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Rankin/Bass Productions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc.
Industry Film industry
Fate Folded into Warner Bros. Animation
Predecessor Videocraft International/Arthur Rankin Jr. Associates
Founded September 14, 1960 (As Videocraft International)
November 23, 1968 (As Rankin/Bass Productions)
Founders Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Jules Bass
Defunct 1987
Headquarters New York, New York, United States
Key people
Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Jules Bass
Products Television specials
Television shows
Feature films

Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. (founded as Videocraft International, Ltd.) was an American production company, known for its seasonal television specials, particularly its work in stop motion animation. Rankin/Bass stop-motion features are recognisable by their visual style of doll-like characters with spheroid body parts, and ubiquitous powdery snow using an animation technique called "Animagic". Often, traditional cel animation scenes of falling snow would be projected over the action to create the effect of a snowfall.

Nearly all of the studio's animation was outsourced to at least five Japanese animation companies: Topcraft, Mushi Production, Toei Doga, TCJ (Television Corporation of Japan), and MOM Production.[1][2]

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  • Karl Popper, Science, and Pseudoscience: Crash Course Philosophy #8


Crash Course Philosophy is brought to you by Squarespace. Squarespace: share your passion with the world. Imagine being alive when Albert Einstein was developing his theories of relativity. Or witnessing the birth of psychology, as Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis took over the scientific mainstream. The early 1900s was an amazing time for Western science. There was another figure on the intellectual scene when these great minds were at work. Young philosopher Karl Popper was born in Austria -- Freud’s home turf -- but built his career in Britain, giving serious consideration to the new ways that these and other scientists of the time were thinking about the world. And after looking at different methods that people like Einstein and Freud were using, Popper came to understand that not all scientific achievement was created equal. He ended up making an important distinction, between science … and what he called pseudo-science. And in the process of doing this, he taught us volumes about the nature of knowledge itself, and how we can best test it, and challenge it, to bring us closer to the truth. [Theme Music] Emerging at roughly the same point in history, Freud and Einstein both made predictions that they hoped would help us better understand our world. Freud, concerned with the individual psyche, predicted that our childhood experiences would have a heavy bearing on who we grew up to be. Meanwhile, Einstein waited patiently for a solar eclipse that could disprove his entire general theory of relativity, depending on what it would reveal about how light travels through space. And then there was Karl Popper, born in 1902, who grew up to observe these predictions with keen interest. As a young scholar, he learned about the psychoanalytic theories of Freud, and attended lectures given by Einstein himself about the rules of the universe. And he noticed that these great thinkers used different methods. For example, Popper observed that Freud was able to make just about any data point work in service of his theory. Freud could explain a person’s intimacy issues both in terms of not being hugged enough as a child, or in terms of having been hugged too much. Meanwhile, almost any behavior on the part of a female could be explained in terms of penis envy. Evidence to support Freud’s theories seemed to be everywhere! But Popper saw that Einstein was making a different type of prediction. Instead of looking backward, and using past data to “predict” the present, he was looking ahead, and predicting future states of affairs. Einstein’s theory was truly risky, Popper realized. Because, if the future didn’t match his predictions, then his theory would be conclusively disproven. If the results of the solar eclipse in 1919 had been different, general relativity would have been finished. Freud, on the other hand, could always just read the past differently, so as to maintain some kind of confirmation of his theory. Suddenly, Popper understood the difference between the science that Einstein was doing, and what Freud was doing, which Popper rather snootily referred to as pseudo-science. Now, whether psychology today is considered a hard science or a social science or some other kind might be debatable. But you won’t find many mainstream thinkers who consider it pseudoscience. But still, nearly a hundred years ago, when Popper was reaching these conclusions, no modern philosopher had really characterized what “science” truly meant -- and what the implications were for the pursuit of knowledge. The traditional understanding of the scientific method, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, relied on the belief that, to look at the world with a scientific eye is to observe with no preconceived notions. You simply look, see what you see, and then develop hypotheses based on those observations. So, you look at a swan, and you notice it’s white. You look at another swan; it’s white too. You look at enough white swans, and eventually you form the hypothesis that all swans are white. This is what Freud said he was doing: Observing relationships -- but instead of it being between the relationship swans and colors, it was between particular human phenomena and human behavior. But Popper argued that everyone has preconceived notions of some kind. We all start out with a hunch, whether we admit it or not. After all, what you decide to observe is determined by what you already care about enough to observe in the