Welcome to Christmas Day 2022! We made it another year and another long year is ahead of us until we make it back, but right now, it’s time to celebrate! And in keeping with the theme of this year’s countdown, we are once again looking at another much beloved Christmas special on this day. Before we start, here’s a pop quiz: What is considered the first televised Christmas Special? If you said Rudolph or Charlie Brown you are incorrect because it’s actually Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. I don’t have any particular affection for Mr. Magoo or that special, but I give credit where it’s due. The special I think that is most responsible for the specials to follow though is the one we’re talking about today and that’s the stop-motion, Rankin/Bass, classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
When I was a kid, Rudolph was the favorite special of most of the children my age, myself included. Over the years it has fallen some for me, but I still acknowledge it as the titan of Christmas that it is. It’s basically outlasted its peers in that it’s still broadcast annually on a major network, a distinction only Frosty can lay claim to now that the Peanuts gang has been banished to streaming. It popularized the special format and it’s likely we wouldn’t have a lot of what followed had it failed and I wonder if we would even know the name Rankin/Bass. When the special went into production, the company was feeling pretty tapped out thanks to its Tales of the Wizard of Oz television series and TV special Return to Oz. NBC and General Electric wanted a Christmas special for 1964 though, and Rankin/Bass was selected to make that happen. Romeo Muller, who is a name that appears many times in Rankin/Bass credits, wrote the teleplay for this one based on the Johnny Marks song which was itself based on a concept created by his brother-in-law, Robert L. May. The story for how May ended up getting the rights to Rudolph is an interesting one, but to keep things brief since we have another hour long special to cover, he created the character for the department store Montgomery Ward and they ended up giving him the rights for free when they thought the fad had passed. It’s a rare example of a big corporation being nice to one of its employees, but I bet in corporate circles it’s relayed as a cautionary tale to stress the importance of not having a conscience when dealing with work-for-hire creations.
The special was produced in 1964 using stop-motion technology. The Burl Ives character of Sam the Snowman would be the last thing added as the network wanted a recognizable name to attach to the project. Since no one really predicted the impact this would have, or the rise of video at home, a lot of the puppets and sets were lost or destroyed. As was some of the footage as the special would go through changes and edits over the years. In 1965, the song “Fame and Fortune” was added at the expense of “We’re a Couple of Misfits” and the resolution of the film which answers what character Yukon Cornelius is looking for is cut in favor of a new scene showing Santa Claus visiting the Island of Misfit Toys. Some of these things have been added back, some have not, and some have been, but also kind of half-assed. I’ll try to cover it as we go. And just like several entries this year, my screen shots and write-up are based on the 1987 broadcast of the special preserved for all time on my beloved Christmas Tape. I probably have several thousand words still ahead of me, so let’s stop with the preamble and get right down to it.
The special begins with a bunch of newspapers on the screen and a blizzard effect over them. Some big storm has taken place or will, and it undoubtedly features into the plot of this one because the last headline we see is “Foul Weather May Postpone Christmas!” After it dissipates some serene music filters in and we see a far less harsh environment before us. It’s a snow-covered setting and several trees dot the landscape. Waddling, sliding, shuffling, whatever – in comes Sam Snowman (Burl Ives). It’s difficult to describe how he moves because he has no legs. He’s like a snowman you would construct yourself out of three, large, snowballs. Though he still looks better than any snowman I’ve ever made. He’s also undoubtedly made to resemble Ives who also was the only actor in this thing to receive residuals based on it since the rest were a bunch of no-names from Canada. Ives made a lot of money off of Rudolph, while the actual voice of Rudolph basically got a check and a “thanks!”
Sam welcomes us to Christmas Town and wants to tell us about how lovely it is. As he makes his way through the scenery, the trees go from being covered with snow to being covered with snow, ornaments, and garland. It’s a Christmas tree forest, and apparently we’re supposed to think they grow like this? I’m not sure. There’s also some seals playing with wrapped presents that are just hanging around. He mentions how the number one residents up here are the Clauses, and points out a castle on the left where the couple apparently resides. We get a peek in there too of a skinny Santa (Stan Francis) sitting at a long table with some rather unappetizing purple food before him. Mrs. Claus (Peg Dixon) is encouraging him to eat and apparently Christmas for Santa is sort of like the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. He’s force-fed like a Christmas goose by his wife so as to present a jolly, fat, man come the big day which really makes no sense since he’s not supposed to be seen.
