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.

It’s never too soon for Classic Media’s Christmas Classics

One of the biggest arguments that people have every year is how soon is too soon to put up Christmas decorations.  It obviously presses some people’s buttons when others put up decorations at one time or another.  In all of that discussion, we seem to lose the other associated question:  How soon is too soon to start pulling out the holiday movies?  Well folks, if you’re like me, no time is too soon.  Personally, once Halloween is over, I’ll start pulling out the holiday movies at our house.  My wife gets on me sometimes about it.  But I want to get into the holiday spirit, and hopefully have an influence on her, too.  One way that I’m getting into the spirit is with the most recent re-release of The Original Christmas Classics.  Until now, I haven’t owned this set.  This second re-issue (and third overall release) from Classic Media has all the same classic Rankin Bass movies (plus one non RB feature in Frosty Returns) that were included in the previous box set released back in 2007.  There is one tiny change to this set, though.

One change between Classic Media’s 2007 box set and this one is that unlike the 2007 release, this box set doesn’t include the extra audio cd that was included in the previous set.  For those who don’t want to have to keep up with the companion cd, this most recent set is a perfect fit; especially for those who don’t already own the previous releases.  Holiday music cd’s all have roughly the same songs, regardless.  They’re just done in different arrangements.  So parents who want to be able to sing along with their kids can sing along while the feature plays.  And those who want to sing in the car, etc. have plenty of other options.  The last thing that parents need is one more cd to keep up with.  So the lack of bonus cd this time around isn’t that much of a loss.  It’s actually kind of a bonus in itself.

The lack of extra audio cd isn’t the only change to this most recent re-issue.  Also unlike the previous collection, this one has been trimmed down, ableit to a point.  Rather than forcing audiences to fumble with a box that was bulky to begin with, Classic Media has distributed this set in a double disc set.  The discs are each in their own case.  Some people might argue that doing that doesn’t really size it down very much.  But in comparison to the previous release, this one is smaller.  the next step is to size the cases down even more to slimline cases, as with the Die Hard mega-collection, or the recent Indiana Jones collection.

The changes aside, this collection has plenty to offer audiences.  The Little Drummer Boy is a beautiful piece for church groups.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town is just one of many stories of how Santa came to be.  But that’s beside the point.  Aside from that, and the stop motion animation, it stands out in that it teaches the message that a single act of kindness can have a huge impact on anyone.  Rudolph is still timeless, even though some points are really sad.  But they’re just part of the whole coming-of-age story.  And of course, who doesn’t love Frosty’s first line in his movie?  On three…1…2…3…HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!.  Yes, it’s just as timeless as the rest of the features on the set.  Whether it’s for Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, or the lesser known features, The Original Christmas Classics is a must for any family that has yet to add it to its holiday collection.