Revisiting Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

First of all, we've covered this already, over here. Lindsay wrote up a pretty glowing review for this and slapped on a "Highly Recommended" label, mainly because it managed to coalesce nearly the entire Rankin/Bass catalog into a single coherent Christmaverse and rebuild Rudolph's backstory using a mythic structure.

I'm not writing this as some sort of retraction, though upon rewatching, I do want to roll back the unconditional love we showered on it the first time around. While it accomplished everything listed above, that accounts for around fifteen minutes of its hour and thirty-seven minute run time. The rest oscillates between a series of mediocre love songs and a holiday-themed stop-motion circus show.

Obviously the main reason I want to revisit this now is to focus in on the "Christmas in July" elements we more or less skipped over the first time. Also, there are 31 days in July, we're doing our best to hold to our post-a-day commitment, and we're out of original content. So. Here goes.

Lindsay didn't want to spoil the magic for you the first time around; I'm not so generous. If you'd like to see this without knowing its secrets and just haven't been able to make the time in the past thirty-seven years, stop reading now.

The villain of the movie is a new character named Winterbolt who looks and acts an awful lot like the Winter Warlock of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. Long before Santa existed, Winterbolt ruled over the north as a tyrant king, until Lady Boreal, queen of the northern lights, could no longer stand to watch his evil.

To stop him, she had to take on human form and use her magic to place him in a deep sleep. But to become human is to become mortal - her reign of the north couldn't last forever. As Winterbolt slept, the world changed: Santa came to the Northpole and became its king.

As Lady Boreal grew weak, Winterbolt woke. He learned that Santa had been crowned king of his empire, and that Claus was empowered by the love of the world's children. To remove his advisory's power, he planned to create a powerful mist to stop Santa from delivering his gifts.

But Lady Boreal overheard his scheme and, with the last of her life force, transferred her remaining magic into a newly born reindeer.

So, yeah. Holy shit. And that's the opening.

Unfortunately, we then take a left hand turn to focus on an ice-cream seller who's in love with a circus performer. She can't marry him, because the circus is about to be taken over by some guy who isn't but might as well be Snidely Whiplash. In order to stop this, a plan is hatched where Rudolph, and Frosty (along with wife and kids - see Frosty's Winter Wonderland) will head down to use their star-power to drum up an audience. In order to get the Frosty family to go along, Winterbolt gives them magical amulets that will keep them frozen solid until the fireworks are finished as part of an over-complicated evil scheme.

Santa agrees to swing by and pick up the snow-people at the last minute, and everyone stupidly assumes nothing could possibly go wrong.

Meanwhile, Winterbolt enlists the aid of an evil reindeer named Scratcher, probably the movie's most disappointing addition. The character's lead in involves a dark side to the fairy-tale world of these specials - a forest of burned Christmas trees, a cave of lost rejections - you get the idea. But Scratcher is whiny and lazy, not scary - he's a missed opportunity if ever there was one.

He heads down and plays nice with Rudolph, eventually convincing him to act as an unwilling accomplice in a theft. For some reason, this triggers the fail safe on Rudolph's magic: that it will only work so long as its used for good. He can't set the record straight, because Winterbolt blackmails Rudolph into staying quiet: he's already delayed Santa and Mrs. Claus, and only his magic can keep the Frosty family alive.

But that's not enough for Winterbolt. He learns the truth behind Frosty's hat, that its magic can be duplicated (again, that's pretty much how Frosty's family came to life) and could be used to create an army of evil snowmen.

Again - holy snow shit. The music's annoying, and the stuff I'm glossing over is boring, but when this thing goes dark, it goes dark. I guess Frosty's magic isn't inherently good or evil: it's a raw power of creation.

He gets it away from Frosty by offering to return Rudolph's magic, which is an outright lie. But by this time Rudolph's already had a vision of Lady Boreal telling him he can get his own damn magic back if he's brave. When he discovers Winterbolt has taken Frosty's hat, turning him into a normal (though still unmeltable) snowman, he gives chase, battling the snakes who pull Winterbolt's sleigh and the warlock himself. Rudolph recovers the hat and his magic, but Winterbolt's not quite done.

But he's close: the woman who owns the circus smashes his ice scepter using the iron handles of her gun (a line connecting the power of iron over magical beings would have been a nice touch, but we assume that's why this worked), and he screams in pain and terror as he transforms into a tree.

The Frosties melt, because his power's no longer sustaining them, but it's all cool: Big Ben shows up with Jack Frost, and they fix it, then Santa and Mrs. Claus ferry the snow-people back to the North Pole.

Oh, and Snidely whatever-his-name-was gets arrested, and the circus is saved or something.

After typing that, I feel better about spoiling everything, since I'm pretty sure I did a better job conveying the story than the movie did. Again, this is mostly filler, and what its filled with gets old fast. But the animation is good, and the core story is great.

The July elements operate on a few different levels. First, this is a fairly standard "Santa in the off-season" tale, though it's more an adventure than the usual vacation stories we see. It comes close to delving into the whole broken solstice trope I wrote about, but we never actually learn if Winterbolt plans to overturn the seasons (he has a line about the world being his snowball, but it's not clear how metaphorical that is).

The primary use of July is to introduce the warmth of the season to the Frosty clan, a concept used to some effect in Frozen, too. Though, it could be argued that Frosty is used as something to be threatened by the July weather: the character serves little purpose except as something the main character needs to protect. Ultimately, he's really a damsel in distress, at least structurally.

I still like this quite a bit, and I'll double-down on Lindsay's recommendation, with the caveat that it's not for everyone. For every sequence of ice dragons and dark magic, you've got a love song between Frosty and his wife that will make you seriously consider if it's worth it.

But, damn. I've got to recommend this for the revelation Frosty's hat could be weaponized for evil alone. That's just awesome.