Sam assures us that we shouldn’t worry, Santa will be plenty fat for Christmas, but I’m honestly more worried about the guy’s health. That sort of yo-yo effect with his weight can’t be healthy. Sam then mentions how he loves this time of year and the fact that it’s going so smoothly, not like the year of the big blizzard. He mentions offhand that he doesn’t know what they would have done without Rudolph that year and then stops himself as-if the viewer interrupted him. This is the same technique we will eventually see with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, only in that one they actually dubbed in the voices of kids so it makes more sense. Watching this in 2022, when Sam says with some surprise that we’ve never heard the story of Rudolph I’m forced to yell at my screen, “Of course I know who Rudolph is you stupid snowman!” It doesn’t matter what you scream at your TV, laptop, or other device, he’s going to tell you all about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Sam then goes into the song we all know which brings about the opening credits. He basically only sings the intro as the rest of the credits unfold with instrumental music. It’s basically a medley of all of the songs we’re about to hear throughout this one. And in case you’re curious, in 1987 the major sponsor for this broadcast was 7Up. When the credits are done, Sam starts the actual story. We find out that Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards) is the son of reindeer Donner (Paul Kligman) and his unnamed wife (Dixon). We come upon the trio in a cave setting where Donner gives the kid his name. As he looks up and opens his eyes for the first time, he says “Papa” followed by “Mama.” As he does, his nose glows. Or rather, it lights up like a light bulb, or as Donner phrases it, “…a blinkin’ beacon.”
Donner is clearly concerned about this development, but before the discussion can continue they get a surprise visit from Santa. It seems he’s all up to speed on who is pregnant amongst his reindeer and has come to meet the newest, potential, member of his team. When he comes over to greet Rudolph, he’s initially impressed since the kid even knows his name. And then the nose glows once more. Santa reacts with a “Great bouncing icebergs!” while Donner quickly intercedes to assure Santa this is something the little fawn will grow out of. Santa says he hopes so, because apparently the color of one’s nose is of great concern to him and a shiny, red, nose will immediately disqualify Rudolph from the team. Remember that folks, Santa is a bigot. I mean, his reaction of surprise is certainly warranted. Imagine finding any woodland creature with a nose that behaves like a light bulb, that would certainly shock me! It would not, however, discourage me from viewing that creature favorably. If anything, quite the opposite. That’s freaking remarkable!
Santa then goes into his dumb song, “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” which is just him boasting about how wonderful his team of reindeer are, but screw this guy! He sucks. When the song is over, he takes off and I say good riddance. Rudolph, on the other hand, adorably just says “bye bye.” I should also point out, that it’s clear they had two Rudolph puppets for the production, one with a matte, red, nose and the other with the actual bulb nose. Sometimes the texture looks completely different and I am assuming it’s because the one that could actually light was less poseable since it needed to be wired up somehow. Anyway, once Santa is gone Donner decides that he agrees with the old man and declares that Rudolph will never make the team because of its weird nose bias. He scrapes up some mud and rubs it on his son’s nose to hide it. The little guy loves his dad despite his love apparently being conditional upon his nose, while his mother just wipes, or sucks, off the fake nose as she apparently loves him just the way he is. Good for you, mom!
Sam then tells us that the Donners were able to successfully hide Rudoph’s “non-conformity” throughout his early childhood. We see a little montage of him and Donner playing that’s interrupted by the presence of the abominable snowman (Bernard Cowan). As they hide behind a snowdrift, a giant, hairy, foot passes by that will not make much sense when we finally meet the “bumble.”
Sam then directs our attention to a new setting: the workshop. It’s Christmas Eve, and the elves are hard at work making toys. Everything they’re making is purple, it’s a weird trait of this special that almost everything that isn’t a character is depicted in this gray-purple shade. Anyway, the male elves are all in blue and look the same while the females are dressed in a pink outfit and they all look the same. Only two elves stand out, a head elf (Carl Banas) who is taller, has a goatee, and is in a green costume and a little blonde elf named Hermey (Paul Soles). Hermey is apparently well behind the rest of the group in his toy construction, and when the head elf inquires what’s up he responds with “Not happy in my work, I guess.” This is unheard of apparently as all of the elves react with shock and some mixture of outrage which only intensifies when Hermey tells the head elf that what he really wants to be is a dentist! A whistle sounds for a 10 minute break, but the head elf tells Hermey it’s not for him. Apparently, the elves have a terrible union. He’s then given an ultimatum to finish the job or face termination. Once left alone, Hermey stops painting and pulls out a dentistry book, singing to himself, “Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. You can’t fire me, I quit! See, I don’t fit in.”
