have remained in the public’s hearts for decades. It’s like a great painting by van Gogh or Reubens. There work is still in the public eye…the public has recognized their work for centuries. Maybe the measure of success is longevity. Things that last must be better then things that don’t!

3D Blu-ray Review “Arthur Christmas 3D”

Starring: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen
Director: Sarah Smith
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Run Time: 97 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

When it comes to Christmas films, I always get excited. Whether it is animated or live action…doesn’t matter. “Arthur Christmas” is fun and ‘pretty’ to look at. The 3D also really adds a lot of depth to the film and makes the colors really pop out. When I first saw this in the theaters, I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t a little bit disappointed. But after viewing a second time, I have to say that it definitely is one of those films that grow on you. It may not be the best Christmas movie ever but it is still quite a bit of fun. Also if you are looking for a way to kick start some Holiday spirit that I would highly recommend this. Fun for the whole family. Guaranteed to become a must watch in my house each year!

The film is made from a combo of Aardman Animations, known best for claymation films like “Chicken Run” and “wallace and Gromitt” and Sony Pictures Animation (“The Smurfs”). It has a nice feel to its animation style and has a lot of nice character designs. The voice cast is made up of mostly UK actors like James McAvoy (“X-Men: First Class”), Hugh Laurie (TV’’s ““House””), Bill Nighy (“Love Actually”) and Jim Broadbent (“Moulin Rouge”). So expect a lot of British humor. Kids are also going to love the fact that Justin Bieber’s single, ““Santa Claus is Coming to Town”” from his album “”Under the Mistletoe” is included. I remember when I was forced to sit through that in the theaters (it was very painful), but again it is not for me…the kiddies will love it for sure.

Official Synopsis: The film tackles the question of how Santa delivers all his presents in one night. When Santa’s elves and their high-tech system of present delivery forgets to deliver one present to a young girl in England, Arthur embarks on a mission to safely deliver her pretty pink bicycle. Arthur decides it’s up to him not to disappoint this little girl and ensure that she will still believe in the magic of Christmas, even if it means conquering some of his own fears. With Arthur’s determination and Grand-Santa’s quirky cynicism, the operation is bound to be an adventurous one.

This release comes in a three disc combo pack including a Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy. The transfer looks very sharp and super clear.  The star though has to be the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.  It really captures the action and showcases the score very well. The special features are very kid-friendly.  There is a cute “Elf Recruitment” video.  There is a decent behind-the-scenes featurette called, ““Unwrapping Arthur Christmas”, which focuses about the Clause Family and the production.  Lastly, there are five progression reels included that dive into  how the filmmakers had created these fun characters in “Arthur Christmas Unwrapped”, “Arthur’s Office”, “Grand Santa”, “Invasion” and “Trelew”.

Interview with the Legendary Arthur Rankin, Jr.

Arthur Rankin, Jr. is part of the duo team Rankin/Bass. He is a legend and does not need any introduction. Rankin/Bass created the timeless holiday specials “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, just to name a few. Media Mikes had a once in a lifetime chance to chat with Arthur about his work and how it has and will continue to entertain generation after generation.

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s start with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Why do you think this special has become timeless after almost 50 years?
Arthur Rankin, Jr.: I really don’t have an answer to that. I think because it was the first special of its kind…I think that, in looking for something to watch for Christmas, parents put their children in front of the television. And the word went out that this was a nice show, etc., etc, etc. and so next year it had a bigger audience. And as the audience grew, so did the children that watched it. They grew up to become mothers. And they grew up to become grandmothers! And they also put their children and grandchildren in front of the television set. That’s been going on for all of these years. It’s a pattern. That’s why Disney keeps re-releasing it’s old pictures. Because there’s an audience. The theatre may have a child whose having his first experience with the film while his grandmother is having her fourth or fifth experience with it. And that’s what our audience consists of. It’s a memory of life. To many people, “Rudolph” means Christmas.

