Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer
is a long-running Christmas television special
produced in stop motion animation
. It first aired December 6
on the NBC
television network in the USA
and was sponsored by General Electric
. It is based on the song by Johnny Marks
, and in turn taken from the 1939 poem
of the same title written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May
. Since 1972, the special has aired over CBS
, who unveiled a high-definition, digitally remastered version in 2005. As with A Charlie Brown Christmas
and How the Grinch Stole Christmas
no longer airs just once annually, but several times during the Christmas season. It has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special, and one of only four 1960's Christmas specials still being telecast (the others being A Charlie Brown Christmas
, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
, and Frosty the Snowman
In the story of Rudolph
(voiced by Billie Mae Richards
, later credited as Billy Richards) numerous new characters are introduced for the first time as it was told by Romeo Muller
. From the original song lyrics, the show features Santa Claus
and the eight reindeer
mentioned in the song. Of them, Donner is identified as Rudolph's father, and Comet is presented as the coach of the reindeer team. Mrs. Claus
(who speaks with a vaguely Italian
accent) is also incorporated into the story.
The model for the reindeer in this program appears not to be actual reindeer (which are better known in North America as caribou), but instead the white-tailed deer, a species of deer common in North America. This is indicated by the longer, more pointed snout and the narrower antlers possessed by the adult males in the program.
The show also introduces:
- Sam The Snowman - The narrator, voiced by and styled to resemble folk Singer Burl Ives, who also contributes several tunes throughout the show. Among the special's most famous numbers is "A Holly Jolly Christmas", which has since become a Christmas standard in its own right.
- Hermey the Misfit Elf (voiced by Paul Soles) - who prefers studying dentistry to making toys. Hermey became the best-known of all the characters introduced by Rankin/Bass. Quitting Santa's workshop, he and Rudolph run away together seeking "Fame And Fortune." One of many memorable songs from the show, "Fame and Fortune" was added to the special beginning with its 1965 airing as a slightly shorter replacement for the reprise of a number called "We're A Couple Of Misfits", sung by Hermey and Rudolph soon after their initial meeting. The special's 1998 restoration saw "Misfits" returned to film context while the 2004 DVD release showcases "Fame And Fortune" as a separate number. Note: This may not be the case in every market. In New York, WCBS-TV only started airing the "Fame and Fortune" song in the late 1980s. It was then restored in 1998 back to "We're a Couple of Misfits".
- Clarice the Reindeer (voiced and sung by Janet Orenstein) The only reindeer at the beginning of the movie who accepts Rudolph's red nose and helps him to fly at the reindeer games by telling him he is cute. As they are walking home together after Rudolph had been teased because of his nose, she cheers him up by singing "There's Always Tomorrow."
- Yukon Cornelius (voiced by Larry D. Mann) - a prospector who leads audience to believe that he's searching for either gold or silver, but is actually seeking peppermint as revealed at the end of the original version of the special. His greedy behavior inspires the song "Silver And Gold", sung by Ives and previously well-known in its own right. Yukon is a blustery but benign character and ends up helping not only Rudolph and Hermey, but an abominable snowman, or "bumble" as well. Yukon Cornelius can be seen throughout the special tossing his pick ax into the air and tasting the end that contacts the snow or ice. The removal of the scene near the end of the special (for subsequent telecasts) in which Yukon Cornelius discovers a "peppermint mine" by that method near Santa's workshop left audiences assuming that he was attempting to find either silver or gold by taste alone. The scene was returned to the film in 1998 as well.
- So-called Tall Elf is a minor character who appears in the "We Are Santa's Elves" and "Holly Jolly Christmas" scenes. Tall, thin and bespectacled, this character was an integral part of the stop-motion commercial and subsequent print ads produced for General Electric for the inaugural broadcast. In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, it is revealed that his name is Hank.
- Head Elf (voiced by Alfie Scopp) is the portly and ill-tempered goateed foreman and songleader of Santa's workshop. He is outraged at Hermey's persistent disruption of the assembly line with his dentistry studies. He also conducts the elves in their song for Santa, "We Are Santa's Elves". However, for all their rehearsals, and because of them, Santa finds the song annoying. In one of the show's bloopers, Head Elf is voiced by a different (and unidentified) voice actor in the musical scene as he begins conducting the group.
