This Christmas Season, once you’ve had your fill of favorite standards like “Rudolph,” “Frosty” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” make room for another TV Special from Rankin/Bass, the Studio who brought us the aforementioned animated classics and many more.
Nestor, the Long Eared Christmas Donkey, which aired on ABC on December 3rd, 1977 hasn’t aired much since, or received attention it deserves, which is a shame. It is a hidden holiday gem from Rankin/Bass Studio, one of the most heartfelt, emotional and touching of all of their stop motion “AniMagic” shows.
With Nestor celebrating its 40th anniversary this Season, its the perfect time to shine a spotlight on this little Christmas star.
Written by Rankin/Bass stalwart Romeo Muller, a veteran TV staff writer, who penned scripts for numerous other classics from the Studio that has transitioned into Christmas mythology among TV generations.
Nestor was actually based on a Gene Autry song, which Muller fleshed out, adding elements of Disney’s Dumbo and Bambi, along with a tremendous amount of depth and faith.
The story, narrated by Santa’s donkey (voiced by the one and only country and western “twanger,” Roger Miller), tells a tale that takes us back to Biblical times. We meet the title character, who is, you guessed it, a young, innocent Donkey with long ears, who is constantly picked on by the other animals in the stable.
So disrespected is poor Nestor that the stable master refuses to give him any food and eventually tosses Nestor out into a winter storm, when a Roman soldier shows up one day and refuses to buy Nestor, instead taking the other donkeys without paying.
Out alone in the snow, Nestor meets with tragedy (no spoilers here) and is eventually assisted by an angel named Tillie (voiced by actress Brenda Vaccaro). She offers Nestor words of hope, letting him know how special he is.
Soon, Nestor is taken in by another stable master, who gives Nestor as a gift to a young couple who are traveling to Bethlehem, as the wife is with child.
Yes, Nestor becomes the donkey who brings Mary to the stable.
Filled with such sweet story moments, lovely music and rich design, “Nestor” makes one wish Rankin/Bass had expanded the special to an hour, to allow for even more character development.
The trademark stop-motion animation may not be “full,” but the artists here get some great moments of personality and drama. The ending scene in which our narrator gathers with Santa and the elves to sing the title character’s song is filled with pure, Rankin/Bass Holiday joy.
While making appearances on cable from time to time and “buried” as a bonus feature on compilations of Rankin/Bass’ more popular works, “Nestor The Long Eared Donkey” deserves better.
The special’s themes about how each of our unique gifts have a place in the world and how its connected to the faith of the season, makes Nestor truly a special Rankin/Bass offering.
So, once Santa has come to town, Frosty has come back again someday and Rudolph has taken flight, make room in your Christmas viewing rotation for the Donkey with the big ears and even bigger heart.
Nestor, the Long Eared Christmas Donkey is available on DVD via Warner Archive Collection. For more information on Rankin/Bass Productions visit Rick Goldschmidt’s Enchanted World of Rankin-Bass website.