Jan 4, 2015

Review: Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979)

OK, so I sort of cheated by watching this sequel to the original 1964 Rankin/Bass Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Not that I've skipped any movies in the series to get to here, but I'm supposed to be watching nothing but New Year's movies at the moment. By watching Rudolph's Shiny New Year, I really wanted to get through all the Rankin/Bass Rudolph movies though, so I just had to watch this one.

What's interesting is that Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July is a legitimate full-length feature which originally opened in theaters. Despite only opening in a very limited amount of locations, it flopped massively and just went to being shown on TV which probably should've been done in the first place. It's not like Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. didn't try though. Just like Marvel packed a bunch of heroes into The Avengers, Rankin/Bass did the same thing by putting their own characters like Rudolph, Frosty, Crystal, Santa, Big Ben and even Jack Frost all in the same movie. All that star power just wasn't enough though.

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Genre: animation, family, fantasy
Directed by: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Produced by: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr., Masaki Îzuka
Written by: Romeo Muller
Music by: Johnny Marks
Running time: 97 minutes
Production company: Rankin/Bass Productions
Distributed by: AVCO Embassy Pictures, American Broadcasting Company, Lightning Video, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Billie Mae Richards, Paul Frees, Red Buttons, Darlene Conley, Shelby Flint, Ethel Merman, Don Messick, Harold Peary, Mickey Rooney, Alan Sues, Jackie Vernon, Shelley Winters

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Synopsis


The wizard Winterbolt (voice: Paul Frees) awakens from a sleep he was put under some time ago by the Lady Boreal (voice: Nellie Bellflower) for being so evil. The effort took its toll on her at the time and as a last act, she gives a newborn Rudolph (voice: Billie Mae Richards) his glowing nose to prevent Winterbolt from ruining Christmas in the future. That famous foggy Christmas Eve was Winterbolt's doing and was promptly thwarted by Rudolph. He quickly hatches another devious plan to get not only get Rudolph out of the way, but his friend Frosty (voice: Jackie Vernon) and Santa (voice: Mickey Rooney) as well. 

Review


Compared to Rudolph's Shiny New Year, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July is a nice return to the kind of production that Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was. The animation and design is more in line anyhow and that's nice to see. Something just felt off in terms of how RSNY looked and a big part of that is probably the budget. It's pretty clear that Rankin Jr. and Bass were pretty generous with the budget and tried to make their feature as gorgeous as a stop-motion animated movie can be. 

The story itself is quite fantastical compared to anything that's been done with Rudolph in the past and I enjoyed it personally. We go back in time and see how the North Pole was once controlled by the evil Winterbolt before the good Lady Boreal put him out of commission. "Nothing is forever" as she always says and while Santa Claus arrives to the North Pole to establish himself, Winterbolt wakes up again and plans on taking over Christmas by making the children of the world love him.

We're also shown the origin story of Rudolph in even more detail than ever before. His glowing nose comes from a magic that the Lady Boreal gives to Rudolph. He can't use the light in an evil way though or else it won't work again. Continuity is slightly affected with how it's all presented, but it's more or less nitpicking if we really take it too seriously. Does it really matter than there were other Reindeer with Donner (voice: Don Messick) as he sees Rudolph light his nose up for the first time? Not really.

The interesting thing about Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July is just how dark it is. Winterbolt is pretty evil and I was pretty shocked at how he makes the simple act of lying such an awful thing to do. He has a dark and shadowy lair all made of ice and he also has these mean pet ice dragons that can create blizzards or foggy nights. The worst of it though is this genie (voice: Paul Frees) character who's pretty much an icy face in the cave of Winterbolt. With a big icicle-spiked mouth, cat eyes and the creepiest voice you've possibly ever heard, this guy is the stuff of nightmares.

Not only that, but at one point Winterbolt takes a trip to the Cave of Lost Rejections where all manner of shady North Pole characters reside. Know where you find that? According to the genie, it's beyond the Forest of the Burned Christmas Trees and the Hill of the Broken Baubles. How bad does that sound? I thought the North Pole was nice and cuddly all over, but I guess that's not the case.

The songs overall are a definite improvement over Rudolph's Shiny New Year. Unfortunately though, Johnny Marks just can't seem to reach the same level of greatness as he did in Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer. The lyrics are the main problem here. Because of some pretty good singing performances, things are kept mildly interesting once the songs begin and that's a relief because there are quite a lot of them.

While there was no way that Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. were going to achieve the same level of success as they did with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this film deserved a better fate than its quick exit from theaters. At the same time though, I can totally understand why it did flop. It's not kid friendly at all and it's not like fans of the original 1964 film are going to rush out to see a Rudolph movie in theaters. You can't go from TV to theaters just like that.

For me personally, I like the dark and creepy vibe and I also liked seeing all these Rankin/Bass all-stars brought together. The story is surprisingly multi-layered and features quite a few colourful characters. With some genuinely humourous moments as well, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July makes for a pretty interesting watch.

Rating


6.5/10

Related Reviews:

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)