- The Bumble (a.k.a. the Abominable Snow Monster of the North) - a yeti who pursues Hermey and Rudolph throughout their adventure since the sight of Rudolph's glowing red nose drives him into a rage. Sam also explains that the Bumble hates everything to do with Christmas as well. When he threatens Rudolph and his family at his cave, Yukon and Hermey come to the rescue by knocking the monster unconscious and extracting all his teeth. He is later seen putting the star on top of the Christmas tree.
Several new members of Santa Claus's herd of reindeer include Fireball, a young buck with a distinctive shock of blond hair who befriends shy Rudolph at the 'Reindeer Games'. The Reindeer Games are the annual contest where Santa Claus evaluates the flight skills of his youngest reindeer. It is Fireball who encourages Rudolph to meet Clarice. Clarice informs Rudolph that she finds him cute. Inspired by Clarice's affection, Rudolph impresses all the reindeer assembled with his flying ability. A playful scuffle with Fireball ensues and the clay/mud cap Rudolph has been wearing to hide his glowing nose comes loose. Fireball is the first to witness Rudolph's true appearance and is terrified by the sight.
Though Fireball does not appear on screen to be among the reindeer who mock Rudolph at the Reindeer Games, his voice is clearly heard doing so. He can be heard calling him "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and then some other bucks laugh.
The Island of Misfit Toys
The "Island of Misfit Toys", another canonical addition to the original story, is an island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent. Among its inhabitants:
- King Moonracer - a winged lion who acts as the island's ruler. King Moonracer is responsible for flying around the world each night in search of unwanted toys.
- Charlie-In-The-Box is a misnamed, but otherwise seemingly normal jack-in-the-box who acts as the island's sentry. Charlie is voiced by Carl Banas, who also voices several other toys in this scene.
- Spotted Elephant is a polka dotted elephant and the island's valet.
- Misfit Dolly is an unnamed, but seemingly normal girl rag doll. Her presence on the island is never explained on the special. According to NPR's Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! news quiz show broadcast December 8, 2007, Arthur Rankin, in an interview, revealed that the Misfit Dolly's problem was psychological, caused when she was abandoned by her mistress and suffered depression from being unloved.
- Bird Fish is a toy bird who swims instead of flies. This leads to a plot hole in the final credit sequence, when he is tossed out of Santa's sleigh without benefit of the parachutes/umbrellas being handed to the other toys.
- A misfit cowboy who rides an ostrich.
- Trainer, a train with square wheels on its caboose.
- A toy boat that sinks rather than floats; a squirt gun that shoots grape jelly; an airplane that can't fly, a bear that rides a bike, and a scooter.
It is during this scene that the Marks standard, "The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year" is performed by the inhabitants. Toy versions of nearly every character from this show were produced in the 1990s.
Viewers were so taken by these forlorn characters, many complained that Santa is not seen fulfilling his promise to include them in his annual delivery. In reaction, a new scene for subsequent rebroadcasts was produced with Santa, with Rudolph in the lead, making his first stop at the island to pick up the toys.
The songs and incidental music were written by Johnny Marks. In addition to the songs previously mentioned, the score also includes the film's love theme "There's Always Tomorrow", sung by the reindeer Clarice after Rudolph is kicked out of the reindeer games (the song is included in the version aired on CBS and in the DVD version, but is removed from the version aired on CBC Television
in Canada). Marks' holiday standard "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
" appears as instrumental background music when Rudolph first arrives at the Reindeer Games and meets Fireball. As previously discussed, the song "Fame And Fortune" replaced the "Misfits" reprise for later television broadcasts from 1965 until 1998.
In 2006, puppets of Rudolph and Santa used in the filming of this famous television special were appraised on PBS Television's Antiques Roadshow. The puppets had been damaged through years of rough handling by children and storage in an attic. In 2007, both the Rudolph and Santa puppets were restored to original condition by Screen Novelties, a Los Angeles based collective of film directors specializing in stop motion animation. Puppet fabricator Robin Walsh led the project.
The opening of the film starts with a black and white newspaper montage of the New Year's Eve 1963 snowstorm. However viewers proclaim this scene to be rough cuts from It's a Wonderful Life.