After witnessing that, Sam just dismisses Hermey’s problems as the life of an elf. We then check-in on Rudolph who appears to be much older, and more rebellious. He hates the false nose his father keeps making him wear, but Donner isn’t standing for any back-talk while mother is just staying out of it all together. He slaps the mud on his kid’s face who tells him it’s not very comfortable, but Donner retorts with “There are more important things than comfort – self respect!” Man, he is such an unlikable dick. Rudolph wanders out of the cave and plops down in the snow looking rather sad. He pops the fake nose off and sings a similar refrain to what we just heard from Hermey, “Why am I such a misfit? I am not such a nitwit. Just because my nose glows, why don’t I fit in?”
Sam comes back to inform us that Christmas came and went that year without incident. We’re jumping forward to April when all of the new fawns come out to show off and be inspected by Santa. It sounds kind of gross when put it that way, but these are the “reindeer games” from the song, essentially. Rudolph seems hesitant to mix it up with the others, but his dad tries to be encouraging even though he’s spent Rudolph’s whole life denigrating him for the color of his nose. Talk about your mixed messages. Rudolph gets pushed into the group and immediately starts up a friendship with a welcoming fawn named Fireball (Alfie Scopp). Fireball is also apparently a little horn-ball because he encourages Rudolph to participate in the games so he can show off in front of the does.
Time to check-in on Hermey. It would seem he’s all talk and has actually stayed on as a toymaker, for now, with the other elves. We find him by himself working on some dolls apparently adding teeth. It looks like he’s found a way to marry his love of dentistry with his job as a toymaker – case closed! Or not, for soon the head elf comes barging in demanding to know why Hermey wasn’t at elf practice (that scene was cut from the broadcast frequently and was in 1987). When Hermey shows the head elf what he’s been working on instead, he just gets met with more ridicule. This asshole isn’t willing to meet Hermey halfway and instead tells him they already have dolls that can “cry, talk, walk, blink, and run a temperature – we don’t need any chewing dolls!” After feeling he successfully shut down that little business, the head elf tells him to come join the others so he can learn how to wiggle his ears and chuckle, which sounds rather useless to me, but what do I know about elf culture? Remarking, “A dentist – good grief,” he slams the door leaving Hermey all alone once again. Only this time, he’s had enough. Grabbing his dentistry book, he opens the window and slips out declaring he’s on his own now.
Back at the games, Fireball still seems preoccupied with the presence of does. He suggests to Rudolph that one in particular seems to have her eye on him. Rudolph seems interested, but before things can go further they’re interrupted by their Coach, Comet (Kligman). Comet both looks and sounds just like Donner, only he has a stylish cap and whistle around his neck. He says he’s here to teach them how to be reindeer, but also he wants to be their pal – how sweet? He announces that they’re going to practice flying and calls on Dasher’s little boy to start them off. The little fawn runs, jumps, and faceplants into the snow to much laughter. Comet is encouraging though and tells him it was good for a first try. As he moves on to another fawn, Fireball encourages Rudolph to go over and talk to the doe that has her eye on him.
Rudolph does as he’s instructed and we’re introduced to Clarice (Janis Orenstein). Rudolph is bashful, and we learn his nose apparently operates like a dog’s tail might as it glows from underneath his fake one making him appear to blush, which is a pretty clever idea and effect. Clarice picks up on his voice sounding unnatural, but Rudolph thinks she’s making fun of the way he talks. She clarifies she meant no harm. Meanwhile, Comet is trying to get Rudolph’s attention because it’s his turn to try flying. Rudolph is trying to work up some courage and before he runs back he asks Clarice if she would walk home with him after practice. She replies that she would, and then tells the reindeer she thinks he’s cute!
Well, that went over well with Rudolph! Cheering that she thinks he’s cute, Rudolph bounds up into the air and flies over to Comet. Comet is impressed, but Rudolph doesn’t care because a doe just called him cute. As he keeps shouting this fact, he jumps up into the air again and soars over the gathering amazing all in attendance, including Santa. Rudolph comes to land by Fireball and repeats the good news and he gets excited for his friend. They play scuffle, and in the process Rudolph’s false nose pops off. He’s pretty giddy right now, so that nose is on full blast underneath. Fireball is immediately freaked out and starts backing away telling Rudolph to get away from him. Santa admonishes Donner, like he did something wrong. Given how Santa reacted to Rudolph’s nose in the winter, I don’t think he’s disappointed in Donner’s attempt to hide the nose, but in his failure to adequately do so. Comet tries to calm everyone down, but upon seeing Rudolph’s nose declares that he should go home with his folks and that they won’t be inviting Rudolph to join any of their reindeer games going forward. I have a sudden urge to hunt these reindeer into extinction.
