“The Wizard of Oz,” “Pinocchio,” and Rankin-Bass

Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass created animation legacies.

A Canadian studio, Rankin-Bass entered the American market in 1961 with versions of two classic stories in first-run syndication.

First-run syndication is television programming that initially broadcasts a show on a series of stations, not a network.  Judge Judy is an example of a first-run syndicated program.

Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1961) is a cel animation series consisting of 130 five-minute segments.  Dorothy’s trio of friends have different names than they do in the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz — Rusty the Tin Man, Socrates the Straw Man, and Dandy the Lion.

Hal Erickson analyzed the series in his 1995 book Television Cartoon Shows, 1949 – 1993.  Erickson focused on the artistic elements of the productions as triumphs.

“The best elements of Tales of the Wizard of Oz were the character design and forced-perspective backgrounds.  You can take your pick of its worst elements:  the poor timing and coordination of the animation, the sound effects which never seemed to match the action, or the feeble updating attempts.  This last yielded the greatest number of misfire ideas:  the Army drafted The Tin Man, Straw Man, and Lion; the Straw Man participated in a television quiz show; the Wizard built a three-stage rocket to send Dorothy back to Kansas.  Anachronisms can be funny (look at The Flintstones) but on Tales of the Wizard of Oz they leaned toward the precious and boring.”

Rankin-Bass returned to L. Frank Baum’s characters in Return to Oz (1964), the studio’s first special.

The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1961) exhibits the team’s first stop-motion animation, also known as puppet animation or Animagic.  Rankin-Bass’ account differs greatly from the well-known and widely accepted ‘official’ version, Disney’s 1940 film Pinocchio.  In addition, individual segments play on familiar popular culture properties:  Dognet (Dragnet), The Little Train Robbery (The Great Train Robbery), Not So Private Eye (Private Eye genre), The Gas Man Cometh (The Iceman Cometh), and The Astro-Nuts (Astronauts).

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