Sequels and other filmed versions of Rudolph
The 1964 Rankin/Bass classic was not the first animated version of the Rudolph story. Max Fleischer
created an 8-minute animated short in 1948 for Jam Handy
that has since fallen into public domain
, currently being available on budget-priced DVDs
The Rankin/Bass special (which currently airs on CBS) inspired numerous television sequels made by the same studio. The best-known Rudolph sequel is Rudolph's Shiny New Year from 1976 which first aired on ABC and is still aired annually on ABC Family.
The feature-length Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July paired Rudolph with another famous creation inspired by a song - Frosty the Snowman, and was released in the summer of 1979, which Arthur Rankin, Jr. would later acknowledge was a bad idea.
A direct-to-video sequel, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, was a CGI-animated release by Goodtimes Entertainment in 2001. An earlier animated feature-length film by Goodtimes, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie was released to theaters in 1998, using traditional cel animation and does not feature any of Romeo Muller's characters.
Parodies of, and homages to Rudolph
The television special's familiarity to American audiences through its annual rebroadcasts coupled with its primitive stop-motion animation that is easy to recreate with modern technology has lent itself to numerous parodies over the years:
Films by Corky Quakenbush
Animator Corky Quakenbush has produced parodies of Rudolph for several American television shows:
- In its December 16, 1995 episode the Fox Network's comedy series MADtv aired "Raging Rudolph", which parodied Martin Scorsese's films. In it, Sam narrates in a Joe Pesci-like voice how Rudolph and Hermey got violent Mafia-style revenge on their tormentors. This was followed by two sequels: "The Reinfather, spoofing The Godfather trilogy; and " A Pack of Gifts Now, spoofing Apocalypse Now. The original skit was also rebroadcast in MadTV's 300th episode.
- A 2001 episode of That '70s Show ("An Eric Forman Christmas") featured a subplot where Kelso was taunted by his friends for still watching "kiddie shows" like Rudolph even though he was in high school. Later in a dream sequence produced and directed by Quakenbush, Kelso himself appears in stop-motion form in the cartoon, where Rudolph and Santa encourage him to continue watching the show, telling him that he can never be too old to enjoy it.
- In December 2005, the George Lopez Show featured an animated segment in which Lopez sees a stop motion version of himself on television in a Rudolph-style special mirroring the theme of the holiday episode.
Other parodies of Rudolph
- A Christmas episode of Eek! The Cat has a scene with Wendy Elizabeth and J.B. watching the Christmas special "Rudolph, the Red Knows Rambo."
- In the 1993 stop-motion animated film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, a very brief, yet noticeable homage is paid to the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story. Part way through the film, the movie's main female character, Sally, pours fog juice into the town's well on Christmas Eve to cover the entire area in a thick fog, in an attempt to stop the main male character, Jack Skellington, from "unintentionally" stealing Santa's role as Christmas's icon, and fly away in his sleigh. When the fog was too thick to see through, and all hope to deliver Jack's version of Christmas seemed ruined, Jack Skellington realizes that his pet ghost dog, Zero, has a magnificently glowing pumpkin nose, which is bright enough to break through the fog. Jack lets Zero go to the head of his skeleton reindeer team, and light the way for him, thus saving Jack's Christmas, and foiling Sally's efforts to prevent Jack's delivery of toys.
- In the 2001 animated film Monsters, Inc., there is an Abominable Snowman character (voiced by John Ratzenberger) that bears a significant (and intentional) resemblance to the Bumble.
- On Saturday Night Live in 2001, Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse had Sam the Snowman refusing to narrate the story because of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He then took two children to Ground Zero at New York City, but Santa Claus convinced him to narrate the story because people need comforting stories like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Sam decided to narrate the tale, but was immediately interrupted by a special news report. Three years later, TV Funhouse would again parody Rudolph, this time referencing the Red state-blue state divide. In the segment, Santa hangs out with liberal celebrities Natalie Merchant, Margaret Cho, Al Franken, and Moby while skipping over the Red states ("screw the red states, voting for that dumbass president just because of that moral values crap. I don't want any part of them!"). Rudolph's red nose turns blue.
- In the Fairly Oddparents episode "Channel Chasers", the Rudolph special is one of the shows entered. Adult Timmy resembles Yukon Cornelius and Timmy resembles Hermey. Comet also appears. However, Rudolph's name is never mentioned.
