Dec 23, 2007

Rankin & Bass Present: Irrelephant - An Xmas Story

If you're of a certain age you grew up with Rankin & Bass movies.

They're called "classics" now, and they're usually sold on the checkout counter of most retailers priced at a tasty $5.95 or so. And not to put too fine a point on it, compared to modern TV specials they're crappy. Face it, the animation was atrocious, a sort of creepy stop animation that makes Ray Harryhausen spin in his grave. But kids didn't care. We were after the story, not the production quality.

I remember the first time I saw The Little Drummer Boy. It was right before Christmas time because the tree was up in the den, a massive seven-foot tall tree that my brother and I were finally old enough to help assemble. A few presents were already under it, gifts from friends and family; Santa hadn't made his run just yet. The coloured lights were all strung up through it, the bulbs blinking through the branches making the den (with the overhead lights turned off) a whole different world, an ever-changing red and green and blue place.

I don't recall how old I was at the time, but I wasn't too old. I had just learned what a wonderful thing scale models were, those plastic jigsaw puzzles that came in boxes, some assembly required. At the time I had graduated (barely) to liquid cement glue but I was still wondering why the models I finished invariably looked nothing like the photos on the boxes, but I knew I could get there some day.

At some point earlier in the year my parents had bought me a scale model of a Klingon cruiser from the original Star Trek. I remember the smooth plastic, molded in a dove grey, and how the chrome parts gleamed against that pale colour. The flat deck at the front with it's sort of bulging top and it's round bottom always reminded me, oddly enough, of a dog wearing a sort of tophat, the thin stem leading back to the wide wing-shaped body seemed graceful and powerful. I loved that ship, loved to see it materialise in front of the Enterprise because I knew it foretold a mighty battle.

I must have been young because I fit pretty comfortably under the tree lying down. I had room to sail and swoop that Klingon cruiser back and forth, fighting imaginary space battles under the spreading green branches, and that was what I was doing that night. Sailing through the limitless expanse of space, coloured all sorts of strange, alien colours, commanding my ship. Doing battle with enemies in my own head. I was often lost in the worlds in my head; as a kid I wasn't good at making friends, and school was a frightening and alien place, so I hid in my own head most of the time. I was angry and didn't know it. I was having a hard time adjusting to the larger world around me, and as I was afraid to ask questions or speak up I found myself angry at it, hating it.

The TV that sat in our den was an old Zenith console model. It's case was solid wood, it's remote control had five buttons and was just a little bit smaller than a telephone receiver. It was a massive, brooding thing, it's several hundred pounds resting on casters that seemed barely able to help it's bulk roll around. A solid, dark wooden cabinet surrounded the screen, with wood and cloth-covered faux curtains hiding the speakers. I could just see it from my outer space battleground under the tree, and I was watching it with half an eye when The Little Drummer Boy came on one of the three channels we could pick up.

I remember being drawn into it as inexorably as Captain Kirk and his brave crew drew me into their world. This world, of sand and dancing animals and scary, commanding adults was different, though. It was more familiar, and the aliens all wore people's faces and clothes. I knew how the boy felt, too; angry, alone, scared and unsure. I didn't know who Jose' Ferer was but I knew that voice--an adult's voice, frightening, commanding, wanting to use the little drummer for his own sinister purposes.

When the boy's camel was taken from him I felt his pain, his frustration at being unable to do anything at all about it. I knew that feeling of powerlessness from my own life, and my own inability to do anything when an adult made a decision about my life. When the chariot struck the little sheep I knew his pain--I had lost more than one pet even at that young age to the careless drivers in the street in front of our house.

Then the wondrous happened--two adults accepted him. Accepted his gift, and welcomed it. And the child there in the manger accepted him and his simple gift, the greatest of children (to my own childlike mind a person equivalent or greater than even Santa.) The idea that it was possible to be accepted, to be welcomed by adults and a child seemed to be the most eye-opening, surprising thing I could have ever imagined--an adult other than my parents being givers of love and welcome? A stranger who welcomed me? Impossible, but there it was, happening before my eyes, all shaded red and green and blue by the lights and the ornaments and the magic that filled the very air at Christmas time.

I haven't built a model in a long time, but I do still have a closet half-filled with them, awaiting only time and patient efforts with glue, Xacto blade, airbrush and skills honed over many introspective years. The models I built just a few years ago look a lot more like the cover photos now, and sometimes I think I even exceed them. The Rankin & Bass special still plays too, around this time, and I still watch it. It hasn't changed at all, not on the surface. The same skitterish, cheap animation, the same wooden actions, the same beginning and middle and end. Now, though, I can see the lesson there, painted with a very large brush. I can appreciate the strength of Jose' Ferer's powerful voice, and I can see just how small the budget really was. It still touches me, though. It still touches the confused, frightened and sometimes powerless little boy who even now lies under the Christmas tree, flying his Klingon cruiser around, ready to do battle.

Acceptance. Acceptance even if you think you don't have anything to give but a simple skill. Is there no greater gift?

Very Happy Christmas to you, one and all, my beloved friends.


Gordo The Geek said...

Oh, perfect. Now, I'm "of a certain age".

I vaguely recall the Little Drummer Boy, but eagerly waited for Rudolph and Frosty to come on before Christmas each year. It sealed the deal on the season. Without those two specials and Charlie Brown, it simply wasn't Christmas.

My boys are 3 and 10 this year and because I'm one of those parents that insist on a proper bedtime, they don't get to see my holIday favourites on TV. I DID get them on DVD last year, though and I had the most amazing time introducing them to my old friends.

Merry Christmas, Irrelephant. I'm so pleased to have made your acquaintance.

Jean said...

Acceptance, indeed. One of my favorite words is 'hello', simply because it acknowledges our presence. Someone knows we are here.

Thank you for accepting me.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

meno said...

As a woman of a certain age, i do remember these movies.

I'd still rather re-watch Blade Runner, geek that i am.

Hey did you read that Peter Jackson will be doing a two-movie version of The Hobbit? Now that's good news for the new year.

Happy Christmas back at you.

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, you know you are and you love it. *g* We now know better but can still act if we feel like it. In another two decades we'll know better but will have lost the ability to act. And I agree with you on Charlie Brown--the tv show that introduced me to Jazz.

Merry Christmas, Gordo. It's been a real pleasure making your accquaintence. You're an excellent and considerate commenter, and I look forward to a whole new year worth of your words.

Jean, I never thought about it that way, but I'll go forward now with that firmly in mind. And thank YOU, Jean, for YOUR kind words and your acceptance of me. This here internets can be a strange and creepy place--it's nice to know that there's folk out there who really are as genuine as they sound.

Meno, I think you're still beautiful for being of 'a certain age.' And I'd happily agree with you on Blade Runner-- the Final Cut...gods, my palms get sweaty just THINKING about it.

No, I hadn't. *swooning* I was sooooo hoping! I cannot WAIT to see Smaug.... *swoon again*

*hugs* to you, Meno.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Merry Christmas, storyteller. *s*

Rayne said...

I loved those Rankin and Bass specials. We own all of them on DVD and my girls love them too. The one I don't love is the Little Drummer Boy. The anger I feel at the injustices done to him totally over takes any pleasure I should feel at his acceptance.
It's that whole 'bully' think I've got going.
Oh, wow! I just realized that I'm officially old enough to be nostalgic.