Rankin-Bass’ Rudolph Really Was Not For Kids

Courtesy: Rankin-Bass/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Rankin-Bass’ stop motion classic Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was not for children.  That is the conclusion of this critic after much thought recently.

Much like Looney Tunes and The Flintstones, it has become increasingly clear that Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was in fact created initially for adults.  That is because at its heart, it is really a rumination on how quickly and easily we as society toss aside those who are different from what we consider to be “normal.”

Here is just some of the evidence for that argument:  We already know that Rudolph was shunned by his fellow reindeer when his “secret” was revealed by chance.  Only one of the reindeer — Clarice, a young female — showed any concern for Rudolph.  Rudolph’s own father and Santa were even ashamed by his nose.  His own father even went so far as to try to hide it, which led to the coincidental revelation.  As a result of that occurrence, Rudolph ended up embarking on a journey that led to not only a coming-of-age tale, but even more evidence of the special’s noted bigger, overarching allegorical story.
During the course of his personal journey, Rudolph encounters the “misfit toys,” who themselves were toys created by Santa’s elves.  Those toys were “imperfect,” as each had some “defect” or “impurity.”  The cowboy rode an ostrich instead of a horse.  The water pistol shot grape jelly instead of water.  The boat couldn’t float and the train had square wheels.  The jack-in-the-box was tossed aside just because its name wasn’t Jack.  It was Charlie.  Keep in mind that the toys were created by elves, who themselves are “employed” by Santa, the authoritarian ruler to create “perfection” for “good” little boys and girls. This is a rumination by Rankin-Bass on the focus that we put on kids having the best new, shiny toys.  Why do imperfections make it impossible for toys to be appreciated and loved?  Again, this plays directly into the bigger observation of the message that Rankin-Bass was really trying to deliver through this allegory.

That discussion of which boys and girls are “good” leads to its own deeper discussion for another time about whether we should really continue to press that narrative to children.  Does telling children that they’ll only get toys if they’re “good” really benefit them?  What if families can’t afford the best new toys”?  What if a family loses its home to fire or some other circumstance?  We have got to eliminate that narrative that tis toys to behavior.

Getting back on the topic at hand, one must backtrack slightly to examine even more proof of how Rankin-Bass used Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer to deliver its commentary.  When Rudolph went off on his journey of self-discovery, he was joined by the shunned elf Hermie.

The sub-story about Hermie the Elf is in reality an allegory about capitalism and the importance of individualism, and the impact of authoritarian rule. Hermie’s fellow elves and the head elf all made fun of him for wanting to do and think for himself. It was all about making toys for them, but he wasn’t satisfied with that. He had other plans, and was shouted down and laughed at for thinking for celebrating his individualism.

Now, add in that during his early interaction with Rudolph, Hermie builds a snow effigy of the head elf and proceeds to punch it. Yeah, let’s let kids watch that. The very act of building an effigy and essentially destroying it is really an example of the working man standing up to those authoritarian forces that hold them down. Yet again, here we have grown-up themes that are not proper for kids.

When Rudolph and Hermie finally return to the North Pole and Santa’s “kingdom,” the only “celebration” that takes place is a musical number.  Santa and the elves show minimal remorse for having shunned the duo early on.  Yes, they do admit that they were wrong, but their acceptance is in reality, an example of how people do not want to take responsibility for their actions.  That in itself adds even more to the bigger story of how people act.

Add in that when Rudolph’s nose shines, Santa once again seems bothered by it until he “miraculously” realizes that Rudolph’s nose can actually save Christmas because it can help lead the sleigh so that little boys and girls can get their toys.  Santa did not act appreciative.  He acted on an opportunity, again, therein being the authoritarian rule.

The real happy ending comes as the misfit toys are “saved” from the island at which they had previously been exiled.  These are the same toys that were dumped there because the elves made them imperfect to begin with.  Why would elves, — who are supposed to create perfect toys for “good” boys and girls — create “imperfect” toys?  They got new homes, reminding audiences again that all toys (or maybe, people) have a place and deserve love.

As the credits roll, the bird that couldn’t fly is just tossed from Santa’s sleigh without an umbrella.  Watching the reaction of the elf who pulled the bird from Santa’s sack, one can’t help but think in considering what was noted here, maybe that subtle moment in itself was a commentary.  Maybe this was Rankin and Bass commenting on how sometimes we think what we are doing is helping, but in fact it is just being thoughtless and anything but helpful.