MG: Why did you choose to work with stop motion animation, which you refer to as “animagic,” as opposed to conventional animation?
AR: A trade delegation had come to America from Japan. There was one gentleman who represented the steel industry…another who was in textiles. And a third who represented their motion picture industry. The motion picture representative had a studio he wanted to promote. He asked a friend of his in Washington D.C. if he could be introduced to one of America’s foremost animators. And by mistake he was led to me (laughs). We got along very well. He had been born in the U.S. and after he graduated college he went back to Japan. We became close friends. He invited me to come over, look at his studios, and tell him what I thought. I did. I went over, toured the studios and saw an example of stop motion, which hadn’t been done in a long time and not in any great depth. I was very taken by it…I thought it was a new approach. Of course I got to re-design it but I used the technique. We started out making some short films and they turned out very well. I made a series that I syndicated about Pinocchio. And then Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lit up his nose. I lived in Greenwich Village at the time and my neighbor down the block (Johnny Marks) had actually written the song. I called him up and told him that there was a character there that would make a nice Christmas show. He was reluctant to do it at the time – do you know what ASCAP is? (NOTE: ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It is through this group that songwriters earn their royalties). “Rudolph” was a very successful song at Christmas time and he was afraid to jeopardize that income by doing anything with the song. I finally convinced him that the show would promote the song more. I took my idea to General Electric and they sponsored it. They put it on NBC for the first time in a spot they had used for “The College Bowl” – Sunday afternoon at 4:00. (NOTE: “The General Electric College Bowl” could best be described as the collegiate version of “Jeopardy.” It ran on NBC from 1959-1970). Now normally no one is watching television on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 but they were that day…”Rudolph” earned the highest rating of the week. And the rest is, “let’s have some more of those!”

MG: Your next Christmas project was “Frosty the Snowman,” which took a more traditional animation route. Why not stop motion?
AR: Because the subject lent itself better to the medium. Besides, by then I had several other films in production at my studio in Japan. I had no more room! We were into doing a feature in stop motion.

MG: You created so many great specials over the years. One of my favorites is “The Year without a Santa Claus.” Can you share any fun stories from that production?
AR: There’s a man who wrote a book about the motion picture industry. He said, “Remember one thing…nobody knows anything!” (NOTE: The book Mr. Rankin is referring to is “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” written by Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman. It is a must read for anyone curious about the inner workings of Hollywood). And it’s true. You never know when you’re going to have a hit. There was a time when you could put Barbra Streisand up against a curtain and have her sing and you’d have to lock the doors because she had so many fans. And then time goes on. It is true. In this business you take your best shot. That’s what I did. I rounded up all of the Christmas songs I thought could be made into a Christmas show…we acquired the rights to almost all of the ones that I wanted.

MG: In today’s world of television ratings are everything. Were these specials successful? Did any disappoint?
AR: All of them were successful in their original run. That’s why they’re still on the air today. Warner Brothers distributes them for me. All during the Christmas season they run my shows. And they pay for that (laughs). A penny here…a penny there.

MG: What has happened to the puppets, sets and props used in these productions?
AR: Well what happened is that after awhile those things wear out. They have wire armature inside…they have faces made out of plastic that has been carved. The clothes were made by little ladies but, just like people that work too hard, they fall apart. Of course we always had a couple of standbys waiting. I have here in my home Rudolph pulling Frosty on a sleigh.

MG: Besides time constraints, what was one of the most difficult aspects of creating these specials?
AR: When we did “Year Without a Santa Claus” we had to invent new characters. We had these two brothers, Heat Miser and Cold Miser. They just jumped off the screen and became cult figures. And we just came up with them one afternoon while designing the picture…”let’s do this…Mother Nature has two sons and they don’t get along…one’s in charge of heat…OK, put that in.” (laughs)

MG: How did creating your feature film, “Mad Monster Party,” compare versus working on the television specials?
AR: First off, it was the first time it had ever been done in a long time. Not since Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein. And I thought I would be able to take so many more liberties with the stop motion process.
I concocted the idea and then got a couple of boys from “Mad” magazine (Harvey Kurtzman, who created the magazine, and Len Korobkin) to write it with me.

