Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is decidedly average. Yes, I’m talking about the Rankin/ Bass, claymation Rudolph, with Hermie the aspiring dentist elf and Yukon the man mountain prospector and the Abominable Snow Monster and all that jazz. It’s really average. Heck, I’d be tempted to go so far as to say it’s not terribly good at all, if it weren’t for Burl Ives as the snowman narrator and the fun songs. But the work as a whole? Not the best.
Now, hold on a second, before you go darting away from this blasphemy, hear me out. The main problem when tackling any subject so famed and beloved is that a) everyone has already seen it, so no one is really reading your review to decide whether or not they should watch it and b) for the most part, everyone has seen it a thousand times, and thus lost any objectivity toward the subject. So step back for a second and imagine this is the first time you’re hearing this story. Take the song out of the equation as well, and just focus on this cracked tale of the North Pole.
Rudolph is born to the flying reindeer Donner, and is instantly considered a freak, because of his shining light bulb of a nose. Only his mother doesn’t seem to mind when first seeing it, because she’s his mother, obviously. Santa Claus, beloved by children the world over, actively hopes this “situation” clears up as he gets older. Donner scrapes some muck off the cave floor and slaps it over Rudolph’s offensive proboscis. End opening.
Let’s pause here a second and review this bizarre intro. No where in the song does it say Rudolph’s parents or his future employer (the nicest man in the world, mind you) were biased against him at birth. Both are ashamed and embarrassed by Rudolph, Santa through his words, and Donner through his actions. Sure, this sets up the opportunity for the characters to change, but we’re talking about a jerk reindeer and a saint. Keep that in mind as we continue.
So Rudolph’s vibrant nose problem doesn’t go away as he gets older, and he attends reindeer tryouts/practice wearing his goofy, false, mud schnozz. He meets another reindeer kid, Fireball, and they pal around, Rudolph doing well with the flying, impressing the tail fur off the does, and everything is looking good. That is, until his fake nose falls off, with Santa again present, and everyone loses their minds.
Still worse, this self centered, pig headed, borderline racist Santa Claus tells Donner he should be ashamed for covering up Rudolph’s nose, not in some supportive way of the kid being different, but that it deceives everyone else. He even says “He had a nice takeoff too,” in regards to his flying, as though the shiny nose made any difference!
Keep in mind, we’re not talking about a different species here. Rudolph is a reindeer, so I suppose it’s not so much racism as basic ignorance and lack of accepting anyone who is different. Am I making too big a deal of this? I think not. You can say “But look at how the story ends! Everyone comes around and is redeemed!” To which I say “Phooey!” Why do they have to redeem Santa Claus?! Is it the idea that as you get older you lose the belief in St. Nick’s existence, so therefore you are capable of believing anything about him? Including that he’s only concerned with the execution of his job and that he’s not open to people or things that are a little different? Not vastly different, again, not a different species, but just slightly different? Sure, it’s for dramatic purposes, but it’s mighty disturbing.
Okay, okay, so Rudolph is now essentially ostracized from the entire North Pole community. This hot chick deer he’s making eyes at is still into him despite his nose, but her father, another adult reindeer, completely disapproves, and forbids her to see this red nosed punk again. She dutifully obeys, which teaches kids to listen to their parents I guess, but it also undermines everything she tells Rudolph up until that point. She’s gone, and Rudolph then meets Hermie.
Again, bear with me on this, but seriously, what is the big deal with the elf who wants to be a dentist? Rudolph wants to be a flying reindeer, he aspires to the job he’s born to do. Hermie apparently is the first elf in the history of the elf world that doesn’t want to make toys. This is what we’re led to believe? You’re telling me Santa is ageless beyond imagination, he’s got this troop of sweatshop elves cranking out toy trucks and ping pong paddles, and none of them ever had a problem with it before? All they do is sing songs and paint figurines all day every day from birth to the Elf Cemetery? And what kind of argument does this story make? Again, Hermie should be ashamed of denying his basic desires and goals in life. Conformity. Slightly different from Rudolph, but still the same ugly head reared in the name of being exactly the same. Again, you can say “But what about the ending! Everyone is redeemed and accepts them for who they are!” To which I say “Phooey!” What kind of psychotic, single-minded, Big Brother society are these elves toiling under where any deviation isn’t tolerated? A society run by this degenerate Santa Claus, that’s what!
Okay, I’m trying not to get too carried away here, I’m sorry, but nonetheless, you have to admit I’ve got a point. The characters are either fascist, racist, ignorant, or imbeciles – I’ll get to Yukon in a minute. This is what has been established by the first half of the picture. The snowman, who will ultimately die as a puddle, is the only warm, comforting presence to guide us through this opening.
