I just discovered something rather interesting about the cartoons I and those of my generation grew up with. If you ask us about companies, everyone can probably name the top-tier ones: Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera… and deservedly so. Walt Disney wasn’t the only innovator around and, while Disney was the best at what they did, quantity does have a quality all its own (a quote usually credited to Josef Stalin) …especially in reruns.
What I just realized is that many of the things we remember from our childhood were actually from a single source, rather than a mish-mash of one-hit wonders like The Swan Princess, Ferngully, and The Nutcracker Prince. (Or the ones like Quest for Camelot which just didn’t shout out that Warner Brothers made them.)
The more aware of you might be thinking I’m going to be talking about Don Bluth, who brought us cartoons like The Land Before Time, An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH, Thumbelina, and Anastasia (among many other less classic ones), but this isn’t about him.
This is about a little company named Rankin/Bass Productions which sometimes published through Warner Brothers, but was quite visibly not them.
Do you remember those old stop-motion holiday films like Rudolph or Here Comes Peter Cottontail? Early Rankin/Bass Productions.
How about the animated version of The Hobbit or things like Flight of Dragons and The Last Unicorn, which, as an adult, I now find deeper than their better-drawn Disney contemporaries in some ways? You guessed it. Rankin/Bass again.
Incidentally, they contracted a Japanese studio named Topcraft to do the animation. The core members of Topcraft would later found Studio Ghibli, (And The Snow Queen was one of Hayao Miyazaki‘s big inspirations, but that’s as far off-track as I’ll let myself go.)
So, is there a point to this ramble? I suppose, if anything, it’s that, nostalgia and re-examining old favorites aside, learning details like these can help to see your past in a new light. I don’t know about you, but I love that feeling of understanding that comes when a new detail finally “clicks”.
For example, If you’ve watched any significant number of Miyazaki films, take a look at The Snow Queen. It’s fascinating to see what thematic and stylistic elements of it he chose to borrow and refine. Sailor Moon wasn’t on the TV channels I got as a kid but, if you watched it, you probably weren’t aware that it basically introduced the idea of magical girls working in a group to fight off large-scale villains. (Up until that point, that was the domain of Super Sentai. Stuff like Voltron and Power Rangers which I also didn’t watch.)
As for comments, what do you find most memorable about these second-tier classics? The song, This Is My Idea, from The Swan Princess? Amalthea’s words from the end of The Last Unicorn? The intro? James Horner’s soundtrack for the original The Land Before Time? Share it.