- In the Lizzie McGuire episode "Xtreme Xmas", one of the ghosts who visits Lizzie in her dream represents Hermey the Misfit Elf, played by Adam Lamberg.
- In the Kim Possible episode "A Very Possible Christmas", Snowman Hank, the host of Ron's favorite Christmas special looks incredibly similar to Sam the Snowman.
- In 2004 for the show's 40th anniversary, CBS produced stop motion promos for their programming line-up, done in the style of Rankin/Bass animation. Appearing as elves in the CBS promos were puppet versions of CBS stars Jeff Probst from Survivor, Ray Romano and Doris Roberts from Everybody Loves Raymond, William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger from CSI, Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men, Phil Simms and Greg Gumbel from The NFL on CBS, and late-night talk show host David Letterman. A new stop-motion animation featuring Rudolph and Santa meeting even more CBS network stars was also aired in 2005.
- South Park may have meant to parody the misfit toy sanctuary in episode 104, "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" with its portrayal of a sanctuary for gay animals. In any event, it's positive they did with the Island of Misfit Mascots Commune in "Sexual Harassment Panda", and in addition, the king lion in "Here Comes the Neighborhood", though named after The Chronicles of Narnia's Aslan, sounds very similar to King Moonracer. In "Merry Christmas Charlie Manson!" Cartman's family is seen watching Terrance and Phillip where the duo run up and fart on Rudolph which in turn makes his Nose light up.
- The North Pole in the 2003 movie Elf strongly resembles the one in Rudolph, including a snowman character named Leon that parallels Sam the Snowman. The film's opening credits are nearly identical to that of the Rudolph TV special, as well. Additionally, when Will Ferrell's character Buddy sets out to find his father, he leaves by stepping onto a hunk of ice bordering the sea, which detaches and drifts away; this same means of transportation is used by Rudolph and others at various points in the special. Buddy and the rest of the elves are attired in outfits that are similar to that of the specials Head Elf.
- The main character of Tigers' Quest, Tiggra, comments that his brother -- named Donner by the author in an intentional nod to his favorite Christmas story -- once suggested that he should have been born with a "glowing red nose" instead of his abnormal white coat. Additionally, Tiggra's mate, Clairese, was named as an homage to Rudolph's girlfriend of the same name (but different spelling).
- In an episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Cookie attempts to force some younger students into making toys, and goes as far as dressing them in costumes much like the elves in the Christmas Special. One even exclaims he would rather be a dentist.
- The American Dragon: Jake Long hokey holiday special "Hairy Christmas" features Fu Dog dressed in the same outfit as Sam the Snowman. His waddle through the snow is done on a sled.
- In the Evil Con Carne episode "Christmas Con Carne" a reindeer named Rupert the Green-Nosed Reindeer saves Christmas from Hector's plan to put mind control devices in children's toys. For saving Christmas, Rupert is asked to pull Santa's sleigh. Rupert is a parody of Rudolph.
- In the Invader Zim episode "The Most Horrible X-mas Ever", the story of The Most Horrible X-mas Ever is told 2 million years in the future by a Robotic snowman named Mr. Sludgy (Voiced by Fred Tatasciore) who seems to be a parody on Sam The Snowman.
Uses in advertising
- In 2004, office supplies retailer OfficeMax released a new commercial featuring the popular "Rubberband Man" character (played by Eddie Steeples) that they had introduced for the back to school shopping season earlier that year. The new holiday ad featured a stop motion puppet likeness of the Rubberband Man handing out Christmas presents to animated characters resembling those from the special.
- In November 2007, the Aflac insurance company aired a commercial that utilized the now Classic Media-owned Rankin/Bass characters. Rudolph has a cold and doesn't want to miss work and all his friends start to say that he won't be able to pay for his needs (food, electricity, and dental bills). Santa Claus comes through the cave they are in and tells them about Aflac. The Jack-in-the Box wonders what will happen if he isn't better by Christmas, and Rudolph thinks the Aflac duck can do the work. Rudolph gets better in a week, but Blitzen is sick, so the Aflac duck fills in for him.
- Alltel commercials by Bent Image Lab.