This complete idiot prospector, Yukon, who drags his sled dogs around and licks his ice pick in hopes of discovering silver and gold, comes across these two hiding ostrich style in a snow bank, and then they join in with this wacky homeless crackpot. And, of course, because there isn’t enough adversity, they get menaced by this giant cross between a polar bear and King Kong, the Bumble Snow Monster, or the Abominable Snow Monster of the North (which implies there are similar directional monsters in China, the U.S., and Rio as well).
As with most monsters, the Abominable is stupid to the point of lunacy, and not altogether too brute. He can’t swim, a point that Yukon knows before we discover it, and yet the Abominable jumps in the freezing sea after them. We find out that without his teeth he’s completely harmless. Does that make sense? This giant monster, that could stomp and destroy the group of them in the cave at the end, is completely neutered by his lack of teeth, and then driven over a cliff. What what what?!?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are plentiful other issues in this middle section of the story. Primary among them is the entire Island of Misfit Toys, its existence, the characters on it, and its flying lion leader, King Moonracer. Cute idea? Sure. Necessary to the plot? Sort of. Fits right in with the already established views of Santa Claus and this society? Absolutely. If anything, this is worse than everything that’s led up to it.
You see, the Island is the halfway house for unwanted toys, which are basically a bundle of paradoxes and mutants. The concept of this Island is again based on this vile Santa Claus, who figured that no child would want to play with these improper, “different” toys. You can infer this much from the fact that the toys are there at all. There’s no toy factory on the Island, pumping out these monstrosities, so they must have come from the at-least-somewhat-nearby North Pole. Which means they were tossed aside by the big man himself as inadequate.
So this flying lion, which is apparently the only non-toy on the Island of Misfit Toys (apparently proving and adapting the adage about the one eyed man in the land of the blind), runs this place, yet has no interaction with Santa, because he asks the outcasts from Christmastown to talk to the big guy about these sad sack toys.
My biggest problem with the misfit toys, though, is that half of them don’t appear all that different from normal toys, which implies a more vast conspiracy of intolerance than it first seems. Charlie in a Box’s only problem is that his name is Charlie. He didn’t make himself, so it is unlikely he chose his own name. He looks the same as other Jack in the Boxes, yet he’s on this Island, because someone named him Charlie. The doll that hangs around singing with the Charlie and the Elephant with malaria doesn’t seem to have any real defect at all. The train only has square wheels on the caboose! That’s enough to land yourself on an Island with a bird who swims?! Night and day! Black and white! This Island is basically a concentration camp, pure and simple.
Again, I’m trying not to get too carried away, don’t be offended, please. I’m just trying to point out how bizarre this film is, considering its prestige and popularity, and how bewildering it is that it is accepted as a holiday classic. People get up in arms about the use of the word “retard” in Tropic Thunder, or more recently by Saturday Night Live’s joking at the expense of New York’s legally blind governor. Yet, this film, which takes abusing people for being different to a whole other extreme, is perfectly fine for the whole family every December just because everyone is redeemed in the end?
And let’s talk about this redemption for a second, shall we? When Rudolph gets back, he finds his parents plus that sexy doe gone looking for him. Santa Claus tells him this, saying they’d been gone for months. He follows it up by saying he’s very worried. Just when you’re about to think this Santa has a heart, he says he’s worried because “Christmas is just two days off,” and without Donner the sleigh won’t fly. What a egomaniac, loathsome jerk this Santa is! That’s what he’s worried about?! With the Abominable Whatnot roaming around plus the frigid temperature? For months, this pack of deer has been looking for Rudolph, and their safety barely registers to Santa? Why would they even want to go back upon finding out about this nugget of concern?
But in the end, yes, Santa realizes he was wrong, the elves realize they were wrong and could use some good dental care, Yukon inexplicably survives his moronic move of tackling the Abominable over the cliff (because “Bumbles bounce!” Give me a break), and teaches the monster to put a star on a tree. After which I guess it just stands in the corner taking coats and drink orders, right?
It is just fortunate that everyone survives, or Santa and the elves and the other reindeer coming around to the idea that different is okay would seem like too little too late. The Bumble’s eating venison by the pound and Santa would be stuck home watching the A Christmas Story marathon like the rest of us on Christmas Eve.
But I digress. There are things to enjoy, superficially, in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Burl Ives is magnificent, and the end moral is that everyone is equal despite their minor differences, abilities, or interests. And isn’t that the kind of message of acceptance and love that should be shared at the holidays?