Rudolph dramatically runs off, upset at the way he’s been treated. And he should be upset, though at the same time who needs those clowns? Clarice comes running after him and Rudolph seems to think she’s coming to make fun of him too. Clarice tells him she’s not and prefers this red nose to the silly false one he had been wearing. Rudolph won’t hear it as he hates his nose for making him different, but Clarice thinks that’s what makes it special and she’s not wrong. She then breaks into song, “There’s Always Tomorrow,” which is the slow ballad number of the special that I’m guessing is the favorite of few. The sentiment is sweet and it’s appropriate for Clarice, though her dad (Cowan) apparently didn’t hear the message of the song for when it’s over he comes running over to retrieve his daughter declaring that “No daughter of mine is going to be seen with a red-nosed reindeer!”
Feeling defeated, Rudolph wanders over to the base of a tree and sits down by a snowbank. Up from out of the snowbank pops the head of Hermey. He asks if this snowbank belongs to Rudolph, but Rudolph is rather confused by the situation. Hermey introduces himself to Rudolph as a dentist, and he has no idea what a dentist is. Hermey then corrects himself as he wants to be a dentist, but isn’t one yet. For now, he’s just an elf, but he declares that he doesn’t need anybody else and he’s independent! Rudolph doesn’t really seem to know what the word means, and I’m not so sure Hermey does since he proposes that they be independent together. Rudolph is onboard though so long as Hermey doesn’t mind his nose, and Hermey is fine with the arrangement as long as Rudolph doesn’t mind him being a dentist. They shake on it, then break into song.
For the 1987 broadcast, the song is “Fame and Fortune.” It’s a weird number to hear these two sing about becoming rich and famous as that’s something neither character really expresses a desire for outside of this song which is partly why few seem to like it. The original 1964 broadcast featured the song “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” which thematically makes far more sense and builds on how the two characters had already been singing their own verse of the song earlier. That song was basically dropped just to change things up in 1965 and possibly to shorten the sequence. It wouldn’t be added back until the 1990s. Both can be found on the DVD release, though the current CBS broadcast does something different in that it uses the animation for “Fame and Fortune,” but dubs it with the more popular song sped up. It looks and sounds terrible that way and I’m guessing it’s only done to squeeze in more commercials. As for the song itself, it’s fine, I guess. It’s catchy, but the subject matter makes no sense to me so for that reason I’d rather “We’re a Couple of Misfits” instead, though the CBS solution is way worse.
When the song is over, Hermey and Rudolph are off wandering in the darkness with the snow falling hard. A voiceover from Sam informs us that the world is a dangerous place and soon the rumbles of the bumble can be heard! Hermey encourages Rudolph to douse the light of his nose as he thinks the bumble can see it, while we cut back to Sam cowering in fear under his umbrella. What a wimp! Dousing the light seems to work though as the bumble doesn’t attack, and instead a prospector upon a dogsled happens along to find the two misfits.
Hearing the dogsled, Rudolph and Hermey jump into a snowbank so just their butts are hanging out which is how Yukon Cornelius (Larry Mann) finds them. He’s rather puzzled by the sight of a deer ass pointing at him and an elf one beside it. I could make some rather crude jokes right now, but I’ll settle with just saying I’m sure the adult movie parody includes a similar scene. Yukon yanks the two out and introduces himself as the greatest prospector in the north. The land is rich with silver and gold, according to him, and he’s rather fond of tossing his pickaxe in the air which seems rather dangerous. When he retrieves it he always licks it and remarks, “Nothing.” This is because Yukon is in search of a peppermint mine, but you would only know that if you watched the original 1964 broadcast because the special ended with him stumbling upon one. That scene was cut in favor of another that we’ll get to when we get to it. I must say, I bet the animators absolutely hated that Yukon was written to be driving a dogsled because that thing must have been a pain to animate. And honestly, they didn’t do a very good job with it, but they had some pretty tight deadlines so I’m not surprised it looks the way it does.
