The Little Drummer Boy Book II (1976)

The first time was for his Messiah! Now Aaron, the Little Drummer Boy with the biggest skills on the skins, takes on a mission that leaves him stripped of everything that matters to him, facing down an evil empire and spearheading the invasion to make everything right on behalf of one of the Three Wise Men!

The silver bells that were made to announce the birth of Jesus must be recovered at all costs! (See how easy we have it now when Simeon the bell maker could just announce it on social media instead of making a racket with his gigantic bells?)

But just because this was olden times, doesn’t mean that folks back then didn’t suffer from the problems we do now. I am of course referring to the tax and spend Romans who are yet again harassing regular people into coughing up their hard earned sesterces to fund whatever foreign misadventure was tickling the emperor’s fancy at the time.

Full time bell making and part religious prophet was apparently experiencing an economic downturn because Simeon didn’t have the money to to pay his taxes so like any efficient tyrannical government agency, the Roman IRS seized the giant silver bells (complimented of course by much evil laughing) he had crafted for Christ. (These Romans were constantly on the wrong side of this whole Son of God issue, weren’t they?)

Fresh off the biggest drum solo of his life, Aaron is now a holy warrior, practically itching to mix it up with anyone who messes with the baby Jesus. In fact, he already has something that barely resembles a plan to recover the bells. He and his animal posse will enter the tax collectors’ camp undercover as a simple orphan boy drummer there to entertain the troops with his dancing lamb, donkey and camel. After that – well, he’ll figure that out later! How lame does that make Melchior look, that he defers to the tactical genius of a little kid and some smelly animals when he is supposed to be a freaking wise man?

As is to be expected when you let your eight year old kid plan a special ops mission, it immediately goes tits up. Now this is a sequel that knows you have to up the stakes to keep the audience coming back for more. After performing for the Savior and having his lamb healed, where does the franchise go from there? How about if the Little Drummer Boy has his little drum destroyed! Yes, Rankin/Bass went there! Aaron’s mission results in nothing more than some singing and him getting his precious drum literally reduced to kindling!

Let’s go over the sitrep. Bells not recovered. Drum destroyed. Baby Jesus birth announcement in limbo. Wise Man looking like a chump. Little Drummer Boy reduced to a sniffling mess. Will the Christian faith be strangled in its embryonic state simply because some mope didn’t file his Form 1040EZ in time?

Since the dawn of Man, we have had a special relationship with certain animals. Dogs throughout history like Lassie, Benji and Spuds MacKenzie have been by our side during times of crisis. Horses like Shadowfax have helped great wizards defeat icky orcs. And who can forget those squirrels on YouTube that like to waterski?

And again it is the animals that come to the rescue when they take it upon themselves to sneak the bells out of the camp while Aaron is busy feeling sorry for himself. While this appears to make Aaron look pretty bad, I think Aaron’s play here is that his bawl baby routine was the distraction he always had stashed in his back pocket for just this situation! Like the ancient philosopher Hannibal Smith was fond of saying “I love it when a plan comes together!”

The Little Drummer Boy Book II gets high marks for its realistic portrayal of government bureaucrats. After the bells are stolen from them and they can’t find them, the head tax collector gives everyone the order to forget the bells ever existed or that any of this even happened. Dude knows how much paperwork would be involved if he reported this episode. Who needs your boss and HR busting your balls on your next performance evaluation because a bunch of circus animals outsmarted you?

Obviously this was a needless follow up to the original, its story of recovering the stolen bells comes off as a relatively minor excursion in the annals of biblical Christmas specials. Both the Wise Man and the Little Drummer are useless throughout and unlike the original story, Aaron has no character arc to speak of, now just a guy chasing a MacGuffin. Even the destruction of his drum doesn’t feel that important since he gets a new one at the end of the show, thus not sacrificing much of anything for his beliefs other than a day or two tracking the taxmen.

Rankin/Bass apparently realized it wrung as much as possible out of the concept and instead of churning out a third chapter wisely shifted focus to the animals and went with Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey as their next Bible-related Christmas special.

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