first place and the fact that you care about it so much also means that you already have some beliefs about it. So, what does that tell us about Freud? Popper became convinced that methods like his that only served to confirm beliefs were pseudo-science. And they could be used to prove anything. Consider the existence of Santa Claus. If I try to find evidence of Santa’s existence, I’m going to find it, easily. The world is filthy with evidence of Santa Claus! There are presents under the tree on Christmas morning. There’s the guy at the mall. And then there are all those songs, and stories, and tv shows, and movies – they combine to confirm your belief in Santa. But Popper would argue that it’s only by seeking to disprove Santa’s existence that you can demonstrate his unreality. So the question is, when we begin to test a theory, are we looking to confirm it, or disconfirm it? This is the key point, for Popper – science disconfirms, while pseudoscience confirms. He elaborated on this insight by establishing a series of distinct conclusions about science and knowledge. First, he said, it’s easy to find confirmation of a theory if you’re looking for it. Remember the presents under the tree? If you’re looking for proof that Santa exists, you’re not likely to keep searching for contradictory evidence after that. Second, confirmation should only count if it comes from risky predictions – ones that could actually destroy your theory. Because, Popper observed that every good scientific theory is prohibitive – it rules things out. This might sound strange, because no one wants to be wrong, but Popper says that every false belief we discover is actually good, because that gets us that much closer to believing only true things. Next, Popper argued that the only genuine test of a theory is one that’s attempting to falsify it. So, if you were to test for Santa’s reality, your method would require you to try to prove that he doesn’t exist, rather than proving that he does. So, you stay up all night, waiting to catch him delivering his presents. This is risky, because if the person who actually shows up to put presents under the tree is your Dad, then you’ve destroyed the Santa hypothesis. On a very similar note, Popper also pointed out that irrefutable theories are not scientific. If it can’t be tested, then your theory doesn’t have much value. Like, you can only confirm that Santa is real by doing everything in your power to prove that he’s imaginary, and then failing to do so. So you need to be tugging on Santa beards at the mall. You need to investigate reports of Santa sightings, and other weirdoes caught breaking into peoples’ houses through their chimneys. If you want to be able to really trust in your belief in Santa, in a genuinely scientific way, you need to put your belief to the test, in every way you can imagine. This is where Popper says that you have earned the right to call a theory scientific. And finally, once you’ve disproven your theory, Popper said, you need to be willing to give it up. I mean, you can still cling to the Santa myth, even after catching your Dad putting gifts under the tree, by accepting his lie that Santa had dropped the gifts off earlier, and that he was just “helping.” But, if you’re a scientist, you’re gonna have to be willing to let your beliefs go. Accept the evidence. Move on. And this is the modern scientific thinking that we accept today: Testable, refutable, falsifiable. You don’t seek to prove scientific hypotheses right, you only prove them wrong. A lot of this might seem so obvious that maybe you’re wonder why we’re talking about it. But that’s how right Popper was – he was one of those rare philosophers who actually managed to hit on an idea so right that we don’t even really argue about it anymore. So, it sounds like I’ve been talking mainly about science all this time. But Popper and his insights actually tell us a lot about knowledge, in the philosophical sense. For Popper, knowledge was about probability and contingency. We are justified in believing whatever seems most probable given our current data. And we should always be willing to revise our beliefs in the light of new evidence. In other words, our belief should be contingent on the data themselves. This wouldn’t have satisfied Descartes, who was always concerned about certainty. But Popper never thought that certainty was possible in the first place. If anything, he thought being certain of something causes you to close your mind, and that’s not what we want. Always remaining open to the idea that your current beliefs might be wrong is the best way to get ever closer to truth. So where does this leave us? Remember, we started out trying to prove that we know the things we thought we knew. But you have to be open to the idea that your beliefs might be false -- because that’s the only way that holding onto them can really mean anything. Otherwise, we’re all just believing whatever we want, with no grounds for adjudicating between beliefs. You should keep that in mind, because that’s the name of the game for the rest of this course. You only get to believe the things you have reasons for, and we’re going to start with the area that is hardest for most people – God. Hope to see you there. Today you learned about Karl Popper, and his insights into science, pseudoscience, and knowledge -- which might best be summarized as science disconfirms, while pseudoscience confirms. This episode of Crash Course Philosophy is made possible by Squarespace. Squarespace is a way to create a website, blog or online store for you and your ideas. Squarespace features a user-friendly interface, custom templates and 24/7 customer support. Try Squarespace at for a special offer. Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check out amazing shows like Artrageous, The Good Stuff, and Blank on Blank. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these awesome people and our equally fantastic graphics team is Thought Cafe.



