Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Absolutely the Top Christmas Special
|"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."|
Few hour-long television specials have had such an enduring impact as Rankin/Bass Productions' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), directed by Larry Roemer. Telecast every year since its premiere, it is the longest-running Christmas TV special.
|Arthur Rankin Jr., producer of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."|
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was based on the holiday song, which in turn was based on a poem written by composer Johnny Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May. Johnny Marks himself did the music for this television special in the 1960s, including the famous "Holly Jolly Christmas." Romeo Muller simply adapted the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as a screenplay. Burl Ives, famous as both a singer and actor, plays Sam the Snowman, who narrates and sings classic tunes "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Silver and Gold." Sam the Snowman originally wasn't supposed to sing either "Holly Jolly Christmas" or "Silver and Gold," but producers changed their minds when Ives signed on to the project. It was a smart decision.
|Young Rudolph showing that his nose glows when he gets excited.|
The television adaptation of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" closely follows the song. Donner (Paul Kligman) and his wife (Peg Dixon) have a fawn named Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards). The playful little reindeer displays an unusual glowing red nose.
|Burl Ives with his character Sam the Snowman.|
Santa Claus (Stan Francis) stops by their cave to pay his respects, but warns them that the nose will cause problems if Rudolph wants to pull his sleigh. Donner, ashamed, conceals the nose with dirt.
|The misfit toys chatting with Rudolph.|
When Rudolph is old enough, Donner again conceals his son's nose and takes him to the Reindeer Games, where Rudolph can learn how to pull Santa's sleigh. There, Rudolph meets Fireball, who becomes his friend.
They run into cute young Clarice (Janis Orenstein), who Rudolph decides to chat up at Fireball's urging. The two hit it off immediately. "I think you're cute." "She said I'm cute!"
|GE was so happy with "Rudolph," it wound up buying the entire network. Okay, maybe the two events were unrelated.|
Unfortunately, while jumping around in joy when she proves receptive, the cover pops off his nose, revealing his shameful secret. All the other reindeer except Clarice immediately abandon him, and he is prohibited by Coach Comet (Kligman) from learning how to pull Santa's sleigh. Furthermore, Clarice's father (Kligman again) forbids her from seeing Rudolph.
|Rudolph is crafted in innocent, boyish fashion.|
Devastated, Rudolph runs away with an elf, Hermey (Paul Soles), who also is ostracized by his peers. They run into a colorful prospector named Yukon Cornelius (Larry Mann), and the three wind up on the Island of Misfit Toys. There, King Moonracer (Francis) helps unwanted toys find new homes, and he makes Rudolph promise to have Santa distribute his toys on Christmas.
|Yukon Cornelius waving his pike.|
After much wandering, Rudolph finally decides to go home. He learns to his horror that the Abominable Snowman kidnapped his parents and plans to eat them. Rudolph tries to save them but gets knocked unconscious in the attempt.
Fortunately, Hermey and Cornelius intervene and, after some problems, chase the Abominable Snowman over a cliff, Cornelius falling with him.
|The Abominable Snowman.|
Eliminating the Abominable Snowman turns the whole group into heroes. It also is almost time to distribute presents to the children of the world, but a terrible blizzard will prevent it unless someone special steps forward to help out....
|The Abominable Snowman showing his toothy grin.|
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is memorable for any number of reasons, but the stop-motion animation is what makes it truly distinctive. Even after all these years, and despite some self-conscious "showing off" of the then-revolutionary technique, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" retains a contemporary look that almost all other animated productions of the time lack.
|Animator Kyoko Kita with the Animagic reindeer Rudolph.|
As one example of the cultural impact of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Norelco crafted a famous homage showing Santa riding one of its electric razors like the Santa in this film that ran for many years during the 1970s. "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" by West Anderson is a recent homage to this special, using similar stop-motion animation and featuring several songs by Ives. The costumes in "Elf" are almost identical to those in "Rudolph." Everybody, my friend, respects the wonder that is "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
|The Abominable Snowman putting the star on the Christmas Tree.|
Academy-Award winner Burl Ives sings his signature "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas" not once, but twice. He does so in a simple, unadorned way that is practically a capella. It works wonderfully.
|The single from Decca Records.|
After the success of the television showing of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Burl Ives re-recorded "Holly Jolly Christmas" the following year with a much fuller backing sound and slightly slower tempo. That is the version that has become the holiday standard heard on the radio every year. Part of the magic of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is that it is a true multi-media success, creating an enduring image on the screen and an everlasting sound on the radio.
Everything about "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was an out-of-the-ballpark hit - as a television special, as songs sung by Burl Ives, as a Christmas perennial, as a giant leap forward in animation, as a soundtrack album that reached No. 142 on the Billboard 200 albums sales chart. All of that success has settled "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" firmly into the Zeitgest of our lives, and it would be difficult to find anyone familiar with American culture who doesn't know the story of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
The show is dated in some of its attitudes despite repeated tweaking, and one can quibble that several of the characters act poorly. Santa engages in some grumbling about the elves singing, and Donner is a bit quick to claim he knew all along that Rudolph would be a hero. The special references its times, not just in the prologue about a recent snowstorm, but when, for instance, Santa says "everything's grounded" - as in airplanes, presumably. However, that also is how people act in real life, and Santa and the others come to understand their own errors in judgment about Rudolph. "Maybe misfits have a place, too," Sam the Snowman wistfully observes.
|A Japanese animator working on the Animagic sled.|
It really is the people around Rudolph who grow, not Rudolph himself, which makes this a fascinating inverted coming-of-age tale. The theme of personal redemption is uplifting, and Rudolph going from outcast to hero is an exhilarating transformation and example for everyone.
|Rudolph in mid-flight.|
"Rudolph" is told simply, with clearly delineated good and evil characters who are easy for children to understand. There is little subtlety, it is just a simple tale, told in blunt fashion. The character of the Abominable Snowman appears to have given some inspiration to the creation of later animated characters in films such as "Shrek" and "Monsters, Inc."
|Santa and his sleigh riding above the clouds.|
The popularity of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" speaks for itself. The original 1930s book helped inspire the classic Disney film "Dumbo," which has the same uplifting themes and is also worth a look for anyone who likes "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Any fan of the genre should see "Rudolph" at least once to appreciate its giant step forward for animation.
Full copies of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" come and go on the Internet. Below is a version on Youtube. Hopefully, it still works, if not, our apologies.
Below, Burl Ives sings "Holly Jolly Christmas" in the single version recorded the year after the Christmas special. Ives owns "Holly Jolly Christmas" to this day, and it inhabits the upper reaches of the Billboard Holiday 100 songs charts every season.
In addition, below is a copy of the remake, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie," starring the voices of Eric Idle, Bob Newhart and Debbie Reynolds.