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August 29, 2015

Festivus Retro Squad: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

by Julia Ward, posted Dec 5th 2006 10:05AM
Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerOne of the longest running Christmas specials in television history, Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuted in 1964 on NBC. Around 1972, it switched over to CBS, where you can see it again this year on December 8th. Let's just get this part out of the way - it's not Claymation. The special was made using figurines in a stop motion animation process labeled "Animagic" by the show's producers.

A whole world of nostalgia was brought back for me a few years ago when the Island of Misfit Toys were introduced as plush dolls at CVS. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Rudolph special because it glorifies the plight of the misfit. Rudolph is the beta-kid Christmas special. Hermey, the dentist elf, and Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, are heroes to anyone who has ever been picked on for being a little different. Rudolph is for us - the geeks, the queers, the fat kids, the short bus riders, the loners and the AV crew.

Rudolph even has a gym class scene, where he's laughed off the playing field for his glowing proboscis. What kid can't identify with doing poorly in gym? Rudolph is kiddie wish-fulfillment writ large. "I'll show them. They'll all be begging for my help someday." Hermey and Rudolph didn't have punk rock, role-playing games, the internet or other subcultural diversions to turn to in Christmas Town. They were just plain banished. Rudolph is essentially disowned by his family. Hermey is fired. It's no surprise that the two should find each other and set off on a course for adventure.

The thing that makes the special so charming is the eccentric cast of characters they meet along the way - Yukon Cornelius, an entire island of misfit compadres and, of course, the Bumble. The jokes are goofy, and most of the songs are catchy. I could do without Clarice's "There's Always Tomorrow" or Sam the Snowman's "Silver and Gold," but what are you gonna do? Not everyone was hep to the jazz vibe that made Charlie Brown's Christmas Special the end all, be all in holiday soundtrack fare.

What was interesting about rewatching the special for this Retro Squad review was seeing it for the first time through the eyes of an adult. I hadn't watched the special from beginning to end since I was a kid. Everything that I loved in my childhood about the show was still in place -- the corny jokes, the "misfits" song, identifying with Rudolph's plight, etc. As an adult, however, new questions about the special were raised for me, and a slew of long-held suspicions were confirmed. Here, then, is my all-growed-up examination of a holiday classic:

Is Hermey ostracized because he is gay?

What's up Santa's butt?
Santa is an a-hole. He grouses at his wife, hates the elves' merriment and tells Donner that he should "be ashamed of himself" for spawning a red-nosed freak. You want to see the evidence pile up. Check out the video that accompanies Bob Sassone's "Santa is a Jerk" post here.

What's wrong with the misfit doll?
The train has square wheels on its caboose. The squirt gun shoots grape jelly. The cowboy rides an ostrich. The Jack-in-the-box is named Charlie. There doesn't, however, appear to be anything wrong with the "misfit" rag doll. Arthur Rankin, one half of the Rankin/Bass team, has said that Dolly's problem "is more psychological than physical." What? She's bi-polar? Social anxiety disorder? Dolly needs to keep her addiction under wraps. She's clearly the cutest kid at the orphanage. She could have been off that Island ages ago.

Which kids are going to get the misfit toys?
King Moonracer, the ruler of the Island of Misfit Toys, flies around, picks up all these "differently-abled" toys and brings them back to the Island to live out their lives in what appears to be indentured servitude to him. Now that Santa has rescued these toys and plans on depositing them in children's homes, won't they just wind up back on the Island when little Billy and Sue realize that they've got to fill Dolly's Xanax prescription every week?

Why does Yukon Cornelius keep tasting his pick axe?
Despite Yukon's eccentric behavior, he is not inserting his pick axe in the white stuff and then licking it because he thinks he's stumbled into a world made entirely of blow. He's looking for a peppermint mine. Apparently, Yukon's "silver and gold" is actually peppermint, which was revealed in a scene cut from certain televised versions of the special.

Why is reindeer society so insular?
Reindeers are notorious bigots. Just look at Donner's response to seeing his newborn son. He hangs his head in shame and covers his offending schnoz with dirt. Comet, the reindeer game coach, is just as offensive. Bucking for a place in the Michael Richards Hall of Shame, Comet tells Rudolph - despite his stellar performance - to beat it once his red-nosed affliction is revealed. If Santa hadn't found a way to exploit Rudolph's glowing ember, do you think he'd still be in Christmas Town?

Is Hermey and Rudolph's meet-up believable?
This is the real Deus ex Machina of the piece. Rudolph sits on Hermey's head because Hermey had apparently buried himself in a snowbank for no discernible reason. Elficide? Or, perhaps, he was trying to cryogenically freeze himself in the hopes of returning to a time when Christmas Town had swung back to being a Blue State? Who can say? It's just a good thing these two met up. Otherwise, we misfits would have nothing to look forward to come Christmas.

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I can remember as a kid being crushed if I missed "Rudolph" or "Year w/o a Santa" because back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, if you missed the special you had to wait a WHOLE YEAR until it showed again.

Now with ABC Family and Hallmark and your local DVD vendor you can watch these shows all year long. Takes a little of the Christmas magic out of it, IMO.

December 06 2006 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i personally hate specials like this. im more into classic christmas comedy, aka a christmas story or lampoon.
( see )

December 05 2006 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you for solving a nagging question I have had for over 30 years! I always wondered why Yukon tasted his pick ax.

December 05 2006 at 4:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Don't forget Donner telling his wife to stay home, because looking for Rudolph was man's work.

I thought the trivia said something about Burl Ives (the narrator/snowman) forcing them to stick in the Silver and Gold references so that he could do his song. The song predates the movie. I could be wrong.

The real deus ex machina is how Rudolph is gone long enough to come back all grown up, and even those his folks left looking for him months ago, he manages to find them right at the moment when Bumble is going to eat them.

Demented though it is, this special might be the most quotable for adults, too.

"Eat, Papa, eat! Nobody likes a skinny Santa!"

"Bumbles bounce!"


and so on.

December 05 2006 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have the dolls, too - they're up on the mantel right now. I've watched this every year since it came out on video, along with "Santa Clause Is Coming To Town" and "The Year Without a Santa Clause." Is it sad that I own the soundtracks to these, and I don't have any children?

December 05 2006 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love this holiday special, and every year tried to figure out the mystery of Dolly's problem. Now I get it after your post. Most dolls smile and are happy, and Dolly is frowning and is sad that's what makes her a misfit.

After catching the Dec 8th airing, I'm going to be defintely buying the dvd of Rudolph, because well I don't have cable so I miss a lot of the old classic cartoons and animagic marathons because of it( our ABC channel is not local so unless you have satellite or cable you'll miss Charlie Brown every year). It's nice to put on a little christmas cartoon special marathon on the weekends leading up to christmas. :)

December 05 2006 at 10:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I totally have those dolls from CVS.

December 05 2006 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always thought it was Moonraker, not Moonracer.

December 05 2006 at 10:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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