Noting again, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer is not the only time that Rankin-Bass used a children’s classic to address serious, adult topics.  Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town intentionally used that movie as a commentary about authoritarianism.  That was pointed out in bonus content that came with some of the Rankin-Bass box sets featuring its holiday specials.  To a lesser extent, Jack Frost, another Rankin-Bass special also took on the topic.  Keeping all of this in mind, it becomes even clearer that Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer clearly was not intended for children, but for adults.

Ella Enchanted A Funny Fairy Tale Spoof

Courtesy:  Lionsgate/Miramax

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Miramax

Actress Anne Hathaway recently took center stage in what could be argued to be one of the biggest roles of her career as Fantine in the latest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  Ironically enough former American Idol star Adam Lambert has just come out, slamming Hathaway her Les Miserables co-stars, claiming that they can’t sing.  The young Mr. Lambert obviously showed his ignorance as Hathaway shined throughout her performance here.  And her performance in Les Miserables isn’t the first time that she has shown her vocal talents.  She also showed her ability in the 1994 Lionsgate/Miramax Films presentation of Ella Enchanted.

 Nearly two decades have passed since Ella Enchanted first debuted.  When it first debuted, it was met with mixed reviews.  But hindsight is twenty-twenty.  Anyone who saw the recent Julia Roberts/Lily Collins Snow White spoof, Mirror Mirror can attest to this.  The similarities between the two movies are rather obvious.  Considering that, looking back on Ella Enchanted, it’s actually quite the enjoyable fairy-tale spoof.  What audiences get in this movie is a story that pokes fun at the classic, Cinderella.  While it may be a fairy tale at its most basic level, Ella Enchanted isn’t one of those fairy tales that’s aimed at a specific audience.  Being that it’s a spoof of a fairy tale, it’s actually enjoyable enough that both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  Most interesting of all is that what makes Ella Enchanted so enjoyable isn’t so much Hathaway’s acting here, but rather her supporting cast.  Audiences of all ages will love the comedic timing of the ogres and the elves throughout the story.  At one point late in the story, the ogres are helping Ella to save Prince Charmont.  They take down one of the guards and start to “season him” just as Ella stops them.  They look at her, and one of them asks in one of the story’s funniest lines, “Can’t we get him to go?”  In other darker movies, this would have been an unsettling moment.  But in the context of this story, it’s just one of many laugh out loud moments presented for audiences.  The elves make for their own laughs with their antics, too.  The musical number put on by the elves when Slannen brings Ella back to his village will have any audience laughing.  And that Slannen is entirely unlike the other elves is even funnier.  In a bizarre way, his mentality is reminiscent of Herbie the elf from the classic Rankin Bass holiday special, Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer

The ogres and the elves make for their own share of laughs throughout the length of Ella Enchanted.  They aren’t the only supporting cast that makes the movie enjoyable.  Fellow co-star and veteran actor Cary Elwes makes for even more laughs as the vile Prince Regent Edgar.  It’s fitting that Elwes was cast for the role considering his previous roles in The Princess Bride (1987), Hot Shots (1991), and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).  All three movies were themselves spoofs, just like this one.  So being at least his fourth time in such a movie, putting on his comedic best was already old hat to him.  But despite that, he still put forth his best foot and added so much enjoyment to the movie.  He even makes it clear in the movie’s bonus behind the scenes feature, “The Magical World of Ella Enchanted” how much he enjoyed working on the movie. Of course the movie’s main bonus feature offers more than just Elwes’ own view on being cast in the role of Edgar.  It also goes into a discussion on the seriousness with which director Tommy O’Haver took helming the movie both from the vantage point of the acting and the production.  It also serves to provide a tidbit of information that further disproves the uneducated and illogical view spewed recently by former American Idol finalist Adam Lambert regarding the talent of Hathaway and her cast mates in Les Miserables.  Viewers will get that and more in checking out “The Magical World of Ella Enchanted.”

In watching the main bonus feature associated with Ella Enchanted, viewers will gain more appreciation for the movie in seeing how seriously director Tommy O’Haver took helming the project.  Through both his own words and those of others who worked on the movie, it’s obvious that he wanted to get the most laughs possible without being too over the top silly.  He did just that, too.  His guidance on every aspect of the movie helped to make it one of the spoof genre’s funnier movies from the 90s.  Along with proving his devotion to the movie and the resultant effect, “The Magical World of Ella Enchanted” also reveals that when Anne Hathaway takes on Queen’s ‘Somebody to Love’ in a musical number during the movie, it actually is her singing.  In a business in which so many actors do little more than lip synch to a track, she proved here (and later in the movie) that she really can sing.  This comes across as something minor when examined by itself.  But when examined in tandem with her performance in the recently released big screen adaptation of Les Miserables, audiences will appreciate even more her talent as both an actress and as a singer.  It proves that the comments recently made by former American Idol finalist Adam Lambert about her and her cast mates in this major motion picture are entirely baseless and thoughtless.  She is definitely a talented singer and an equally talented actress.  Both Les Miserables and Ella Enchanted prove that, using hindsight.  And now thanks to Lionsgate, both a whole new generation of audiences will understand that as will the generation who grew up with this underappreciated fairy tale spoof flick. That’s because it has been re-issued on a two disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Lionsgate and Miramax.  It’s available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Lionsgate online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=27239&TitleParentId=7229

