Written by Romeo Muller, Robert May, and John Marks
Directed by Larry Roemer
Producer Arthur Rankin had the good fortune to live next to Johnny Marks, who had written the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and got the idea to make the song into a film. The result is a Christmas season classic that I’ve enjoyed throughout my life (it was first aired in 1964) and my children and grandchildren are enjoying it as well.
Rankin, along with his partner Jules Bass would go on to create a series of classic animated Christmas films, but Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the first. It was filmed using models and sets and stop-motion animation. The figures have a much different look to them than a drawn film, computer-generated animation, or even claymation. The look is unique to Rankin-Bass and has become a style immediately recognizable to those of us who grew up watching their various incarnations each Christmas season.
Narrated by Sam the Snowman (voiced by Burl Ives) the nearly one-hour tale tells the story of a reindeer cast out by those around him due to his differences.
It all begins with Donner the proud father of a new reindeer, whom he names Rudolph. Santa comes by to see the newest resident of Christmastown at the North Pole. Both Santa and Rudolph’s parents take note of his very shiny nose, so shiny it almost glows.
Donner takes Rudolph under his wing and tries to teach him everything Rudolph will need to know about being one of Santa’s reindeer. He also teaches him to steer clear of the Abominable Snowman, who hates everything about Christmas. Donner also has Rudolph hide his shiny nose. Rudolph becomes smitten with a girl reindeer by the name of Clarice right about the time the truth about his nose is exposed to all. Clarice doesn’t seem to mind, despite the fact that Rudolph is cast out by all, including Santa.
While all this is going on, one of Santa’s elves named Hermey is a bit discontented. He’d rather be a dentist than a toymaker. He’s soon fast friends with Rudolph. The two take off and soon run into a prospector by the name of Yukon Cornelius who gives them a lift behind his dog-sled. All of them are on the run from the Abominable Snowman who seems attracted to Rudolph’s nose.
Donner, Mrs. Donner, and Clarice all set out to bring Rudolph home. Meanwhile, Rudolph and his two pals have happened upon the Island of Misfit Toys. King Moonracer asks Rudolph and Hermey to talk to Santa about finding homes for the misfit toys, should they ever return to Christmastown. Rudolph decides to go off without Cornelius and Hermey, afraid that his nose will endanger them.
As he grows, he decides to return home and face his troubles. He arrives and finds Santa distraught. It’s just two days until Christmas and without Donner, there’s no way Santa can get his sleigh off the ground. Rudolph prepares to go out after them, but a terrible storm strikes as he’s about to leave. He makes his way through the storm to the cave of the Abominable Snowman and finds them there. Cornelius and Hermey come to their rescue and Cornelius ends up plunging over a cliff with the Snowman.
They return to Christmastown to find the storm still raging and Santa apologetic to Rudolph. He’s also uncertain of how he’s going to make his deliveries with the weather so terrible. The rest, as they say, is history…
The effects are nice. The nose most definitely glows – it appears to be a red light inside the figure. Each of the figures has been crafted to scale and small sets built. A technician was assigned to each figure to make him move throughout the story. The result is very smooth animation and detail in the figures. Shadows don’t have to be added by computer to look authentic – they are on the set naturally due to the lighting of the figure! It’s an amazing process that takes a heck of a lot of patience. Sadly, it’s an art form that might get lost in this day and age of using computers for everything.
The songs are terrific – there are original songs such as I Am Old Kris Kringle and We Are Santa’s Elves combined with holiday favorites such as Holly Jolly Christmas and Silver and Gold. Marks did a terrific job creating bouncy songs that were fun to sing as well as listen to as well as captured the happy spirit we (hopefully) all feel during the holidays.
One thing that caught me off-guard when I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with a critical eye was how Santa treated Rudolph at first. It’s hard to believe the kindly Santa we think about each holiday season casting Rudolph aside simply because he’s different. Some children may pick up on this and get a mixed message on the subject, even though Rudolph saves the day in the end.
Still, this is a holiday classic to me and to many others. It’s on in my house as Christmas approaches each December. Although it might not have the religious imagery of what the holiday is about, it’s a good message that what makes us different is a good thing. We are different for a reason, it’s just that some people take longer to figure out why their differences are important. After all, Rudolph didn’t know how truly wonderful his nose was until it was needed to guide the sleigh and deliver Santa’s presents.
• Introduction by Arthur Rankin
• Rudolph Trivia Game
• Fame and Fortune song
• Original TV Promo
• Spanish Language Version