MG: “Mad Monster Party” was showcased in Rick Goldschmidt’s recent book “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.” How did you come to work with him?
AR: He called me one day. He had gotten an introduction from some one. And he was very knowledgeable. I usually don’t encourage people to do these things. First off, I can’t figure out why the hell they’re so interested. (laughs) But Rick had an awful lot of details. He sent me an outline of what the book would be like. He lives outside Chicago and I flew up to meet him. One of the rooms in his house is like a shrine. He had everything…things I had thrown out years ago. Old storyboards….he still gives me things he’s found that I had forgotten ever existed. He was very enthusiastic and wanted to do the book. So I told him “o.k.” but told him not to do the story of Arthur and Jules (Bass). You do stories on the pictures (the various specials/films). You have photos to go along with them and you’ve got a portfolio. He did that and it worked. It’s a great record of our work over the years.

MG: Have you ever considered writing your own memoirs?
AR: I’ve considered it because it’s been suggested before. But if I did it I’d want it to be straight…a lot of my old friends are still alive and what I might say about them wouldn’t be…(laughs)

MG: I read that you attempted to re-create “Mad Monster Party” using computer generated effects. What ever happened to that?
AR: We did. We made a test and it looked good. I went around Hollywood to the studios to see if they wanted to do it. Two of the studios said yes. But I was given to secondary people to deal with and I had to leave. It was no good. A studio will take your work away from you and do it themselves. They’ll rewrite. When I acquired the rights to “The King and I,” that was a very difficult property to acquire. I had to convince the families of (Richard) Rogers and (Oscar) Hammerstein that I knew what I was talking about. And I did. I wrote a script and they liked it. I was going to make that picture with my own investment with a co-partner in Japan. We were all set to do it. Then Warner Brothers calls up. They say “you don’t have to pay for it…we’ll pay you to do it for us.” “For us” meant here comes fourteen people that think they can do it better then I do. I’m not very proud of that picture. They changed a lot of the script and I was embarrassed for the Rogers and Hammerstein estate. (NOTE: The 1999 film, which was co-produced by Mr. Rankin’s production company, was both a financial and critical failure. The estates of Rogers and Hammerstein have since refused to allow any of their shows to become animated features).

MG: This coming year there are no less than three stop motion films being released, including Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” Do you think this process will continue to inspire?
AR: You’d think there were a lot of people that could do stop motion but they just don’t exist. This is the tech age. Computer animation…those with a technical background find it much faster. Stop motion animation is a devilish job. I’ll tell you how we worked. We would have a figure…or a group of figures…on a stage in miniature. Each figure had a human person assigned to it. And the way you get it to work…the camera clicks off one frame…the human person goes up and changes the figure ever so slightly…microscopically. The camera clicks off another frame. The human person goes over and changes it again. If a character is lifting a glass to his lips, you may have as many as 250 “motions.” The human person didn’t have anything on a computer. He knew in his mind what he had to do. Just like as if he was an actor. And we’d have to finish the scene in one day. There was no taking a break or going home for dinner and coming back the next day. We would try to start a scene as early in the morning as possible because we knew we could be working late into the evening…all night if necessary if the scene wasn’t finished.

MG: Have you ever considered returning to the business to produce or direct again?
AR: Not this Christmas, but next, I’m going to do a play in Bermuda. Everyone asks me why I’m doing it in Bermuda. We have a wonderful theater here…the Town Hall Theater. It seats around 700 people. Much bigger then many of the off-Broadway theaters with great acoustics. And if I say I want to do a Christmas play they’ll throw open the doors for me. It’s wonderful to have such cooperation. And anybody who works on the play, both on and back stage, works for nothing. All box office proceeds go to whatever charity I choose. Everybody jumps in. It’s what keeps me kicking my heels!

MG: This interview wouldn’t be complete without asking if you have a favorite project and, if so, why?
AR: I don’t have a favorite. They’re all my children. I don’t want to sound self-serving but they have remained in the public’s hearts for decades. It’s like a great painting by van Gogh or Reubens. There work is still in the public eye…the public has recognized their work for centuries. Maybe the measure of success is longevity. Things that last must be better then things that don’t!

