Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 25

           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. The end is in sight. What could be left I the stocking for day twenty-five?

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

           So, we have finally hit what is surely the most famous Rankin-Bass Christmas special. I've seen it more times than I can count, you've seen it more times than you can count, pretty much everybody has seen this special more times than they can count. This isn't too surprising. First, Rankin-Bass knew that it was their most popular special and reference its existence in a lot of their other specials (including the two we've looked at so far) giving it further Christmas cred. Second, it has ran on network television and only network television, in prime time, every single year since its original broadcast. That is a Christmas tradition fifty-three seasons strong. Further, if you have anyone like my father in your family, then you know that this special has been made available on home media for years now. And that is only looking at the special itself. Toys, games, puzzles, stuffed animals and more have all been released as licensed tie-ins to this special. With that amount of exposure it takes more effort not to know this special than it does to surrender to its charms. So, lets take a look and see if we can figure out why.


           Our host for this special is a talking snowman named Sam. He admits that the snow storms due for Christmas this coming year looks fierce but counters that it is nothing compared to the one a couple of years back. From here, he launches in to the tale of Rudolph. It begins just after his birth. Rudolph is the son of Donner, Santa's lead reindeer. Rudolph is healthy and smart but has a glowing red nose. Both Donner and Santa seem to think that this will disqualify Rudolph from ever joining the sleigh team. Donner makes a cover to hide Rudolph's nose so that he can participate in the reindeer games in a year's time. At the reindeer games, Rudolph catches the eye of Clarice and is the most impressive young buck when it comes to flight. Then his cover falls off. Everyone except Clarice immediately turns on him and he is banned from the reindeer games. Rudolph decides to flee Christmas Town.
           At this same time, an elf named Hermey is also leaving Christmas Town. He doesn't have a knack for the typical elf tasks and wants to be a dentist. Rudolph and Hermey run in to each other as they are leaving and set out as misfits together. They attract the unwanted attention of the Abominable Snow Monster or Bumble for short but are able to survive the first night anyway. The next day they meet up with Yukon Cornelius, a prospector searching for his fortune. Yukon is concerned for Hermey and Rudolph's well being and is going to bring them along as he is headed back to resupply when they are set upon by the Bumble. Rudolph is sure it is his nose that is continuing to guide the Bumble to them. With Yukon's quick thinking and knowledge of the Bumble's one weakness, the trio escape on an ice floe.

Yukon Cornelius is the coolest character in this special.  Why he didn't get his own spin off I'll never know.

           After being adrift for a while, the floe eventually brings the trio to the island of misfit toys, a land featuring such dubious toys as a Charlie-in-the-Box, a spotted elephant, a train with square caboose wheels and others. The ruler of the island, King Moonracer, allows the three to spend one night on the island as they are misfits but tells them that they cannot stay as they are not toys. Rudolph fears that his nose will continue to endanger his friends and leaves on his own in the middle of the night. After wandering in the wilderness and growing up a bit more, Rudolph realizes that he can't run from things forever and heads back to Christmas Town.
           Upon reaching Christmas Town, Rudolph finds neither his family nor Clarice are there. Santa informs him that they went off in search of Rudolph. Fearing for their safety, Rudolph leaves again to go find them. Rudolph finds them in the clutches of the Bumble. He is able to stave off their immediate consumption by the Abominable Snow Monster, but things are still looking grim. Luckily, Yukon Cornelius and Hermey arrived in Christmas Town not long after Rudolph and Sam the Snowman sent them off in Rudolph's direction. Some falling rocks courtesy of Yukon and some quick tooth extractions courtesy of Hermey subdue the Bumble, but Yukon and the Bumble both fall off a cliff and are lost. The others are safe and they head back to Christmas Town.
           After their return, Hermey and Rudolph are finally both accepted for who they are. They relate the plight of the misfit toys to Santa who agrees to find them a home. Yukon Cornelius survived the fall because of the bounciness of Bumbles and arrives with the now passive Bumble in tow. The Bumble finds his place as he can decorate trees without the use of a ladder. Just as everything is looking up Santa comes to the conclusion that the storm raging outside is too dangerous and that they will have to cancel the deliveries. Rudolph is, of course, called upon to use his nose to save Christmas, Yukon finds a peppermint mine, and the misfit toys get delivered by Santa. 

One elf in this picture is definitely cooler than the others.
Final Thoughts

           As should have been made clear in the introduction, this special has been a part of my holidays my whole life. Because of this, I am pretty sure I will always like this special. No holiday season will seem truly complete without at least one viewing. That being said, there is at least one thing that bugs me about this special more and more the older I get. Everyone is incredibly mean to Rudolph. Obviously this is necessitated by the story and I am not upset about it generally. Donner's insistence that his son must conform seems especially harsh, though even that rings true based on what some of my LGBT friends have told me. However, Santa being a jerk to Rudolph is where I have trouble with the special. He isn't just turning a blind eye to the bullying of the other reindeer, though that would be bad enough. Instead, Santa is an active part of singling out Rudolph and othering him. This just seems wrong and contrary to every other portrayal of Kris Kringle.

Santa isn't just a jerk to Rudolph; he is a jerk to him in song.

           That gripe aside, the special is still a lot of fun. The animation is lively and enchanting to this day. The songs are well placed and work in service to the story. The characters created for the special hold their own against the ones from the poem and song it is based on. Yukon Cornelius, Hermey, and the Bumble are cherished Christmas characters in their own right at this point. This special has been a part of so many of my Christmases at this point it is like a family member; I can't stay mad at it, even if it does say or do embarrassing things. A true holiday classic. I recommend it but I am pretty confident that most of you have already watched it this season. Only 5 left. See you here again tomorrow.

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