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The Dean Martin Christmas Show A Standout Classic Holiday Special

Courtesy:  Time Life/NBC Universal

Courtesy: Time Life/NBC Universal

Time Life and NBC Universal have unearthed a nice piece of holiday television history with the release of The Dean Martin Christmas Show.  This holiday special is a relic of a bygone era.  It’s another prime example of everything that was once right with television.  Much like with the recently released Carol Burnett Show sets, this unearthing shows that there is still love and interest for classic television.  As great as all of the annual holiday specials are, this once forgotten special reminds audiences that there is still much more out there that is just as enjoyable as the aforementioned specials.

The Dean Martin Christmas Show runs at less than an hour long.  The majority of the material in this special is musical numbers.  Although there are some skits tossed in for good measure, too.  OF the few skits included in this show, the best of them is the cop skit with acting legend Dom DeLuise.  DeLuise plays a street cop who tries to give Santa a ticket for parking his sled in a no parking zone.  While audiences never see Santa, the ability of DeLuise to interpret what would have been Santa standing there before him shows his talent.  And his reaction after Santa gives him a present, despite the attempt to give him a ticket, brings the whole skit together.  It makes for lots of laughs even years after its original airing.

Dom DeLuise isn’t the only star who gets his chance for laughs in this special.  Fellow veteran actor Bob Newhart also gets his time to shine.  Newhart stars alongside Martin as a customer trying to return a toupee.  Martin plays the part of a clerk in the complaint department in the store where Newhart’s character is returning the toupee.  The chemistry between the pair is obvious as Martin can’t even hold back his laughs throughout the course of the skit.  Yet by contrast, Newhart somehow manages to maintain his character’s deadpan persona, which is probably why Martin was unable to contain his laughs.  It’s just one more moment that viewers yearning for that nostalgia will enjoy and appreciate with every watch.

The skits included in this roughly forty-eight minute holiday special make for their own share of enjoyment.  The musical numbers add even more nostalgia and enjoyment, too.  Martin and company share their own renditions of a number of Christmas carols.  Home viewers won’t be able to resist signing along a little bit, too.  When it’s all said and done, audiences of all ages will realize that what they’ve experienced is something very special.  Add in the original quality of the broadcast and that feeling gets even stronger.  Audiences can experience that feeling for themselves now as The Dean Martin Christmas Show is available now on DVD courtesy of Time Life and NBC Universal.  It can be ordered online direct via Time Life’s store at http://timelife.com/products/the-dean-martin-christmas-show.

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Lionsgate Releasing Classic Rankin Bass Halloween Special Sept. 4th

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Rankin Bass

Rankin Bass is one of the best known names among holiday movies.  Most audiences associate the company with the likes of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, Jack Frost, and so many other holiday classics.  Well how many people know that Rankin Bass also made a  Halloween special, too?  That’s right.  The special in question was 1967’s Mad Monster Party.  The special boasted the voice talents of veteran horror actor Boris karloff and the now late comedianne, Phyllis Diller, along with Allen Swift, Gale Garnett, and Ethel Ennis.  Now, fans of Rankin Bass’ works will have the opportunity to own this classic.

Mad Monster Party will be available in stores and online Tuesday, September 4th courtesy of Lionsgate.  Mad Monster Party sees the mad genius Baron Victor Von Frankenstein (voiced by karloff) deciding to announce his retirement from the Worldwide Organization of Monsters.  He has to figure out how to tell the other members of the organization.  So he decides what better way to make his announcement than to throw a party.  Among the guests are all of the classic monsters:  The Wolfman, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and a whole lot more.  It will be available both on DVD and Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack.

Bonus features include two kids’ sing-a-longs, a featurette on the magic of stop motion animation, and featurettes on the special’s music and how it was brought to life.  The blu-ray/DVD combo pack is currently listed at $14.99 MSRP.

To keep up with the latest entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.