After Yukon introduces himself in grandiose fashion, Sam feels inspired to sing us a song. “Silver and Gold” is it’s name and it’s a pleasant little number, but it feels like it’s placed too close to Clarice’s song which is also rather slow and melancholy. He looks like he’s playing a banjo while performing the song, which is interesting because I don’t hear any trace of a banjo in the actual song. When it’s done, Yukon indicates he’s off for more supplies, but before they can get to know each other the bumble strikes! He’s presented standing on the mountains, which looks pretty goofy because the mountains look like we’re supposed to assume they’re off in the distance and not just really tiny mountains.
Yukon ushers Rudolph and Hermey onto the sleigh. He also gets the dogs to do the same because there’s no way those animators were going to do a chase sequence between a hairy monster and some characters in a dogsled. Instead, Yukon just pulls it while the bumble gives chase. He stumbles, which is enough of an opening for Yukon to reach the water’s edge and hammer out a “do-it-yourself iceberg!” As they float away, Yukon is able to prove to the others that he knows the bumble’s one weakness: he sinks. He steps into the water, and drops like a rock. It’s deep enough to be over his head, but apparently not so deep that he can’t get out, which he does and is left scratching his head. The water effects for stop-motion are always of interest to me, and the transition of bumble to underwater is rather interesting to look at. It doesn’t look even remotely convincing, but it’s one of those things that just looks neat to me so it doesn’t bother me. I do think they could have done a more convincing job at making the bumble look wet when he emerges from the water though.
With the bumble a safe distance away, Rudolph and Hermey are able to ask where they’re off to now. Yukon doesn’t exactly know, but he tells them they’re with him now and they can all get rich off of silver. When Hermey says he thought Yukon was after gold, he simply replies with “I changed my mind.” I’m not sure I would trust this guy’s business acumen. They’re shown floating off into the night while Sam comes in to tell us the Donners are worried about Rudolph. First, Donner takes off to go find Rudolph. Sam tells us he feels bad about how he treated his son, and he should! After he leaves, Clarice shows up and she and Mrs. Donner go out in search of Rudolph as well. We learn all of this via Sam’s narration as the characters say nothing to each other.
Out on the floating iceberg, the fog has set in. Yukon remarks it’s as thick as peanut butter and Hermey tries to correct him by saying “I think you mean pea soup.” Yukon responds with “You eat what you like and I’ll eat…” though he doesn’t finish the clever little line because they strike land. And to emphasize that, Yukon shouts at the top of his lungs “Land ho!” even though they’re all very much aware of that. As they wander further inland, Rudolph wonders where they are as the three take note of a castle. It’s supposed to be off in the distance, but the perspective isn’t very convincing. Yukon then points out a curious sight: a flying lion!
Soon the three are confronted by an unusual sentry. It’s a Jack-In-the-Box, only come to find out, his name isn’t Jack. It’s Charlie. Charlie (Scopp) explains they’re on the Island of Misfit Toys, and pretty much starts to sob upon the admission of his name. Rudolph kind of stuck it to him unintentionally by assuming his name was Jack, but that’s why he’s a misfit. Soon, the other toys begin to come out of a bunch of presents they were hiding in and singing a rather haunting tune. It’s actually a bit unsettling, but then perks up. The song is “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” and it’s all about Christmas.
The song also has a secondary function: to introduce these freaks and weirdos. The song is played straight, until an elephant comes in to ask rhetorically “How would you like to be a spotted elephant?” like it’s some great disability. Other toys chime in with their problems, most of which seem rather superficial. A train with square wheels on its caboose and a boat that sinks seem like some pretty significant quality control errors. A bird that doesn’t fly, but swims? That’s just a penguin. A cowboy that rides an ostrich? Sounds fun to me! A water pistol that shoots jelly? Just don’t load the damn thing with jelly! Yeah, I’m being rather hard on the sequence, but it’s not like they had to come up with a lot of odd toys. They could have done better. Oh, and if you’re wondering, the “dolly for Sue” that no one can figure out what’s wrong with is apparently just suffering from depression. Yeah, the explanation reads like a retcon, but that’s because she was a late addition to the special and some of her lines were added over the years. It’s from Arthur Rankin himself though, so I guess it’s canon.
