Like other animation studios, Rankin/Bass had several different versions of Santa Claus featured in the various Christmas specials that they produced. However, their most famous version of the character was the one originally seen in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. Voiced by Mickey Rooney, this version of Santa is considered the definitive portrayal of the character in Rankin/Bass' Christmas specials and would reappear in a few more specials produced by the company, and even a sequel produced by Warner Bros. Animation. Rooney reprised the role in all of his appearances except for Rudolph's Shiny New Year, where he was instead voiced by Paul Frees (who had voiced the version of Santa seen in Frosty the Snowman).
The 1970 special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town marks the first special to feature this recurring Santa character, and as such, it is also the special that provides his backstory. He is born as a baby named simply "Claus" who is adopted by a family of elves named the Kringles and given the name Kris. The Kringles teach him about their art as renowned toymakers. When he grows up, the young adult Kris Kringle volunteers to deliver the toys to the nearby town of Sombertown. In doing so, Kris brings joy to the children of the town, during which he also ends up winning the heart of Sombertown's schoolteacher, Miss Jessica, and befriending a wizard named the Winter Warlock. However, Kris also makes a powerful enemy in Sombertown's leader, Burgermeister Meisterburger, who declares him an outlaw and sends him, along with the Kringles, Jessica, and Winter on the run. Kris, having now grown a beard, returns to his birth name, Claus, to be on the safe side, and eventually marries Jessica on Christmas Eve. Afterward, he and his group travel to the North Pole, where they build his new workshop and castle. Eventually, Kris, now Santa Claus, becomes loved by more and more people, but since he cannot keep up with all the toy requests, he decides to limit his journeys to once every Christmas Eve.
Santa reappeared in The Year Without a Santa Claus, the 1974 adaptation of Phyllis McGinley's poem of the same name. Santa becomes ill one day and, under the recommendation of his doctor, issues a press release that he is taking Christmas off this year. But after Mrs. Claus sends the two elves Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells, along with the reindeer Vixen, to find Christmas spirit somewhere in the world, Santa goes looking for them, tracking them to the city of Southtown. After discussing his existence with the Thistlewhite family, Santa retrieves Vixen (who was at the pound because she was mistaken for a dog) and brings her back to the North Pole with him. Later, Santa is informed by his wife and the elves that people still believe in him and in the spirit of Christmas after all, especially when the world's children all send presents to him. Touched by all the evidence he has seen of caring and generosity, Santa decides to make his Christmas Eve journey after all.
Santa was next seen in the New Year's special Rudolph's Shiny New Year, the only special where this version of the character was instead voiced by Paul Frees. At the beginning of the special, which is stated to take place immediately after Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa receives a message from Father Time, stating that Happy the Baby New Year has gone missing. Since it is still very foggy outside, Santa sends Rudolph to Father Time's castle to prepare for the mission. At the end of the special, after Rudolph and his companions rescue Happy from Aeon the Terrible, Santa shows up and helps the group make it back to Father Time's castle just in time for the new year.
Mickey Rooney returned to voice Santa again in the movie Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July. When the evil wizard Winterbolt tricks Rudolph and Frosty into agreeing to appear at the Circus by the Sea in Florida, Santa agrees that he and Mrs. Claus will fly in to pick them right before the Fourth of July fireworks are finished. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to them, Winterbolt conjures up a hurricane, trapping the Clauses and forcing them to continue their journey on the ground. When Winterbolt is defeated at the end of the movie, the storm that had grounded Santa and his wife fades away, allowing the couple to arrive at the circus.
Warner Bros. Animation
Many years later, Mickey Rooney reprised the voice of Rankin/Bass's Santa Claus character in A Miser Brothers' Christmas, a sequel to The Year Without a Santa Claus produced by Warner Bros. Animation. In this special, Santa tests out his new Super-Sleigh, but thanks to sabotage by the minions of the evil North Wind, he ends up getting his back injured. Due to Santa's injury, Heat Miser and Snow Miser, who have been mistakenly blamed for causing it, are given responsibility for running the toy factory. On Christmas Eve, when Santa takes off into the sky, he is suddenly attacked by North Wind, but is fortunately rescued by the Miser Brothers. Mickey Rooney reprised the role at the age of 88, in what would be his final outing as Santa Claus prior to his death.
- Mickey Rooney notably also voiced the version of Santa Claus from the 2005 special The Happy Elf.