Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In anticipation of Mad Men’s final episodes, special guest appearances from the show’s stars from before they went to work at Sterling Cooper & Partners.
Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass’ big animated effort for the 1979 Christmas season is a TV special that a ruthless capitalist/avowed objectivist like Bert Cooper would have to love. Never pledging allegiance to a single holiday, the wintry fable of Jack Frost maximizes its programming potential. It could be a Christmas special, or it could commemorate the winter solstice. And with Buddy Hackett narrating in the form of Pardon-Me-Pete, “the world’s most revered groundhog,” it could also count as Rankin/Bass’ salute to that least-revered of February celebrations: Groundhog Day.
Beyond its earning potential, Cooper would have to love Jack Frost because it stars the old man himself—or the guy who played him, at least. Eighteen years after originating the role of J. Pierrepont Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Robert Morse nipped at the noses of Rankin/Bass puppets as Jack Frost’s title character. The youthful enthusiasm and eccentric energy that earned Morse a Tony are still in effect here, muted though they may be by the technical limitations of Animagic. It makes him an ideal foil to Rankin/Bass regular Paul Frees, who gives Morse’s winter-sprite-that-longs-to-be-human a pair of adversaries in the form of weather-controlling Father Winter and peasant-oppressing Kubla Kraus.
Which is to say: Jack Frost fits the man who would be Mad Men’s kooky sage because it’s kooky even by the standards of Rankin/Bass. Rankin and Bass’ affinity for masters of fantasy like J.R.R. Tolkien and L. Frank Baum shines through in the special’s unnecessarily detailed mythology and Kubla Kraus’ mechanical minions. Jack Frost makes little-to-no narrative sense, but it’s a joy to look at and listen to, a jumble of Christmas lore, storybook conventions, and Broadway song-and-dance elevated by visual inventiveness and rich performances by Morse and Frees. At the very least, Bert would get a kick out of the deal Jack strikes with Pardon-Me-Pete. (Remember how there’s a groundhog in this? Sometimes it feels like Jack Frost forgot as well.) Trading humanity for six extra weeks of winter sounds an awful lot like throwing part of your workforce to the British wolves in order to start Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Availability: Jack Frost is available via DVD, and is currently streaming in full on YouTube.