Growing up I remember watching the Dreamworks classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer which was inspired by the song of the same name. As a kid, I remember identifying greatly with the misfit reindeer who had trouble fitting in because of the brightness of his nose. It is an easy character to root for. After all, we have all been there… obviously not to the extreme neccesarily of getting completely rejected by family and friends due to how we look look, but I would doubt pretty strongly if anyone told me that they never felt insecure or rejected at some point in their lives.
Sam the Snowman narrates the story of Rudolph, a reindeer who is born with a glowing red nose. His father, Santa’s lead reindeer Donner, feels ashamed and uses a special cover to hide Rudolph’s nose so Donner and his wife can send Rudolph to take-off practice a year later without Rudolph being ridiculed by the other yearlings. Meanwhile, an elf named Hermey has his own problem – he wishes to be a dentist instead of making toys. The elf foreman scolds him and tries to get Hermey to obey, but the young elf refuses to change his interests.
The unfortunate thing about this classic Christmas special is that as I get older I find myself realize how truly messed up the movie is. Now that I am not a young kid, It feels like I can read into the story much more than I could before. Growing up I felt like it was a story of a reindeer finding his way in life and winning the admiration of those around him… I felt like Rudolph was special even if those around him didn’t think so. This has obviously remained unchanged but the movie is irks me more than it used to because I see things I didn’t see before, like Donner’s, Rudolph’s father, abusive tendencies or just how thoroughly shitty this movies iteration of Santa Claus is.
To put it bluntly, Santa is the tip of a hierarchy within the North Pole that preaches acceptance and benevolence until they are faced with something they do not understand. When Claus sees Rudolph take off in flight better than any of the other youngsters, he is completely impressed, but the moment he dawns his red nose, Santa rejects him… saying that it was a “shame” because he had a good take off. This thought process clearly has been disemminated throughout the pole on a cultural level as everyone else, even those who at first thought he was cool decide to reject him and call him names. Not until the end of the movie, when Santa Claus has a use for Rudolph, is Rudolph actually accepted. Which, I think, is in inherently bad message to send children and parents alike.
So I am torn… the child in me wants to believe, as I believed as a child, that Rudolph is a hero that should be looked up to; that the misgivings of the Pole-people should be forgiven and that I should highly recommend this movie as a classic or a “must watch”. But the adult in me cannot overlook the atrocities and the shitty nature of MOST of the Pole-people. If I were Rudolph and Santa asked me for help I would probably ask him “where were you when I needed help?” And that is leaving out the entire arc of Hermey who is going through his own parallel story of acceptance as he is an elf who doesn’t want to build toys, he wants to be a dentist. He too is equally rejected and chooses to strike out on his own to pursue his dreams.
But in the end, I have to recommend this movie because it teaches you that to accept who you are regardless of what others have to say about you. I don’t like that Santa Claus gets his way in the end of the film– some saint he is, but Rudolph and Hermie overcame tremendous odds and adversity to find their place in the world– and that’s the important moral of the story!
The animation in the movie is stop-motion, which I think is a lost art nowadays. It certainly presents its own challenges for film making in an age of dominated by CGI, but the choppiness of the movies and the weirdness of the eyes and moth movements in this movie male the experience of watching this film truly unique. It is sort of like a badge of honor that I love seeing every year.
And let’s be honest, the Island of Misfit toys seems like a pretty rad place to be am I right!?
1. During one of the songs, Sam the Snowman is handed a banjo and begins plucking it. However, no banjo is used in the song he’s performing.
2. The Snowman’s pocket watch never changes time throughout the show.
3. In the original TV version of the show, Rudolph, Hermey the elf and Yukon Cornelius visit the Island of Misfit Toys and promise to help them, but the Misfits are never mentioned again. After it was shown, the producers were inundated with letters from children complaining that nothing had been done to help the Misfit Toys. In response, Rankin-Bass produced a new short scene at the end of the show in which Santa and his reindeer, led by Rudolph, land on the Island and pick up all the toys to find homes for them, which has ever since been the standard version of the show run during the holidays.
4. Copies of both the Santa and Rudolph puppets were recently found in storage in the attic of a woman that used to work for Rankin-Bass. The puppets were in remarkably good condition, considering it was estimated they were in storage since the late 1960s, with only a little yellowing of Santa’s hair, beard, and white trim on his coat. The pair now travel the country to various trade shows and conventions.
5. The song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was a seasonal standard long before it was used in the film. It was written in 1939 & its popularity skyrocketed in 1947, by Gene Autry‘s recording.
6. With the exception of Charlie-In-The-Box, none of the other Misfit Toys have a proper first name.