It’s that time of year; Time to grab your favorite brand of holiday treat and sidle up to the TV for a heavy dose of the ol’ Rankin/Bass magic. For those not in the know, you’re probably in the know but just don’t know it; Rankin/Bass is the studio famous for its stop-motion and hand-drawn animated holiday specials, the most famous of which, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, airs tonight on CBS at 8:00pm. I’m a fan of these movies as they are the touchstones of my youth, but also because they are timeless in their melancholy; As I get older, I tend to appreciate the bravery of the more bittersweet elements of the Rankin/Bass films over the sticky-sweet holiday specials of today. I love things like the near-death experience of the Abominable Snow Man in Rudolph, when Frosty melts in Frosty The Snowman, the fed-up Santa in The Year WIthout A Santa Claus, the evil, kidnapping Winter Warlock in Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town…
Trauma. It makes the holidays a special time.
In the realm of the bittersweet and traumatic, there is no holiday special that can beat Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey which premiered in 1977 (I was 7) and made me cry like a baby. I haven’t seen it since and most of my friends and colleagues under the age of 35 refuse to even believe me that the movie exists, but the experience of watching it some 30 years ago is STILL with me. It is the Au Hasard Balthazar of Christmas movies and that is neither an exaggeration nor a coincidence; The stories are so closely linked, with suffering donkeys as protagonists, you almost have to believe that the folks at Rankin/Bass found inspiration in Bresson (only to alter the ending to suit children). One of the things about this movie that I had forgotten is its outright religious message, not only in its plot (Nestor is chosen by an angel to give Mary a ride to Bethlehem where she will give birth to Jesus), but also in its thematic insistence that religious purpose is central to discovering one’s destiny. Looking at the film through my own atheist’s eyes, I have always tended to see past the religious themes and have read the film more as a story about class and the bravery of human will against prejudice, but its clearly an overtly religious holiday story. The film is both heartbreaking and hopeful; The story of the underdog who accomplishes more than he could have imagined, Nestor makes for the mother of all teary-eyed holiday specials.
Au Hasard Nestor: Rankin Bass’ Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey
Thankfully, ABC Family is airing a marathon of Rankin/Bass specials starting tomorrow, Saturday, December 9, at 9:00am. I have, like a small child on a Saturday morning, carved out a large swath of time to watch as many of these specials as I can take in, but I am really looking forward to seeing Nestor (12:30pm EST) for the first time in decades.
That was a great article about “Nestor, The
Long-Eared Christmas Donkey” and the tip about
the marathon on ABC Family. Since you’re such a
fan, I thought you might get a kick out of a
sppof re-editing of the ol’Rankin & Bass specials
my friend and I did where Rudolph has to save
Christmas and rescue his friends from The Island
of Misfit Sex Toys.
Hope everyone enjoys it and has a Merry