When the song is over, the boys apparently didn’t find it at all depressing because they want to live here too! Charlie informs them that if they wish to remain on the island, they need to get permission from King Moonracer who just so happens to be holding court in his castle at this very moment. If you couldn’t have guessed, King Moonracer (Francis) is the flying lion from before. I can’t imagine he has much to do on this island if he just lords over some toys which likely explains how Rudolph and the gang are granted an audience immediately. When they ask for permission to remain on the island on account of them being misfits as well, their request is denied. “How do you like that?” says Yukon, “Even among misfits you’re misfits.”
Moonracer explains that since they’re living things (apparently those toys are not considered alive) they can’t run away from their problems and hide out on an island intended for toys. Harsh, but fair. He does permit them to stay the night though and they even have some lodgings for living beings who happen to turn up on their island. Before court is adjourned though, Moonracer makes a request of them. Should they ever return to Christmas Town, he would like them to tell Santa about their island to see if he can find homes for all of the misfit toys. Rudolph agrees to do so, but I’m left wondering why Moonracer, who can fly, doesn’t just go do that himself? Does he really have better things he could be doing? Maybe he tried and Santa was freaked out by the presence of a lion and had his guards, assuming he has guards, attack the beast?
The three are shown to their quarters and are all getting settled-in for a good night’s sleep. The quarters look rather tight, but at least everyone can fit in the frame. Hermey says they’ll all leave tomorrow together, but Rudolph is rather insistent that he should go it alone from here on out on account of his nose. He seems to think it’s how the bumble finds them and views traveling with him as being too dangerous for the other two. Yukon will hear no talk of him going it alone and basically tells him to zip it. Rudolph stops and waits for the other two to fall asleep, which since this is television, is immediately upon turning off the light. He’s convinced he needs to go it alone, so he sneaks out. Somehow, he’s able to create another floating iceberg for himself, or maybe he found the one they came in on. As he floats away, he wishes his friends success in their various quests. And as we watch him sail away, the roar of the bumble can be heard. Chilling!
When we come back from a break, Sam starts telling us what Rudolph did off on his own. He says “time passed slowly,” but it sure looks like it’s moving pretty fast to me! The bumble kept him on the run, but he also made friends here and there. We get to see him play with some polar bear cubs, but then the mama bear kind of chases him off. He should be glad he didn’t get eaten. That’s the last we see of cute, adolescent, Rudolph. Our next shot is a long one centered on Rudolph’s ass. As Sam tells us he went through some changes, Rudolph picks his head up and we see he’s all grown up. And the mere act of growing up is apparently all it took to convince him that he couldn’t run away from his problems, so it’s time for Rudolph to head home.
Rudolph happens upon a group of reindeer. One of the three remarks “Hey! Look who’s back – old neon nose!” they laugh and Rudolph gets pissed. He runs back to his family’s cave, but finds it empty. Santa soon comes in to tell him that his parents are gone and Clarice too. They left months ago to go look for him. Is Santa happy to see Rudolph safe and sound? If he is, he doesn’t sound like it. Instead, he’s just worried about his damn sleigh and insists he can’t get it off the ground without Donner. Rudolph vows to find them and takes off, but that’s when it hits – that blizzard we were told about at the beginning. We’re shown the storm slam into the North Pole tearing shingles off of Santa’s castle, knocking ornaments off of trees, and sending elves rolling through the snow. Rudolph can only put his head down to push through it and he knows where he needs to look first: the cave of the abominable snow monster!
Rudolph enters the foreboding structure and finds his parents and Clarice. Clarice is in the bumble’s clutches while the other two just look on helplessly. I’m not sure what two deer could do to a beast like the bumble, but they can at least try! And how long have they been here? Rudolph is no coward though as he charges in demanding the bumble put her down! He does and then makes a play for Rudolph who deftly avoids the lunging beast. With him on his belly, Rudolph goes for the crotch, but apparently this bumble is either castrated or female as it doesn’t seem bothered. Rather it simply stands up, and ripping a stalagmite from the cave ceiling, smashes Rudolph over the head knocking the deer unconscious. He then unleashes a hearty, sinister, laugh.
We return to Sam, once again cowering in terror under his umbrella, who then informs us he’s the real hero of the story. Well, not his words exactly, but he takes credit for sending Yukon and Hermey after Rudolph. The two come upon the cave and spy the bumble inside with Rudolph and the others. Clarice is in tears and asking aloud “Why doesn’t he get it over with?” A good thought, but also a dark one, as she’s admitting they’ve basically given up. Rudolph is still unconscious, but he starts to come to. Meanwhile, Yukon has a plan, but since he whispers it to Hermey we don’t know exactly what it is, but it involves Yukon climbing above the cave while Hermey oinks like a pig.
