ANIMATION SPIN
November 25, 2014 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Rankin-Bass’ “The Mouse on the Mayflower” & “The Little Drummer Boy” (1968)

Today, in time for your Thanksgiving: Two classic Rankin/Bass holiday soundtracks come sailing proud and free from a rare promotional LP produced for the gassy sponsor of both films.

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THE MOUSE ON THE MAYFLOWER
Songs from the TV Soundtrack
and
THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY
Complete TV Soundtrack
American Gas Industry (Promotional) GRC-11398 (Mono) (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1968)

Producer/Directors: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass. Writer: Romeo Muller. Musical Directors: Maury Laws, Colin Romoff. Running Time: 54 minutes.

“Mayflower” Voices: Tennessee Ernie Ford (Narrator, William Mouse); Eddie Albert (Captain Miles Standish); Joanie Sommers (Priscilla Mullins); John Gary (John Alden, William Bradford); Paul Frees (Passenger).
“Drummer Boy” Voices: Greer Garson (Our Star Storyteller); José Ferrer (Ben Haramed); Teddy Eccles (Aaron); June Foray (Aaron’s Mother); Paul Frees (Ali, Aaron’s Father, Three Wise Men, Meshaw, Jamilie); Vienna Boys Choir.

“Mayflower” Songs: “Mayflower,” “One Day,” When She Looks at Me,” “When He Looks at Me,” Elbow Room,” “Time Stands Still,” “This Land,” “Good Times,” “November,” by Maury Laws and Jules Bass.
“Drummer Boy” Songs: “The Little Drummer Boy” by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone; “The Goose Hangs High,” “Why Can’t the Animals Smile?” “One Star in the Night” by Maury Laws and Jules Bass.

Aside from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and a few stray episodes of Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog, there are only a few holiday specials (animated or otherwise) or records, connected with Turkey day. Maybe it’s because this particular holiday comes and goes without much buzz or commercial buildup (except for Black Friday and food sales) under the immense shadow of the December holidays.

Rankin/Bass produced The Mouse on the Mayflower for NBC in 1968 and received little attention afterward except syndicated, edited broadcasts and school rentals. There were two VHS releases but still no DVD. (Interestingly, Warner Archive managed to get Hanna-Barbera’s The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t on DVD by making it a bonus feature on their recent Casper’s Halloween Special release). Maybe the same can be done with The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters.

Mouse-TVGuide-CloseUp1968

The design of Priscilla Mullins and John Alden suggests Aurora and Prince Phillip and the Bear character is a dead ringer for Baloo, who made his Disney debut just a year earlier in The Jungle Book. And let’s face it; Thanksgiving doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of cartoon story opportunity. To me, TV’s best twist on the Pilgrims’s Thanksgiving story was served with a bowl of Darrin’s “puff-fed rice” on Bewitched. The Mouse on the Mayflower (sometimes referred to without “The”) is not one of the most revered of R/B specials, but does have a lot to like, particularly a score with songs by celebrated singers like Tennessee Ernie Ford, Joanie Sommers and John Gary. One of the songs, “Elbow Room,” was actually part of a stage musical score that Maury Laws and Jules Bass called A Month of Sundays that, unfortunately, closed after its first day.

drummer_boy_view_masterThe Little Drummer Boy is one of a few Rankin/Bass animated dramas, a list that includes Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey and the underappreciated The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow.

Several things set Drummer Boy apart, however. No other Rankin/Bass special shows the credits at the beginning (in the original ending, Greer Garson offered holiday wishes from herself and the cast). It is the only Rankin/Bass project that became a View-Master packet. The animation figures were photographed on recreated sets, but it was still a great way to see the figures in 3-D. It would have been nice if View-Master credited the actual character designer—or Rankin and Bass—but instead another creative person was credited, presumably for the sets. This sole credit is irritating as it implies that this person also did the characters.

Though The Little Drummer Boy was not the only R/B special to inspire a sequel, but its sequel, The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976), was the sole Rankin/Bass special to receive an Emmy nomination.

It’s a little mind boggling that the company never received any Emmy wins or other nominations, but neither did Jackie Gleason, Elizabeth Montgomery, Desi Arnaz and other greats. So there. The Rankin/Bass version of Drummer Boy was also remade, specific characters and all, as a CG-animated VeggieTales DVD in 2012.

Because Mouse was an hour special and Drummer Boy was a half hour, the former is represented on the LP by just its songs while the latter is presented in its entirety (minus the season’s greetings from Ms. Garson and the Gas company). It would have been nice if the Mouse songs were not simply lifted from the final soundtrack with the voice and narration included. That would have worked fine if the whole Mouse soundtrack was on the record, but it’s not as preferable when the songs must stand on their own. And of course, neither was ever released commercially, though small bits of Drummer Boy did show up on CD collections.

Back Cover of Album of the promotional LP

Back Cover of the promotional LP

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Elbow Room” from The Mouse on the Mayflower and “One Star in the Night” from The Little Drummer Boy
On the album, these two songs sound exactly as they did in the TV specials, voices, sound effects and all. But as a holiday treat, Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt was kind enough to share these treasures from his archive: “Elbow Room” with no voice tracks, plus the lovely “One Star in the Night” in full stereo! For more treasures from the enchanted world of Rankin/Bass (he has a new book coming out, BTW), visit Rick’s excellent website.

©Rankin/Bass Productions/Rick Goldschmidt Archives

3 Comments

  • The animation figures were photographed on recreated sets, but it was still a great way to see the figures in 3-D. It would have been nice if View-Master credited the actual character designer—or Rankin and Bass—but instead another creative person was credited, presumably for the sets. This sole credit is irritating as it implies that this person also did the characters.

    Kinda odd they did that at all. Of course I often felt the Japanese studio that animated specials like this should also be given a mention too.

    It’s a little mind boggling that the company never received any Emmy wins or other nominations, but neither did Jackie Gleason, Elizabeth Montgomery, Desi Arnaz and other greats. So there.

    That’s the way the cookie crumbles I guess (or whatever they do in Hollywood).

  • I’d love for someone on Cartoon Research to do a full post on the (lack of) Thanksgiving animated specials. Aside from the ones you mentioned, I can only think of a few more: comic strip-related (Garfield and B.C.), video game-related (Pac-Man and Q*bert), and Nicktoons (Hey Arnold!, Rocko, Catdog). And of course, a handful of fun theatrical shorts…

    I agree with your sentiments, though. Thanksgiving seems more about Black Friday than pilgrims these days. It’s turning into more of a “pre-Christmas” event than its own standalone holiday.

    • I agree with your sentiments, though. Thanksgiving seems more about Black Friday than pilgrims these days. It’s turning into more of a “pre-Christmas” event than its own standalone holiday.

      It’s a shame it has mutated to the state it’s in right now. I don’t suppose there’s any way to dial it back at this point.

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