The countdown of my favorite Christmas movies/specials continues with a story filmed in a style that would become synonymous with holiday specials. Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass (Rankin and Bass) brought a song to life and created one of the most beloved shows to ever hit the airwaves. An annual staple, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is usually the first Christmas special to air each year – typically on Dec. 1.
Filmed in what I affectionately call super marionation (think Stingray and Thunderbirds, or um, Team America: World Police), Rudolph is one of the most endearing holidays specials ever made because of the animation style, the music, the voice performances, and the characters.
Johnny Marks originally wrote the song and Gene Autry turned it into a No. 1 hit in 1949. Burl Ives lent his voice to the TV special as Sam the Snowman and he also sings Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Silver and Gold and A Holly Jolly Christmas.
When I watched it again this year, I noticed a few things that bothered me.
- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – 1964
We all know the story. Rudolph is born with a birth defect and rather than cherish his son, Donner decides to hide the affliction. Eventually Rudolph’s honker is discovered and the other reindeer proceed to discriminate against him. They bullied and excluded him because he was different. Even Santa Claus was guilty here. This resonates tonight because my background TV program is the final episode of Nick News with Linda Ellerbe (don’t judge me). I just watched a segment on children who are different or have special needs.
One doe, Clarice, accepts Rudolph for who he is but it’s not enough to keep Rudolph from striking out with Hermie, an elf who’d rather be a dentist. They end up on the Island of Misfit Toys. Eventually, they make their way back to Christmastown and Rudolph’s affliction turns out to be just what everyone needs as the storm of the century threatens to cause the cancellation of Christmas. Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh through the storm.
So, the lesson here is we have no use for you if you’re different – make yourself useful and we have a place for you?!? The older I get, the more of a humanist I become. Politically, the more to the center I drift. Don’t read into that – I am no humanitarian. But you know what? We are all the same. We should all be treated equally. And you know what? I think that’s the overarching message here, it’s just a little ham-handed.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. I watch it every year. It wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t. These elements just struck me as odd this year. The characters are endearing – Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, Hermie, Clarice, even the Abominable Snowman. The music is wonderful and many of the songs have become beloved Christmas classics that stand on their own apart from the show.
More Supermarionation to come Christmas party people. Stay tuned.