The bumble heads out to investigate the oinking as Yukon insists a bumble would never choose deer over pork. When he reaches the cave’s exit, Yukon drops a giant rock on his head knocking him out. Yukon is then able to run into the cave to bask in some hero worship. The deer are happy to be saved, but then alarmed when the bumble emerges from behind Yukon. Hermey then enters to tell them not to worry. He’s got some dental equipment in his hands and it becomes clear he’s pulled out all of the bumble’s teeth. He encourages them to just walk on by, seemingly ignoring that the bumble is still a massive, clawed, beast. Would you have no fear of a toothless grizzly bear? I think not.
Yukon is not scared. Declaring the bumble nothing without his choppers, he goes right at him. I’m not really sure what he’s trying to accomplish, but the bumble basically just backtracks until it reaches a cliff’s edge. Yukon then appears to tackle him, along with all of his dogs, and the two fall over the side. The others run over yelling “Yukon!” and peer over the edge. Rudolph declares he’s gone, and he quite literally is, because we can see the cliff’s bottom and nothing is there. They probably should have tried painting it black or something, unless this was the desired effect?
We’re supposed to just think Yukon is dead and Sam conveys that sentiment with his narration. Rather than look for Yukon though, Sam blames the need to “get the women back to town” as reason for them just heading home to Santa’s place. Nah, they just didn’t want to look. There they apparently have a reconciliation with those that treated them as outcasts. I’m not sure why the sudden change of heart. Because they survived an encounter with the abominable? Because their friend is dead? We catch the end of a conversation between Rudolph and Santa with Santa vowing to find homes for all of the misfit toys. The head elf tells Hermey he can open a dentist practice after Christmas and is promptly granted the first appointment when Hermey looks in his mouth. Donner is then shown apologizing to Rudolph and I do hope the buck is sincere. He basically missed his son’s entire childhood! Granted, that appears to be a matter of months, but it’s all the same.
From outside, a commanding voice then hollers for the elves to open up on account of it not being a fit night out for man nor beast. When they pull the doors open in comes the man, and it’s Yukon! As for the beast, why, it’s the bumble! He’s leashed and Yukon declares that he’s a reformed bumble in need of a job. The bumble demonstrates his usefulness by placing the star on top of a nearby tree as Yukon exclaims “Looky what he can do!” Rudolph then asks how the pair survived their trip down the side of the cliff and Yukon takes the time to inform him that bumbles bounce! The elves all seem to find this funny. Meanwhile, the bumble has removed his leash so I guess there’s no fear of him going berserk at this point. Maybe the leash was just a fashion choice? Maybe he and Yukon have a thing going on? Yes, I’m shipping this pairing.
It’s the day before Christmas Eve though, so they can’t dilly dally. The elves get back to work and we hear a reprise of “We Are Santa’s Elves” as they do so, which is a song that was cut from this broadcast earlier. Santa is then shown back at the dinner table with his awful looking food. He’s still skinny, so he’s going to just gorge until he’s near bursting to fatten up for Christmas apparently. An elf then shows up to hand him a weather report and it’s not good. Regrettably, Santa has to make the announcement that Christmas is cancelled to shock and awe.
As Santa stands there explaining the situation, Rudolph is apparently excited about something because his nose is going bonkers. It’s distracting Santa, blinding him actually, and as he goes to tell Rudolph to cut it out he stops himself: “That nose! That beautiful, wonderful, nose! Rudolph, Christmas is not off and you’re going to lead my team!” Rudolph is pretty shocked, and then Santa makes it official by quoting the song, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” Rudolph, proving he’s not a petty reindeer, simply says, “It will be an honor, sir.” Donner then gets to insist he knew that nose would be useful some day. What a jerk!
As the elves load up the sleigh, we go into one of the better songs of the special: “Holly, Jolly, Christmas.” Sam sings it while the elves basically just party, their job apparently done. During the events of the song we see Rudolph and Clarice share their first kiss and an elf with sunglasses gets to hook Rudolph up to the sleigh. Here is where we dock this special some points because Rudolph is placed ahead of a team of six instead of eight reindeer. For shame! I’m sure this thing was a pain to animate, especially the take-off sequences to come, but would it have been that much harder with 9 instead of 7?
