Rankin Bass’ Rudolph

I just watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, one of my favorite Christmas shows, for what’s probably the 40th annual time. I wanted to do something festive because I’ll be working Christmas day.

But being in a cynical mood, I’m noticing this year that this is actually a pretty cruel flick. It starts off with Rudolph’s father, Donner, criticizing him for something over which he has no control. And then Santa, who is the obvious leader and ought to know better, does the same thing. Then Donner tries to turn Rudolph into something he’s not by hiding his nose, and his wife goes along with it.

And then we meet Hermey, an elf who wants to be a dentist, while he’s being ridiculed by his boss, who not only belittles him for being different, but encourages all the other elves to join in. He even punishes him and threatens to fire him. It’s ironic, because Hermey is the only male elf that doesn’t have a nose like a light bulb. His boss tells him he’ll never fit in.

Then Rudolph’s team stands around calling him names, Santa berates his coach, Comet, even though Rudolph was the best flyer, and Comet, again the leading adult, encourages everyone not to let Rudolph join in any reindeer games. Clarice, Rudolph’s love interest, seems to be the only open minded one in the whole show. (Unless you count the rabbits, raccoons and birds who sing along with her). Clarice’s dad acts like a jerk, too.

No wonder they felt like misfits. We know that children’s contemporaries can be cruel, but even the adults are horrible. I would have run away, too. Thank goodness they found each other. The narrator said they didn’t know what they were in for, but if you ask me, home seems like it was infinitely worse than the cruel world outside, in spite of the Abominable Snowmonster and the crazy Yukon Cornelius.

And the Island of Misfit Toys is depressing as hell. There are all these perfectly delightful toys, and none of them want to be where they are. And I never could figure out what was supposed to be wrong with the doll.

In spite of all his horrible treatment, Rudolph does the noble thing. He sets off on his own so as not to endanger his friends. Heaven knows where he found that nobility. He certainly wasn’t shown any examples of it.

I always thought that the most distressing part was when Yukon fell over the cliff after Hermey removed Abominable’s teeth, because his dogs take the plunge with him. I mean, what did they do to deserve that? Animal cruelty at its worst.

Even after everyone apologizes to Rudolph, it seems that the only reason everyone is now accepted is that they have utility value. Hermey will be the North Pole’s Dentist, Abominable will be the tree decorator, and Rudolph is now Santa’s spotlight.

If I were to make a sequel to this story, I’d say that Rudolph and Hermey hit their teens and rebel like nobody’s business. They’re surrounded by basically rude and inhospitable “people” whom I don’t think can really tamp down their vicious streaks based on just one glowing Christmas run. This story may seem as if it had a happily ever after ending, but not to my jaundiced eye.

Ah, the messages we send to our children. Don’t even get me started on the Brothers Grimm. Bah humbug.

rudolph