The company was founded by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass on September 14, 1960, as Videocraft International. The majority of Rankin/Bass' work, including all of their "Animagic" stop-motion productions, (which they were well known for) were created in Japan. Throughout the 1960s, the Animagic productions were headed by Japanese stop-motion animator Tadahito Mochinaga.

Their traditionally cel-animated works were animated by Toei Animation, Crawley Films, and Mushi Production, and since the 1970s, they were animated by the Japanese studio Topcraft, which was formed in 1972 as an offshoot of Toei Animation. Many Topcraft staffers, including the studio's founder Toru Hara (who was credited in some of Rankin/Bass' specials), would go on to join its successor Studio Ghibli and work on Hayao Miyazaki's feature films, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbor Totoro.

In addition to the "name" talent that provided the narration for the specials, Rankin/Bass had its own company of voice actors. For the studio's early work, this group was based in Toronto, Ontario, where recording was supervised by veteran CBC announcer Bernard Cowan. This group included actors such as Paul Soles, Larry D. Mann, and Paul Kligman.

Maury Laws served as musical director for almost all of the animated films. Romeo Muller was another consistent contributor, serving as screenwriter for many of Rankin/Bass's best-known productions including Rudolph, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman.


One of Videocraft's first projects was an independently produced series, The New Adventures of Pinocchio, based on Carlo Collodi's novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. It was produced using "Animagic", a stop motion animation process using figurines (a process already pioneered by George Pal's "Puppetoons" and Art Clokey's Gumby and Davey and Goliath). This was followed by another independently produced series using more traditional cel animation and based on already established characters, Tales of the Wizard of Oz in 1961.

Rudolph era

One of the mainstays of the business was holiday-themed animated specials for airing on American television. In 1964, the company produced a special for NBC and sponsor General Electric, later owner of NBC. It was a stop motion animated adaptation of the Robert L. May story "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the song it inspired, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," written by May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks. It had been made into a cartoon by Max Fleischer, brother and former partner of Dave Fleischer, as a traditional animated short for the Jam Handy Film Company almost two decades earlier. This featured Billie Mae Richards as the voice of the title character.

With narrator Burl Ives in the role of Sam the Snowman, and an original orchestral score composed by Marks himself, Rudolph became one of the most popular, and longest-running, Christmas specials in television history: it remained with NBC until around 1972, and currently runs several times during the Christmas season on CBS. The special contained seven original songs. In 1965, a new song was filmed to replace "We're a Couple of Misfits" titled "Fame and Fortune."

The success of Rudolph led to numerous other Christmas specials. The first was The Cricket on the Hearth, introduced in a live-action prologue by Danny Thomas, in 1967, followed by a Thanksgiving special, Mouse on the Mayflower told by Tennessee Ernie Ford, in 1968.

Other holiday specials

Many of their other specials, like Rudolph, were based on popular Christmas songs. In 1968, Greer Garson provided dramatic narration for The Little Drummer Boy, based on the traditional song and set during the birth of the baby Jesus. That year, Videocraft (whose logo dominated the Rankin/Bass logo in the closing credit sequences), changed its name to Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc., and adopted a new logo, retaining a Videocraft byline in their closing credits until 1971 when Tomorrow Entertainment, a unit of the General Electric Company acquired the production company.

The following year, in 1969, Jimmy Durante sang and told the story of Frosty the Snowman, with Jackie Vernon voicing the title character.

1970 brought another Christmas special, Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. Rankin/Bass enlisted Fred Astaire as narrator S.D. (Special Delivery) Kluger, a mailman answering children's questions about Santa Claus and telling his origin story. The story involved young Kris Kringle, voiced by Mickey Rooney, and his nemesis the Burgermeister Meisterburger, voiced by Paul Frees. Kringle later marries the town's schoolteacher, Miss Jessica, voiced by Robie Lester.