When the song ends we find Santa practicing his laughter and looking plenty plump. He calls for his coat while Mrs. Claus looks on approvingly. As he puts his gear on, we get an instrumental reprise of “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” which is a nice touch. As Santa takes his rightful place in the sleigh, he calls out to ask if Rudolph is ready. When the reindeer responds in the affirmative, Santa informs him their first stop is the Island of Misfit Toys. Up, up, up, and away!
On the Island of Misfit Toys, Charlie, spotted elephant, and dolly are seated by a campfire. They’re pretty glum because it’s Christmas and they’re still stuck on the island. Santa isn’t coming this year, just like all of the other years. Charlie retreats into his box to dream about next Christmas while dolly remarks, through tears, that she doesn’t have any dreams left to dream. Then, the faint sound of sleigh bells can be heard through the night. The elephant hears them first and wonders what it could be. Charlie pops out of his box excitedly, “It’s Santa! And look – Rudolph is leading the way!”
The sleigh lands bathed in the glowing, red, light of Rudolph’s nose. Santa matter-of-factly just says “Well, let’s be on our way!” The toys say nothing and just jump into his sack. Santa then calls out to Rudolph again and they take off. Since this scene was added a year later, I’m thinking Santa and Rudolph’s dialogue is the exact same track from their first take off. No matter, Sam pops in to tell us “Well folks, as for the rest of the story,” and then sings the ending of the song “He went down in history!” Sam then sings the full song while we watch Santa fly through the sky. As they soar, an elf outfits each of the misfit toys with an umbrella and they jump out of the sleigh. Santa may have got them off the island, but apparently that’s as far as his charity goes. They have to find their own way! When the song ends, Santa wishes us all a merry Christmas and flies off towards the full moon. A fitting final shot of The Christmas Spot 2022.
Well, we’re talking about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so it’s not like there’s a whole lot to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s a classic and if you’re reading this you probably watched it at least once this year, just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. It’s the special that really popularized the Rudolph character and started Rankin/Bass on the path to being a Christmas special juggernaut. This wasn’t the first adaptation of Rudolph outside of the song, but it was the first to basically adapt the song almost word for word and incorporate it into its plot. And as a story, it succeeds in making us root for Rudolph and gives him a buddy in Hermey who is equally sympathetic.
What the story doesn’t do so well is redeem the other characters. Santa, Donner, Comet, the other reindeer all act like bigots. They’re giant jerks and none of them really do anything to make me feel any different. We don’t even get an apology from Santa, just Donner and the end of one from the head elf towards Hermey. This Santa sucks! He dismisses a reindeer because of its nose. Is Budweiser even that strict with its famous Clydesdales? At least we have Yukon who seems like a good dude, it’s just too bad we lost his ending since it reveals there’s more to him than just silver and gold. Clarice is also a nice character, it’s just too bad she doesn’t get to do anything once her song is over aside from play damsel in distress. There’s very little resolution to this one. We get the happy ending, but we don’t know how Rudolph feels about it. I realize I’m asking a lot of an almost 60 year old special commissioned to sell more General Electric products, but these are questions worth asking.
What does work very well though are the visuals and music. Yes, the stop-motion on display here is rather primitive at times, but it gives this one it’s own distinct feel. The specials to follow would feature higher quality animation, but I’ve always preferred this one anyway. The weird purple-gray textures, the dogs that barely animate, the bumble and his tangle of fur – it just looks fun. One of the best decisions the movie Elf made was adopting the look of this special’s north pole. The music is also solid, though it does have some low points. No matter, “Holly, Jolly, Christmas” and the Burl Ives version of the title song really give this one a jolt at the end and are beloved classics in their own right.
Considering that it is now Christmas Day, your chance to catch Rudolph on TV may have passed you by. CBS airs it twice annually, basically right after Thanksgiving and then once more closer to Christmas. Freeform has the cable broadcast rights, or did in 2021, and it’s possible they’re showing it today and if I can confirm that I’ll try to slip it in via an edit because I’m not writing this on Christmas Day. I’m rather busy celebrating the holiday with family and hopefully you are too and this is just something you read during a quiet moment. When the dust has settled and the excitement of the day subsides. The kids are in their rooms playing with their new toys or feeling the effects of a sleepless night from before crashing upon them, I like to bask in the afterglow of the holiday with more TV or more reading by the light of the Christmas tree. It only happens once a year, so treasure it while it lasts, and most of all Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!
Can’t wait until next year for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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