Film Review “Arthur Christmas”

Directed by: Sarah Smith
Starring: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton,
Ashley Jensen, Ramona Marquez
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 97 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The holidays seasons are here and that means new Christmas movies. For kids that weren’t able to see “A Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas”, this is the film for them. “Arthur Christmas” is fun for the whole family. It is very colorful and funny for kids and it is witty for adults. The film also mixes in a little flavor of sci-fi with the whole spaceship/sleigh. I caught the film presented in 3D and I thought it was just OK and could have been seen in 2D, without losing anything. The story is fun, the voice cast is fantastic and it also has some great heart.

The story of “Arthur Christmas” follows Santa Clause and his family as we see the behind the scenes of what happened on the night Santa delivers the presents to the children of the world. We meet Arthur who is the clumsy son of Santa but he has a real heart for the spirit of Christmas. His older brother Steve is running the show behind the scenes helping Santa with his high tech equipment but ends up missing one child. Arthur sets out on a journey with the help of Grandsanta to deliver that one gift and shows what Christmas is all about.

The voice of Arthur is played by James McAvoy. He is funny and very likable. Hugh Laurie, aka Fox’s House, voices Steve, Arthur’s older brother and runner up to take over Santa’s reign. He is a awesome baddie. Jim Broadbent voices the big guy, Santa, and Bill Nighy voices Grandsanta and steals the show easily (as usual). Keep an ear out for other notable voices as well such as Will Sasso as American James, Joan Cusack as Mission Control Elf, Michael Palin as Ernie Clicke, Dominic West as Field Sargent Elf and Andy Serkis as General Elf.

One thing I would like to let Sony know if you going to include a music video by Justin Bieber, please make sure next time to include it AFTER the credits and not before. It was torturous having to watch that video. Overall though, this film will surely get you in the Christmas spirit and ready for the holidays. Get your family together and head out to enjoy this film this holiday season.

Orlando’s 12 Days of “Arthur Christmas” Announced

Welcome to the 12 Days of Arthur Christmas!

Between November 12 and running for 12 days, Arthur Christmas will be touring throughout Orlando on his way to the theaters when ARTHUR CHRISTMAS opens on Wednesday, November 23.

All of the events are open to the public. Some events may require a ticket.

Complete Schedule:

11/12 ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is Coming to Town
Central Florida Zoo
10:00AM-3:00PM
It’s a winter wonderland at the Central Florida Zoo! Don’t forget your cameras and get ready to participate in some fun activities with the chance to win prizes!

11/13 Sugar and Spice and Science Time Nice
Orlando Science Museum
12:00PM-4:00PM
Come to the Orlando Science Museum for some science time fun! Kids get in free with a regular priced paid adult during Arthur Christmas promotion on Sun, (limit 1 kid per 1 paying adult). The promotional code is AC2011.

11/14 Deck the Lanes with Boughs of Holly
World Bowling Center
4:00PM-6:00PM
Head on over to World of Bowling for some bowling fun and free pizza! The first fifty kids receive an afternoon of free bowling.

11/15 Holly Jolly Dance Party
Arthur Murray Ballrooms in Winter Park
5:00PM-7:00PM
Put on your dancing shoes and come out to the Arthur Murray ballrooms in Winter Park for some jingle bell rock and some milk and cookies!

11/16 Arthur’s Holiday Bonanza
UPS Store on 3208 E Colonial Drive
4:00PM-6:00PM
Come by the UPS store at 3208 E Colonial Drive in Orlando to donate money and write letters to the kids of the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and ship your gifts to loved ones from 4-6 pm!

11/17 Operation Elf
Fashion Square Mall
4:00PM-7:00PM
Prove that you can be one of Santa’s helpers! Become a certified Junior Christmas Expert at the Fashion Square Mall.

11/18 A Berry Merry Christmas
Menchies in Winter Park
3:00PM-7:00PM
Come out to Menchies in Winter Park for some frozen yogurt fun and ARTHUR CHRISTMAS prizes!

11/19 Grand Santa’s GRAND Screening!
Premiere Fashion Square
10:30AM
Grab your pajamas and grandparents, because it’s time for Grand Santa’s GRAND Screening! Attend a very special breakfast and screening of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS! Visit www.gofobo.com/rsvp and enter the code: TBD to download passes while supplies last!

