December 31st, 2006

krazy koati

Turn back the years

There are many routes to happiness; one is discovering a Rankin/Bass holiday special you've never seen before. Until this week I'd never (so far as I remember) seen Rudolph's Shiny New Year, despite my interests in animation and shiny things. I don't know why; maybe we were just always going off to see some relative or other when it was on -- the window for this is narrower than for Christmas specials. Maybe after weeks of holiday specials my parents were burned out, though I don't remember that stopping us from watching WABC's broadcast of Yellow Submarine on New Year's Eve. I don't know why WABC thought Yellow Submarine was a New Year's event, but they had it several years in a row and we watched it every time.

Anyway, I was surprised on a few counts. One of them was that the animation seemed less magical than it does in the more directly Christmas-related specials. Maybe they were running on shorter budgets or maybe they didn't pull out all the sparkling lens effects, but you can't convince me that the Island of 1023, supposedly that year, wasn't actually a Gumby set. Another surprise was the plot -- Rudolph has to find the baby Happy New Year, who's run away because people laugh at his ears, but he's opposed, but not very hard, by Eon, the phoenix, whose life will end when the New Year begins. Children's entertainment has a way of stumbling into weird or disturbing concepts without quite meaning it (L Frank Baum, looking at you here), but I don't think the writers quite got what they were saying here. That's an unusually sympathetic motivation for the villain, and makes it hard to root for Rudolph. It'd be embarrassing to not have the new year start on time, but it's not a matter of life and death. People would fill out the days somehow, like the Romans did before the invention of January, February, and Mercedonius. But (not to spoil things) it all turns out pretty well and none of the player characters ends up dying. Plus there's even a short animated-cartoon segment that had me wondering who did it.

The voice acting dazzles me more than it would have (say) five years ago before I discovered old-time radio. Growing up Paul Frees was just this omnipresent voice in particularly enjoyable animation. Now I know more of Red Skelton, Morey Amsterdam, Don Messick, and the (first) Great Gildersleeve, Harold Peary, who plays Big Ben the Whale. Never mind the dialogue; when you have voice actors like that you can just listen to the words. And I learn from Wikipedia (which, I'm sorry, doesn't meet my feeble standards for citation in my Trivia pieces) that after the (amicable) dissolution of the Rankin/Bass partnership, Jules Bass became a vegetarian and created the character Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon. I don't know why that makes me grin.

Oh, and, uh, a shiny new year, everyone.

Trivia: In December 1968, $4.1 billion in securities traded on Wall Street could not be accounted for due to failed trades. Source: The Great Game, John Steele Gordon.

Currently Reading: They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War, DeAne Blanton and Lauren M Cook.