Gather around children, I’ve come to tell you a tale. A story of Santa Claus, a red-nosed reindeer, a talking snowman, and an evil wizard with ice dragons and flying snakes engaged in a centuries-long war against the Northern Lights. This is Rankin/Bass’ Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, and it’s the holiday crossover you never knew you needed…if you even knew about it to begin with.
Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July is a movie I have to convince people actually exists. The culmination of 15 years and six popular holiday movies, Christmas in July is the quintessential seasonal crossover — the Avengers of Christmas classics. It stars Rudolph (Billie Richards) and Frosty (Jackie Vernon) as best friends who join a seaside circus, with Santa Claus (Mickey Rooney) coming along for a summer vacation, only to get caught up in a wizard’s quest to get rid of Santa once and for all. It brought many Rankin/Bass characters together, with most of the original voice actors reprising their roles.
The special was released on ABC November 25, 1979 — actually, scratch that, because it technically came out several months prior. Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July was originally supposed to be a theatrical release, following 1967’s relatively successful Mad Monster Party. Boasting a nearly 100-minute runtime, it was released in theatres overseas in the summer of 1979. Unfortunately, it did so poorly that it was quickly shelved and later made its way to television.
“It was not a resounding success when it opened in the summer,” Arthur Rankin Jr. said, according to The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass. “I think it ran for two or three weeks, and it was not the hit we thought it would be.”
Once you actually watch the movie, it’s easy to see why.
Remember how in Suicide Squad, we spent the beginning of the movie suffering through a plodding exposition dump, where we were introduced and re-introduced to characters we already knew…sometimes altering their origin stories to make them part of a larger mythos that in the end didn’t mean a goddamn thing? Christmas in July predicted this.
Over the course of 11 insufferable minutes, we’re given a huge backstory explaining why Rudolph’s glowing nose is currently going out. It’s due to an ancient feud that’s taken place over hundreds (or possibly even thousands) of years. Long ago, there was an evil wizard named Thunderbolt who ruled over the wintery lands. One day, the Aurora Borealis took a human form so she could fight back, putting Thunderbolt into a deep sleep and clearing the way for Kris Kringle to become Santa Claus.
Hold on, it gets better.
After Thunderbolt wakes up, he’s pissed that Santa is basically King in the North and devises a plan to stop him. He’ll use his ice dragons’ fog breath to stop Santa from delivering presents. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, a human version of the Northern Lights gave Rudolph his shiny glowing nose because he was the Chosen One who would one day help Santa defeat Thunderbolt and his ice dragons. But Rudolph’s magic is running low, and if he uses his nose for evil, even once, his magic will go away forever.
I am not making any of this up.
After that epic but painful opening, Rudolph and Frosty spend most of their time trying to save a circus, which is at risk of being taken over by a mogul named Sam Spangles (he’s earned the right to be that fabulous). Ethel Merman sings songs while dressed up as a cowboy shooting birds. Santa Claus and his wife get caught in a tornado and presumably die for a little while. Rudolph does glitter drugs. A band musician has an upside-down pentagram on his hat. And there are some horrible Native American stereotypes that ensure this should never be shown on television in 2018.
But how can snow people hang out at the beach in the middle of summer, you ask? Because Thunderbolt gave Frosty, his wife, and their two children—yes, the snow fucks—magical amulets to keep them alive. But not for long. After spending most of the movie in a panic, fearing that he and his loved ones are going to die, Frosty dies. Twice.
But we’re here to care about literally none of that, because a) Frosty’s fine, and b) there is one actual saving grace in this entire motion picture that I have to share with all of you.
This is Scratcher, one of a few original characters created for Christmas in July. And for the love of Christmas, this guy needs his own Hulu series. Voiced by Alan Sues (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In), Scratcher is an “evil reindeer” that Santa kicked out of the troop for speaking his mind…and maybe stealing some shit, it’s hard to tell. He’s silly, he’s sarcastic, and he’s such a snarky little bitch that he’s basically my Patronus.
Thunderbolt finds Scratcher at this sort-of seedy hotel/maybe prison for awful Christmas characters, hiring him Boba Fett-style to infiltrate the circus and ruin Rudolph’s life from the inside. Scratcher succeeds, reports back to Thunderbolt, and is never seen again. For all we know, he’s still out there, hiring himself out as the perfect Christmas assassin. Kicking arse and taking holiday treats. Where’s that reboot, Netflix? Giving us that Dark Crystal prequel noise, when the story of Scratcher the Evil Reindeer is just sitting right there? I take that back, I’m really excited about Age of Resistance. But still, Scratcher. He’s the man.
I’m not going to tell you anything else about Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July—not about how Frosty and his snow family are saved from a fate worse than death, or how it involves Jack Frost arriving Captain Marvel-style, not to mention a giant whale with a clock on its arse (because it does). Instead, I’m just going to encourage you to watch it for yourself. It’s on Amazon Prime and it’s really cheap to rent. But the memories are priceless. Forget Kurt Russell smacking his Santa-clad buttocks. This year, it’s about Rudolph snorting a bunch of glitter to relive the good old days.
Oh, you thought I was kidding about the Rudolph thing?
Happy Holidays from Rankin/Bass.