It’s that wondrous time of year again! I love Christmas, and aside from gifts, snow, family, and nostalgic old video games, nothing warms my heart during the cold of December like a lineup of Christmas Specials. I have my favorites like A Christmas Story and A Claymation Christmas Celebration, but today, we’re focusing solely on those brilliant masterpieces of stop-motion animation spun out by Rankin/Bass in the 60s and 70s.
In the 1960s, not since Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol has a pair of creators captured the Christmas spirit so perfectly in their creations. Each episode of Rankin/Bass’ winter wonderland waxes nostalgic on all that we love about the holidays and weaves a canon that brings visual brilliance to Christmas’ most notable legends, including Rudolph, Frosty, and even an origin story for Santa.
Even someone as cynical as myself towards origin stories can’t stick his nose up at Santa Claus is Coming To Town.
Sorry to say, though, today we are focusing on the dark and gloomy halves of Rankin/Bass’ hearts. Every Christmas story told by the duo pits the love and joy of Christmas cheer against a sinister and dastardly villain that resembles all that is wrong in the world. Only once the evil is defeated can Christmas thrive and continue on for another year.
These are the most iconic of those fiends who would do away with the holiday, spoil your cheer, and most likely get a lump of coal from Santa on the morning of December 25.
Starring in: Frosty the Snowman, 1969
Voiced by: Billy DeWolfe
What’s his Christmas beef? Professor Hinkle has somehow managed to get through life this far as an incompetent magician and the pure embodiment of an adult who is insecure with his place in the world. He talks down to children who call him out for his dreadful magic, throws temper tantrums when a trick goes bad, and only sees the value in his possessions when they produce results. In other words, Rankin/Bass have here a selfish adult who cares only about himself, the antithesis of Christmas spirit.
His motivation speaks right into that. You see, that old silk hat of his actually possesses the magic to bring Frosty to life. Hinkle throws it away when it underperforms during his magic show, but he demands it be returned to him upon witnessing its power, regardless of whether or not it will doom Frosty to his inanimate form. The children, realizing that Frosty will never be free from this obsessive weirdo, agree to send him to the North Pole where he will be safe from melting.
Lump of coal? Professor Hinkle’s antics are juvenile throughout much of this film, but he crosses into the area of true Christmas villain when he murders Frosty by locking him in a greenhouse! I mean… wow. Luckily, Santa Claus shows up and restores Frosty to his solid form, leaving Professor Hinkle at the mercy of two of Christmas’ most iconic heroes.
Finding the Christmas Spirit: Hinkle never really has a true moment of realization. After killing Frosty and stalking innocent children, Santa threatens to never bring him any presents anymore, and Hinkle immediately shows regret for his actions. Somehow, Santa believes him. Unlike most villains, a cycle of continuous greed and lust for Christmas wealth will forever keep him on the edge of redemption.
Aeon the Terrible
Starring in: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, 1976
Voiced by: Paul Frees
What’s his Christmas beef? Despite coming from one of the more underrated holiday specials released at the end of Rankin/Bass’ creative streak, Aeon the Terrible stands out as one of its most intriguing villains. Sure, he’s an ugly, giant vulture with no friends, no joy, and no love for Christmas, but he also harbors a deep, understandable motivation we can all get behind… he doesn’t want to die!
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year tells the story of a runaway baby king who must be returned to his throne at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve or else the following year won’t start. Aeon doesn’t want the baby to be found because he is rapidly approaching the end of his lifespan and will turn to ice and snow if the New Year is allowed to continue! I mean, when your time is up, it’s up, but I can understand why he would pursue the baby.
However, the North Pole’s newly crowned superhero, Rudolph, takes up the tasking of finding him on a cold, dark night, but Aeon proves to be a powerful foe. Only with aid from a group of retired kings and a giant whale named Big Ben is he able to locate the baby and confront Aeon.
Lump of coal? Aeon locates the baby before Rudolph does and carries him off to his lonely iceberg deep across a frozen ocean. Along the way, he convinces him that nobody will ever love him. Verbal abuse is bad enough, but upon his closing monologue, Aeon declares that this helpless child will be forced to forever live as his slave.
Is there any coming back from this?
Finding the Christmas Spirit: Upon the advice of Rudolph, the young baby reveals to Aeon his greatest weapon… those giant ears! Aeon laughs himself silly for the first time in his life, and Rudolph boldly declares that there is no way anybody could turn into ice and snow with so much warmth in their heart.
We never see Aeon again after this declaration. Are you sure about that, Rudolph?
