GIVING THANKS, RANKIN/BASS STYLE @ 24 November 2011 08:00 PM
Even though it's not on DVD (though I hope for it year after year), the lesser-known Rankin/Bass ABC holiday special, The Mouse on the Mayflower, is a family tradition in our house.
Premiering in 1968 -- the same year as Frosty the Snowman on CBS and The Little Drummer Boy on NBC -- Mouse was an hour-long cel-animated musical presented by "Your Gas Company," which also sponsored Drummer Boy.
There are precious few Thanksgiving specials, so this one is worth looking at even for that reason. But what makes Mouse so special is its example of Rankin/Bass in its prime, featuring a star narrator, celebrity voices and a rich set of original songs by Maury Laws and Jules Bass. One of the songs, "Elbow Room," was also in the fabled stage musical, A Month of Sundays, which despite a Laws/Bass score and Romeo Muller book, disappeared as quickly as it came.
Tennessee Ernie Ford is in top narrator form as the Mouse himself, with strong support from Eddie Albert as Captain John Smith, Paul Frees as most of the male voices and June Foray as most of the female cast. Faring fine in the singing department, but not so much in the acting arena, are the popular recording stars Joanie Sommers ("You're in the Pepsi generation") and John Gary as Priscilla Mullins and John Alden (with Gary also voicing William Bradford with a Richard Burton-esque lilt). R/B may have wanted them to boost soundtrack album sales, but the score was never commercially released by RCA, Gary's label (a promotional album was released by the Gas company).
Trade ad announcing the special (indicating that Tennessee Ernie Ford was not originally slated to narrate) from Rick Goldschmidt's rankinbass.com site.
The Mouse on the Mayflower fell into syndication in the late '70s/early '80s (with some of its songs edited) and was released on DVD (with the songs intact). It's not exactly Fantasia, with low-end animation by Mushi Studios of Japan (same as Frosty). Two of its characters are caricatures, of a sort -- one a Bear resembling Baloo and Priscilla looking a bit like Princess Aurora. The Native Americans are likely not the most PC of depictions (though R/B was prescient enough to clearly identify a villainous Native American as a reject from his tribe). However, it's still an engaging special and a nice slice of the Rankin/Bass canon.
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