Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the first Rankin/Bass animated television special to grace airwaves across the world, and it’s definitely one of the greatest works of the since-retired studio. A feature-length adaptation of Johnny Marks’ 1949 Christmas song of the same name, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer still remains a cherished part of annual Yuletide traditions for countless families, and it’s easy to see why. From its relevant messages and colourful characters to its memorable tunes, this classic TV special is an eternally charming hour of pure Christmas magic.
Warmly narrated by Burt Ives as Sam the Snowman, the plot of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer is pretty straightforward. The titular Rudolph (Richards) is the son of Santa’s lead reindeer Donner (Kligman), and is born with a shiny red nose. However, when the other reindeer see Rudolph’s nose, they laugh and make fun of him, so the humiliated reindeer decides to run away from home. During his travels, he meets an elf named Hermey (Soles); a similar misfit who’d rather be a dentist than a toy-maker. As they cross the arctic wilderness, the pair also meet a prospector named Yukon (Mann), and encounter an abominable snow monster on top of happening upon the Island of Misfit Toys. But Rudolph soon realises that he cannot keep running away from his problems…
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer is chock full of lovably quirky characters. The designs of such characters as Yukon and Hermey are endearing, and the vocal performances are spot-on right down the line. There are also lots of quirks and pieces of tender humour throughout the picture. For instance, a running subplot has Mrs. Claus struggling to fatten Santa up before his big night. Added to this, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer remains as relevant as ever. Sure, several decades have passed since its 1964 debut, but the movie reinforces a timeless message about misfits and nonconformists. To this day, young children still struggle with the same feelings of inadequacy that Rudolph and Hermey face. The misfit/nonconformist metaphor is extremely malleable, too – you can interpret it however you want (children with disabilities, obese people, homosexuals, etc).
With its tremendous allure and an infectious sense of adventure, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer is still special even by today’s filmmaking standards. The animation is admittedly dated and a bit jerky, but the visuals are nevertheless vibrant and endearing, with creative character designs and sets magnificently bringing life to the flights of stop-motion fancy which were conjured up by writer Romeo Muller. The pacing is immaculate, with the story rarely lagging as it throttles towards the climax without crumbling under the weight of its various subplots. Also excellent is the festive-soaked music; a mix of Johnny Marks’ score and various wonderful Christmas songs (also written by Marks). Sure, the movie is exceedingly simple, but directors Kizo Nagashima and Larry Roemer handled the tale with enough sincerity to make it work.
While some moments uncomfortably emphasise that the picture is predominantly aimed at kids (an ostensible character death during the climax feels awkward) and while it does feel a tad dated, this 60-minute television special is brimming with charm.Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer deserves to continue enjoying its reputation as a tried-and-true staple of the Christmas season that parents share with their offspring on an annual basis.