From the Production Company of Rankin/Bass, creators of such timeless holiday classics as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, came another beloved stop-action animation offering for the Christmas season – The Little Drummer Boy. And, like most of their seasonal offerings, it is fondly remembered by many who still make it part of their annual viewing tradition.
The story is based around a young boy named Aaron who is disillusioned with humanity. The source of his contempt is the tragic death of his family, of whom he has only a drum to remember them by. Giving up on the human race in favor of the animal kingdom, he befriends a sheep named Baabaa, a camel named Joshua and a donkey named Samson.
While making a journey through the desert with his four-legged friends, he encounters a conniving businessman named Haramed. The man talks Aaron into working for his performing troupe – which entertains the travelers who happen to be making the long journey to witness the birth of Jesus. The boy soon learns the hard way that his distrust of people is well founded. First, Joshua is sold of by the businessman to a trio of kings. Then, while searching for his hump-laden friend, thanks to the guidance of a certain star, Baabaa is seriously injured along the journey.
All hope appears to be lost until Aaron receives some helpful advice from a stranger who informs the lad that he can make things right by simply making an offering to God. With his only possession in hand, the boy proceeds to drum with reckless abandon – and things start turning around. His sheep friend recovers, his distrust of humans fades and, most vital to any Christmas tale, Baby Jesus is born.
Based on the popular 1941 song of the same name, and penned by longtime Rankin/Bass screenwriter Romeo Muller, this 1968 television special featured the voice of actress Greer Garson as “Our Storyteller” and Academy Award-winning actor Jose Ferrer as the voice of the evil Ben Haramed. The voices of Aaron’s parents were provided by the prolific talents of Paul Freese and June Foray, and the title song was performed by the angelic-sounding Vienna Boys Choir.
Garson would reprise her role in 1976 for the sequel, The Little Drummer Boy, Book II. Familiar Fiddler on the Roof actor Zero Mostel would replace Ferrer this time around in the role of Haramed. The sequel was eventually yanked from airwaves amidst complaints that it was offensive to Arabic people.
If you hold fond memories of watching The Little Drummer Boy as a child, or still make it part of your annual viewing tradition, we welcome all of your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Rankin/Bass Productions for all of their holiday contributions.