RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER
Original Air Date: December 6, 1964
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it… you’d know how fucking awesome it is!
The original book and an 1960’s advert featuring the characters from GE, the shows original sponsor
The story of Rudolph began life as a promotional book by Robert L. May commissioned by Montgomery Ward to give away during the Christmas of 1939. In 1949, Johnny Marks adapted May’s poem into the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer into the song we all know today.
The last cartoon by Popeye helmer, Max Fleischer was actually Rudolph’s first animated appearance in 1948
Following the success of TV’s first animated Christmas special, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, networks were on the prowl for Christmas specials. You could say NBC really scored when they struck a deal with producers Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has run annually every year since 1964, making it TV’s longest running Christmas special!
Rankin/Bass produced many other successful stop motion, holiday-themed specials over the next three decades until that division folded in favor of traditionally animated entertainment, such as Thundercats and The Hobbit.
To any of you who were butt hurt over yesterday’s choice of special, this should more than make up for it. Without a doubt, one of the most iconic examples of, not only the Christmas special, but the medium of stop motion animation at large.
I know what you’re thinking… Does it hold up? I hadn’t seen in a few years and didn’t expect it to either, but as of this writing I’m overcome with giddiness to report that it most certainly does!
I’d forgotten about the live action intro
The animation is far less rudimentary than all those parodies we’ve seen over the years eould have you remember. Each and every character is wonderfully articulated, the camera pans and adjust their focus for movement, and characters make detailed impressions in the snow with every movement. In other words: It’s still a beautiful sight to behold.
Burt Ives serves as our frosty narrator
One of the reasons I still love it so much is that the main cast is made up entirely of losers. Rudolph and Hermey are classic sad sacks, each of them representing the dregs of their judgmental and shortsighted castes.
Not too high
The beginning of the special is largely devoted to heaping shit on both Rudolph and Hermey. And would you look at that, even Ol Saint Nick gets in on the act?
“Damn , dawg! Turn that shit down!“
Rudolph is forced by his father – who I didn’t remember being Donner, one of Santa’s starting line-up – to wear a false rubber nose that restricts his breathing.
Societal Acceptance > Oxygen
Similarly, Hermey – and yes it’s Hermey, not Herbie! – has to hide his love of dentistry in front of the other elves for fear of being berated by hairless midgets.
No one likes getting chewed out by an elf
Rudolph’s façade eventfully comes a tumblin’ down in full view of all, and he is disbarred from any further participation within Reindeer Games. (There’s gotta be a better way to word that!)
Love the eye effects during this sequence
Clarice, the cloven hottie, follows in pursuit and nearly brings ‘Dolph out of his funk. But unfortunately her dickhead dad puts the kibosh on that.
Rudolph is at peak sulk right about now… but fortunately, he’s about to meet up with a kindred spirit.
Apparently, the song sung at this point was removed from Rudolph’s second airing in 1965, and that’s a shame. Now, it’s not that the song here is musically above and beyond, or even that it’s all that necessary. I’d only call it bad in comparison to the other ditty here, also written by Johnny Marks.
Sam the Snowman cranks out the superior tunes
But I love it when two unrelated, societal castoffs find a way to get together, and the song is essentially a safe-for-network television way for Rudoplh and Hermey to say, “Fuck ‘em all! We don’t need em!”
1960’s water effects courtesy of Cocaine
Either way the song, entitled “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” was restored into the special in 1998, and is present on the latest DVD edition I just purchased.
Any hoo, the boys set off to begin their brand new life together. Anywhere but here, am I right boys?
But they’re not on their own for very long, as the boys quickly meet up with outcast peppermint prospector Yukon Cornelius…
Action figures of Yukon Cornelius replaced his revolver with a nonviolent knife
Who’s quick thinking saves them from a fatal run in with the Abominable Snowman.
Not spark another Pixar conspiracy, but fans of Monsters Inc. will see the inspiration
Yukon chips severs an ice flow and the boys float off into God knows where
I’m on a float!
Okay, the next sequence is a favorite for me, and I can’t imagine I’m alone.
C’mon, who wouldn’t want one of these?!
The boys – hell, men – land on the Island of Misfit toys, a place where broken or slightly irregular toys go to commiserate.
Personally, I’ve got a soft spot for the spotted elephant
It shouldn’t surprise you that I have an affinity for toys come to life, therefore I not only love this scene because the unlovable toy models are so awesome, but over the last 40 years many a toy line has been based off of these misfit toys and proved quite popular.
The Original Lion King
Evidently, a noble flying lion has been scooping the refuse toys up from all over the globe, and he offers the flesh-based misfits sanctuary so long as they tell Santa about the existence of the Island so that he may eventually find a home for his flock of unloved playthings on some future Christmas.
The palatial royal quarters
Rudolph steals away in the night, so as night to endanger his pals any further, and ages into a full grown reindeer in the months of solitude.
All growed up
He returns to the North Pole to find out that his friends and family have been out looking for him the whole time, and it’s his term to go find them.
Luckily, Hermey and Cornelius show up and help Rudolph defeat the Abominable snow monster.
Ouch, Hermey yanks the monster’s teeth out!
Kind of above and beyond cruelty, actually
And Corny shoves the, now powerless, oaf off a cliff.
Does Cornelius survive? Tune in next year…
We now find the North Pole beaten down by a record blizzard and Santa is threatening to cancel Christmas.
If weather conditions are that much of a factor, maybe setting up shop in the North Pole was a bad business decision
And Santa finally realizes what we’ve known all along: Rudolph’s luminescent schnoz can light the way.
Just like the song!
Christmas is saved, and everyone finds a new lot in life. Hermey gets permission to open up a dental practice, and Yukon Cornelius finds a peppermint pipeline. Even the Bombby finds a new place to fit in:
Probably my favorite image in the whole special
And thanks to a letter writing campaign the year following its debut, the next year Rankin/Bass animated a sequence where Santa returns to the Island of Misfit Toys and deploy them over the end credis.
I can’t believe this scene wasn’t in the original airing
Not much. Even back in the 60’s, networks weren’t all that crazy about presenting the Good Word on primetime television
Santa’s here a lot. And I love that even though he’s not a central character, he begins the story as kind of a prick, and eventually learns a thing or two about acceptance, too.
Easily half a century’s worth. I went back into Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fully expecting an experience only enjoyable through nostalgia goggles. Believe the hype, this one is truly timeless.
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Support the Site!)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer appears on an ultra affordable standalone DVD, but with no notable bonus features to speak of, I’d have to recommend The Original Christmas Classics Boxed set. The price is a steal, plus it contains six more classic Christmas specials, including other Rankin/Bass stop motion classics like The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. And I can’t recommend the Holiday Figurine set enough. Featuring almost all of Rudolph‘s primary cast, I propose that this become every atheist’s annual nativity scene.