Welcome to the Animation 12 Days of Christmas! A series of posts leading up to Christmas to put our readers in the festive mood. This will include some opinion pieces and reviews of animated christmas specials, live-action christmas movies, and even a holiday gift guide with gift suggestions from our very talented writers. To read more of the articles, click here.
The North Pole. Majestic. Mysterious. Magical.
That’s how Santa Claus’s humble abode is usually depicted in Christmas films: As an inviting, fantastical place where childhood and imagination fuel the dreams of kids all over the globe in preparation for that one wonderful night each year, Christmas Eve. But in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the 1964 stop-motion television special from Rankin-Bass, the North Pole is just about the exact opposite. The landscape is barren, the characters are crotchety, and the mood is decidedly condescending.
Granted, our narrator, Sam the Snowman, does his best. He’s cheery and good-spirited, all smiles throughout the duration of the film. But is he seriously oblivious to the weirdo way everyone treats one another in the only castle on the left?
Take Santa, for example. After the elves perform their oh-so-special Christmasy song for him that they’ve been working on for months, the first (and only) thing Santa says before curtly hobbling away is “Hmm. It needs work.” Like, what? Do we need to put you on the Naughty List, good sir?
Then look at Hermey’s boss. Upon Hermey revealing his true dream to go into dentistry, his superior booms, “WHAT?!” and later recommends, “You learn to go hee hee and ho ho and important stuff like that. A DENTIST! GOOD GRIEF!” Ok, first off. Sir, I think you have your priorities a bit mixed up. And secondly… well, get that first item fixed and then we’ll talk about your other issues.
When Santa comes to visit Rudolph for the first time just after the little tyke is born, does he see past Rudolph’s obvious differences from everyone else and embrace the uniqueness at hand and the opportunity it holds? Of course not, that would be too rational. Instead he rattles off a command for Rudolph’s parents to conceal the thing immediately. Poor Rudolph. Actually, poor Rudolph’s parents. Thanks for the therapy bills we’ll sure to have later, Santa!
Things escalate quickly when Rudolph’s disguised nose reveals itself in front of all his friends and his coach. Rather than hushing the children and potentially giving them an important life lesson in action, the coach joins in and encourages all the kiddies to “not let Rudolph play in ANY reindeer games!” Who the heck approved this guy as the best person to supervise children in an activity-based environment? Rec Management 101, buddy!
Of course, every film needs something to propel its protagonist forward toward a desirable goal. Most just don’t do it in a way that’s so morally degrading and unashamedly narcissistic. But despite all that, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is my favorite Christmas special. Yeah, I know. I just got finished analyzing it with the outlook of a cotton-headed ninnymuggins. But those examples above are part of why this film is such an adored part of Christmas today. Its jabs at its main characters would never be scripted into a modern production, or at least not so harshly. But the contrast of all that ridicule with Rudolph’s victory in the end makes his accomplishment all the more satisfying.
Without practically everyone in the North Pole being complete jerks for no reason, the segue into the later parts of the film (which, in essence, embody the happiness and merriment that Christmastime brings) would have minimal payoff. And that means Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer could quite possibly not have been made at any other time having the same effect that it does on its audience.
Sure, its dialogue is deluded at times, but the simplicity and wonderment of its characters, animation, and music make Rudolph the treasured classic that it is, and by the time Sam starts busting into “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” we never quite want to fun to end.