In 1971, Rankin/Bass produced the Easter special Here Comes Peter Cottontail, with the voices of narrator Danny Kaye, Vincent Price as the evil January Q. Irontail, and Casey Kasem as the title character. It was not based upon the title song, but on a 1957 novel by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich titled The Easter Bunny That Overslept. In 1977, Fred Astaire returned as S.D. Kluger in The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town, telling the tale of the Easter Bunny's origins.

In 1974, Rankin/Bass Productions was relaunched once again as an independent production company, and produced another Christmas special, The Year Without a Santa Claus, featuring Shirley Booth, voicing narrator Mrs. Claus, Mickey Rooney, returning as the voice of Santa Claus, and supporting characters Snow Miser (voiced by Dick Shawn) and Heat Miser (voiced by George S. Irving). It was remade as a poorly received live action TV movie shown on NBC in 2006 starring Delta Burke and John Goodman as Mrs. Claus and Santa.[3]

Throughout the 1970s, Rankin/Bass continued to produce animated sequels to its classic specials, including the teaming of Rudolph and Frosty in 1979's Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, with the voice of Ethel Merman as the ringmistress of a seaside circus, and Rooney again returning as Santa. The special features cameos by characters from several other Rankin-Bass holiday specials, including Big Ben from Rudolph's Shiny New Year and Jack Frost. Jack appeared in his own special later that year. Jack Frost, narrated by Buddy Hackett, tells the story of the winter sprite's love for a mortal woman menaced by the evil Cossack King, Kubla Kraus (Paul Frees, in addition to Kubla, voiced Jack Frost's overlord, Father Winter himself).

Among Rankin/Bass's original specials was 1975's The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow, featuring the voice of Angela Lansbury as the narrating and singing nun, and the Irving Berlin Christmas classic "White Christmas". Though only a half-hour long (as opposed to the standard hour time slot), it was critically acclaimed, telling the story of a blind shepherd boy who longs to experience Christmas.

Their final stop-motion style Christmas story was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, taken from the L. Frank Baum story of the same name and released in 1985. In this story, the Great Ak summons a council of the Immortals to bestow upon a dying Claus the Mantle of Immortality. To make his case, the Great Ak tells Claus's life story, from his discovery as a foundling in the magical forest and his raising by Immortals, through his education by the Great Ak in the harsh realities of the human world, and his acceptance of his destiny to struggle to bring joy to children.[4] This special has recently been released as part of the Warner Brothers Archive Collection on a double-feature disc that also contains Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey which is often paired with The First Christmas on holiday broadcasts.

Many of these specials are still shown seasonally on American television, and some have been released to video and DVD.

Non-holiday output

Throughout the 1960s, Videocraft produced other stop motion and traditional animation specials and films, some of which were non-holiday stories. 1965 saw the production of Rankin/Bass's first theatrical film, Willy McBean and his Magic Machine, the first of four films produced in association with Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures. 1966 brought The Ballad of Smokey the Bear, narrated by James Cagney, the story of the famous forest fire-fighting bear seen in numerous public service announcements.

The theatrical feature film Mad Monster Party saw theatrical release in spring 1967, featuring one of the last performances by Boris Karloff. The film features affectionate send-ups of classic movie monsters and their locales, adding "Beatle"-wigged skeletons as a send-up of the era's pop bands, and a writing staff borrowed from Mad magazine.

In 1972 and 1973, Rankin/Bass produced four animated TV-movies for The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie: The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters, Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid, The Red Baron, and That Girl in Wonderland.

In 1977, Rankin/Bass produced an animated version of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It was followed in 1980 by an animated version of The Return of the King. (The animation rights to the first two volumes were held by Saul Zaentz, producer of Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation The Lord of the Rings.) Other books adapted include The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, a rare theatrical release, and Peter Dickinson's The Flight of Dragons.

