Christmastime is here again, which means that the 1960s stop motion holiday classics — Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, Frosty the Snowman and so on — are coming back to TV. Christmas wouldn’t be the same if those specials were missing.
What you might not realize is that all of these characters exist in the same cinematic universe, produced by Rankin/Bass Productions. The Holiday Cinematic Universe (as we'll call it here) told origin stories for each of its heroes that culminated in an Avengers-style team-up adventure — and basically laid the groundwork for Marvel Studios to make billions of dollars half a century later.
And the similarities don’t end there. So much so, after reading this article, I bet you’ll never watch Rudolph and Frosty quite the same way again.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Jumpstarted The Franchise Like Iron Man
In December 1964, Rankin/Bass Productions adapted the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" into a 55-minute special for NBC, featuring Billie Mae Richards as the voice of Rudolph. It was an instant, massive hit, with iconic characters and locations such as Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowman and the Island of Misfit Toys.
Rudolph is to the Holiday Cinematic Universe what Iron Man is to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It introduces us to a whole new world and an unlikely hero just discovering his powers. Rudolph has a glowing nose and Tony Stark has a glowing heart; both of them fly, and both must defy expectations in order to become real heroes.
By the end, Rudolph has successfully challenged a group of Misfit Toys and Tony Stark has challenged the Ten Rings terrorist organization, both of them making jokes all the way through.
The Sequel Was Kind Of A Letdown Though
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is the Holiday Cinematic Universe’s Iron Man 2. It has the same voice actors and creative team but feels a little odd and out of place — different than the original. In other words, not a fan favorite. In this adventure, Rudolph, now known as a hero far and wide, is tasked by Santa to help Father Time rescue the Baby New Year.
As it turned out, Rudolph — like Tony Stark — is perhaps better utilized in ensemble films. More on that later!
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Frosty The Snowman, Like Thor, Is A Supernatural Being Who Battles A Trickster Illusionist
Frosty the Snowman, the second origin movie in Phase One of the Holiday Cinematic Universe, hit the air in 1969. Frosty (voiced by Jackie Vernon) comes to life by way of a magical hat, only to disappear when the sun comes out melts him away. Likewise, Thor loses his powers without his magical hammer, Mjolnir. For both, mere mortals must help them find their way.
Frosty battles Professor Hinkle, a magician, while Thor battles the ultimate illusionist, Loki. Frosty wins, but he must leave the mortal world for the magical realm of the North Pole, to return again someday. For Thor, as we know, it’s Asgard, across the rainbow bridge.
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town Goes Back In Time (And To The North Pole) Like The First Avenger
Santa’s origin story takes place in the Holiday Cinematic Universe's past and tells the tale of a young orphan, Kris Kringle (Mickey Rooney), becoming the very symbol of Christmas.
Captain America: The First Avenger, takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's past and tells the tale of a young orphan, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), becoming the very symbol of America.
Like Cap, Santa battles the Germans (Burgermeister Meisterburger and his lawkeeper Grimsley) and a winter soldier (the Winter Warlock). In the end, we see Kringle in the modern world as the ageless hero Santa Claus, delivering toys to good girls and boys forevermore, just like how Captain America finds his to the present after being frozen in the Arctic...y'know, near the North Pole.
Technically, Santa makes his second appearance in the Holiday Cinematic Universe with this 1970 special, kind of like how Cap's shield was teased in Iron Man. Look for a cameo by Rudolph. Narrator S.D. Kluger (Fred Astaire) would return in The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town.
The Holiday Cinematic Universe Expands With Its Version Of 'Phase Two'
With all of its major iconic characters introduced, the Holiday Cinematic Universe began to expand on its interconnected lore, provided minor characters with opportunities to shine, and took some pretty experimental chances. Here are some examples.
The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974): Santa is sick and considers skipping the holiday. Vixen and Blitzen from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer reappear, as does Mrs. Claus, who plays a more prominent role in this film. Speaking of prominent roles for women, c'mon, Marvel, where's that Black Widow movie?
Blink and you’ll miss a portrait of Santa and his reindeer recreating the final scene from Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. An early Easter egg!
Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976): Remember how, in Thor: The Dark World, Jane was exasperated with Thor for basically dropping off the face of the Earth after the Battle of New York? She figures out where he went and how to reconnect with him. That’s what happens here, too.
Frosty finally returns to the unnamed small town where he first appeared, after promising the town’s children that he would “come back again some day.” The children he befriended are a little older and a little wiser. (Jackie Vernon returns as the voice of Frosty, and both films have the same writer.)
Jack Frost is introduced here. He’s a crafty villain who eventually becomes an ally. Also introduced: Crystal, Frosty’s wife.
The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town (1977): A sequel of sorts to Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. Nothing to see here other than the reappearance of narrator S.D. Kluger, tying the special to the larger Holiday Cinematic Universe. In an odd way, this special is a bit like The Incredible Hulk in that you constantly forget that The Incredible Hulk is a Marvel Studios movie and in the MCU proper.
Jack Frost (1979): Last seen in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, the reformed villain gets his own solo adventure. It’s a simple tale about the winter sprite who does his best to extend winter beyond Groundhog Day by playing tricks on Pardon-Me-Pete, the groundhog.
Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas In July Finally Brings All Of The Heroes Together
For the Holiday Cinematic Universe, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas In July is the culmination of everything that came before it. A two-hour special that aired in 1979 on ABC, it features all of our favorite holiday heroes: Rudolph, Frosty, Jack Frost, Santa, Crystal and a ton of minor characters from the previous films, voiced by original actors Billie Mae Richards, Mickey Rooney and Jackie Vernon for extra authenticity. If you thought the wait between Iron Man and The Avengers was long, the Holiday Cinematic Universe team-up took 15 years to happen!
Questions are answered, including why Rudolph’s nose is red (for her last act of magic, the Queen of the Northern Lights transfers her power to Rudolph’s nose), and battles are fought (Winterbolt, an evil wizard, tries to steal both Rudolph’s magic and Frosty’s magic hat). Like Hulk in The Avengers, Jack Frost appears in the nick of time to help save the day.
So, while we love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and can't wait for Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, let's give credit where it's due — do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?
What's your favorite classic Christmas TV holiday special? Let us know in the comments below!