11/20 Operation North Pole Post
Sony Style Store in the Mall at Millenia
1:00PM-4:00PM
Drop off your letter to Santa at the Sony Style store at the Aventura Mall and receive a 5% discount on your purchase as well as some prizes!

11/21 Santa’s Workshop
Fashion Square Mall
4:00PM-7:00PM
Make memories and come create Christmas cards and holiday ornaments.

11/22 Arthur’s CANdemonium
Food drive at Little Fish Huge Pond in Sanford
4:30PM-6:00PM
Experience the holiday season by dropping off a can of food to Little Fish Huge Pond in Sanford. While you’re here decorate an ornament and receive ARTHUR CHRISTMAS prizes!

11/23 It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
Opening day of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS
THEATER: TBD
TIME: TBD
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is finally here and we are celebrating with carolers, cookies, and more!

==========

STUDIO
Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation Inc., Aardman Animations Limited

GENRE
Animated Family Comedy

RELEASE DATE
In Theaters November 23, 2011

RATING DETAILS
This film has been rated PG by the MPAA for SOME MILD RUDE HUMOR.

SYNOPSIS
The 3D, CG-animated family comedy Arthur Christmas, an Aardman production for Sony Pictures Animation, at last reveals the incredible, never-before seen answer to every child’s question: ‘So how does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?’ The answer: Santa’s exhilarating, ultra-high-tech operation hidden beneath the North Pole. But at the heart of the film is a story with the ingredients of a Christmas classic – a family in a state of comic dysfunction and an unlikely hero, Arthur, with an urgent mission that must be completed before Christmas morning dawns.

CREDITS
Directed by :
Sarah Smith

Written by :
Peter Baynham & Sarah Smith

Produced by :
Peter Lord
David Sproxton
Carla Shelley
Steve Pegram

Co-Producer :
Chris Juen

Co-Executive Producer :
Peter Baynham

Co-Director :
Barry Cook

Cast :
James McAvoy
Hugh Laurie
Bill Nighy
Jim Broadbent
Imelda Staunton
Ashley Jensen

Blu-Ray Review “Arthur”

Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner
Directed by: Jason Winer
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hours 50 minutes
Warner Brothers

Film: 3.5 out 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

First off, if you are going into this film already hating it because you sooooo love Dudley Moore’s “Arthur” than steer clear. I went  into this film with an open mind and really enjoyed it.  I thought it has a lot of heart and wasn’t just Russell Brand being Russell Brand.  I thought Helen Mirren was really sweet in it and I feel it shows another site of Brand, perhaps more acting less hysterics.  The film has some really good laughs and some were really subtle as well, which I liked.  Overall I recommend this film to fans of Russell Brand and people that don’t care about Dudley Moore.

The extras on the disc are are decent.  I am sure that on this film there must have been hours of Russell Brand improving his lines, although we only get about 10 minutes.  So for those wanting more Russell Brand as Arthur make sure to watch the deleted scenes.  The gag reel is good fun but only runs about 1 minute.  The last special feature is called Arthur Unsupervised! and it covers the typical behind-the-scenes antics from the film.  Like I said overall decent.  The video on the Blu-ray is sharp and unlike Arthur sober and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is really well done.  The set overall is a definitely purchase especially if you haven’t see the movie.

Premise:
Russell Brand reinvents the role of lovable billionaire Arthur Bach, an irresponsible charmer who has always relied on two things to get by: his limitless fortune and lifelong nanny Hobson (Academy Award® winner* Helen Mirren) to keep him out of trouble. Now he faces his biggest challenge: choosing between an arranged marriage to ambitious corporate exec Susan (Jennifer garner) that will ensure his lavish lifestyle, or an uncertain future with the one thing money can’t buy – Naomi (Greta Gerwig), his true love. With Naomi’s inspiration and some unconventional help from Hobson, Arthur will take the most expensive risk of his life and learn what it means to be a man in this reimagining of the beloved Oscar®-winning* romantic comedy Arthur.

Official Website: http://arthurthemovie.warnerbros.com/dvd/

“Arthur” available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand and for Download 6/15! http://bit.ly/piggJN