In addition to their prime time specials, Rankin/Bass produced several regular cartoon series, including The King Kong Show, The Jackson 5ive, co-produced with Motown Productions, and The Osmonds. Perhaps the best-remembered[who?] of these was ThunderCats (1985), a cartoon and related line of toys. It was followed by two similar cartoons about humanoid animals, SilverHawks (1986), and TigerSharks, as part of the series The Comic Strip in 1987. Neither enjoyed the same commercial success.

Rankin/Bass also attempted live-action productions, such as 1967's sequel King Kong Escapes, a co-production with Toho; 1976's The Last Dinosaur; 1978's The Bermuda Depths; and 1983's The Sins of Dorian Gray. With the exception of King Kong Escapes, all were made for television.


After its last series output, Rankin/Bass shut down its production arm on March 4, 1987.

Arthur Rankin, Jr. would split his time between New York City, where the company still has its offices, and his home in Bermuda. He formed Rankin Productions to produce a few cartoons, such as the remake of Krazy Kat; that company was later absorbed in 1990.[clarification needed] Rankin died at Harrington Sound, Bermuda on January 30, 2014 at the age of 89.[5] Jules Bass commuted between New York and Paris.[when?] Bass became a vegetarian; a decade later, he wrote Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon,[6] the first children's book character developed specifically to explore moral issues related to vegetarianism. The original story and a follow-up cookbook became bestsellers for independent publishing house Barefoot Books.

In 1999, Rankin/Bass joined forces with James G. Robinson's Morgan Creek Productions and Nest Family Entertainment, creators of The Swan Princess franchise, for the first and only animated adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I, based on a treatment by Rankin. Distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment, the film flopped at the American box office and many American film critics took it to task for its depictions of "offensive ethnic stereotyping."[citation needed]

In 2001, Fox aired Rankin/Bass's first new original Christmas special in sixteen years, Santa, Baby!, which like most of Rankin/Bass's other specials was based on a popular, similarly-titled Christmas song. Santa, Baby! stood out from its predecessors due to its use of African-American characters and voice performers, such as Patti LaBelle (the narrator), Eartha Kitt, Gregory Hines, Vanessa L. Williams and Tom Joyner.[7] Santa, Baby! turned out to be the final Rankin/Bass-produced special; the Rankin/Bass partnership was dissolved shortly after, with most of its remaining assets acquired by Warner Bros. Television.

Many of Rankin/Bass' films are shown on Freeform during their December "25 Days of Christmas" seasonal period. Both Rankin and Bass were involved in the new ThunderCats series on Cartoon Network until its cancellation. In the series, a magical item called the Forever Bag was activated by the word "Rankin-Bass".

Rankin/Bass library

Sections of the Rankin/Bass library are now in the hands of other companies. General Electric's Tomorrow Entertainment acquired the original Videocraft International in 1971. The pre-1974 library, including the "classic four" Christmas specials, remained under the ownership of GE. In 1988, Lorne Michaels' production company Broadway Video acquired the rights to the 1960–1973 Rankin/Bass television material from GE. In 1996, Golden Books Family Entertainment acquired Broadway Video's family entertainment library and was later folded into Classic Media in 2001. In 2012, DreamWorks Animation bought the studio, and renamed it DreamWorks Classics. In 2016, Dreamworks Animation was bought by NBCUniversal.

Videocraft International's theatrical feature film library, except Willy McBean and his Magic Machine, is now owned by French film production and distribution company StudioCanal, a subsidiary of Vivendi. Willy McBean and his Magic Machine was retained by GE and Broadway Video, and is also owned by Universal Pictures on behalf of DreamWorks Classics.

In 1978, Telepictures acquired all of the post-1973 Rankin/Bass library except The Last Unicorn and Santa, Baby!. This library is now owned by Warner Bros., through the studio's 1989 acquisition of Lorimar-Telepictures.

Since 1999, The Last Unicorn has been under the ownership of a British company, ITV Studios Global Entertainment, as the successor to ITC Entertainment, via Carlton Communications, who acquired the rights from Polygram Entertainment.

The Jackson 5ive is now distributed by CBS Television Distribution due to being the successor to Worldvision Enterprises. Ancillary rights are owned by DreamWorks Classics.


Feature films

Stop motion

Traditional animation


Animated TV specials

Stop motion

Traditional Animation

Episodes of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie

Animated series




External links

This page was last edited on 30 December 2017, at 07:17.
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