Starring in: Santa Claus is Coming to Town, 1970
Voiced by: Paul Frees
What’s his Christmas beef? Burgermeister Meisterburger holds a strong disgust of toys, playing, and basically anything that brings children joy. He forces his strict upbringing as a Germanic despot upon his subjects, demanding that all children never play and only focus on practical activities like chores and studying. No doubt, many children feel this way about the authorities in their life, making him a perfect villain for the biggest hero of them all, Santa Claus, to overcome.
His campaign against fun begins with him slipping on a wooden duck outside of his joyless, gaudy castle. A sprained ankle leads him to declare all toys illegal and, just because that isn’t enough, all children found playing with toys be thrown into the dungeon!
This happens just as a young, flamboyant toymaker named Kris Kringle rolls into town with promises of delivering toys to all the depressed children. Burgermeisters nightly crackdowns on toys prove useless as the slippery Kris outwits him at every turn, forcing the oppressing dictator to label him a vagrant and a rebel.
Lump of coal? Burgermeister finally arrests Kris Kringle by holding several of the town’s children hostage and forcing him to surrender. After a desperate escape on the backs of reindeer, the Kringles are forced to escape from their ransacked toy shop and flee from his encroaching armies far to the north, beyond the political influence of the Burgermeisters.
Finding the Christmas Spirit: Much like Hinkle, Burgermeister never pays for his moral deficiencies. In fact, he doesn’t even pretend to, remaining as stubborn as ever to the end of his days. The story claims that the Burgermeister family line eventually died out once people realized how pointless and silly their nonsensical rules were, but Santa Claus’ legend lives on because of how it carries on the virtues of love and giving that all should follow.
Starring in: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1964
Voiced by: Not applicable
What’s his Christmas beef? Rankin/Bass’ original Christmas villain is still among its most iconic. The Abominable Snow Monster of the North is just a walking, menacing force of nature. He hates everything about Christmas, as declared by the narrator, and all children need to see to know that this is a bad dude are those crazy eyes and sharp teeth emerging over the snow-tipped mountain tops.
Every year he comes back, and every year children run screaming from the room! The Bumble is a monster, every child’s biggest fright, and all he wants to do is eat Rudolph and his friends.
Lump of coal? The climax of the film takes place in The Bumble’s cave. Rudolph approaches him with his father, mother, and heartthrob backed against a wall and helpless to its vicious appetite. However, Rudolph is unable to quell the beast who smashes a stalactite over his head, knocking him unconscious.
Finding the Christmas Spirit: The Bumble’s victory over Rudolph is short-lived thanks to the swift actions of his friends. Dentist elf Hermie and adventurer Yukon Cornelius collapse a pile of ice and rocks onto his head, rip the teeth out of his head, and eventually push him over a cliff (at the sacrifice of Yukon Cornelius’ life)
However, thanks to an unexplained biologic disorder found within Bumbles which causes them bounce, Yukon’s life is spared and he tames the Bumble, training him to put a star atop of the North Pole’s largest trees.
Snow Miser and Heat Miser
Starring in: The Year Without a Santa Claus, 1974
Voiced by: Dick Shawn, George S. Irving
What’s their Christmas beef? No surprise here. Snow Miser and Heat Miser are two of the most iconic antagonists in Holiday Season history, and they personify something almost every child can understand… not getting along with your siblings.
These warring step-brothers wage a constant struggle for power against one another to determine the climate of certain locales. While the lanky and likable Snow Miser dominates the North and makes it cold, his fiery and hot-tempered brother dominates Dixie in the South. Stuck in between the wrath of these two weather-bound titans are Jingle, Jangle, and the reindeer Vixen, a trio of Santa helpers who must seek Christmas spirit to rejuvenate the exhausted Santa.
But mostly… we love them for their infectious ragtag!
Lump of coal? While never traditional antagonists by any means, in fact, the Snow Miser claims that Christmas is the best advertisement and free publicity for snow ever, the two do provide a hurdle that Mrs. Claus and her entourage must overcome. The Mayor of South Town will only aid them with finding Christmas spirit if they can prove their identity by making it snow in the south. For this to happen, the Heat Miser and Snow Miser must settle down and come to a compromise.
Nope, doesn’t happen, and the brothers continue their ways in the face of Mrs. Claus’ request.
Finding the Christmas Spirit: But even these two are pitiful in the presence of their mother, Mother Nature. After a splendid cup of tea with Mrs. Claus, who wastes no time explaining her situation and laying the responsibility on the heads of her children, she summons them to her side and insists that they come to an agreement. In the end, they learn, once and for all, that they should work together as good brother’s should… if only for one day.