There was Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixen, Comet, and Cupid, and Donner, and Blizten, and thanks to the 1964 TV special, we all recall the other reindeer. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” debuted on NBC in 1964, and has blossomed into a seasonal tradition. The quirky legend of Rudolph peppers the narrative with oddball characters, catchy sing-alongs, and an endearing story, forming a magical tale.
Donner (Paul Kligman), one of Santa’s (Stan Francis) prized reindeer, and Mrs. Donner (Corinne Conley) have a son, Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards). Their small reindeer brightens their lives in more ways than one. He’s born with a glowing red nose, much to the embarrassment of his parents. Donner insists on concealing Rudolph’s nose.
Like most secrets, particularly those hidden right under the nose, Rudolph’s vibrant nasal abnormality doesn’t stay under wraps for long. At the reindeer games, his faux-nose falls off, and soon everybody knows about Rudolph’s nose. He’s banned from the reindeer games, and romantic interest Clarice’s (Janis Orenstein) father bans her from seeing Rudolph. Embarrassed, Rudolph slinks away to avoid bringing further shame to his family. On his journey, he meets Hermey (Paul Soles), an elf with a preference for dentistry over toy making. The pair of misfits agree to be independent together. On their trek, Hermey and Rudolph happen upon the energetic Yukon Cornelius (Larry D. Mann), a nomadic prospector. Clarice and Mrs. Donner venture in search of Rudolph, battling the Abominable Snow Monster and a storm which threatens to cancel Christmas.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the “Ugly Duckling” of Christmas films. Rudolph is initially shunned by the vast majority of the reindeer community, only to return and save Christmas. Rudolph and Hermey are outcasts, a theme bolstered by the memorable tune “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” as well as the Island of Misfit Toys. Unwanted playthings have a home on the Island of Misfit Toys, and the absurd inhabitants include a Charlie-In-The-Box (Alfie Scoop), a polka dotted elephant, and a water gun that shoots jelly. It’s a feel good story, debasing the notion that conformity is essential.
While the plot presents a redemption story, the soundtrack, characters, and clever touches elevate the film to classic status. One ironically comedic scene involves Hermey and Rudolph making a pact to be independent together. This illogically logical agreement is absolutely delightful. Burl Ives offers a pleasant voiceover as Sam the Snowman. Many of the songs from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” have become beloved tunes. There’s the titular track, “Silver and Gold” by Burl Ives, “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” and the Ives rendition of “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” It’s one of the few movies where the soundtrack is equally as celebrated as the film.
It’s difficult to believe that this is the 50th anniversary of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Despite technological animation advancements, the movie feels as though it’s barely aged. As gorgeous graphics as CGI can produce, there’s a rustic charm inherent in the intricate puppets and diorama. The theme of acceptance remains relevant today, and the musical backdrop serves as a Christmas greatest hits album. Watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a holiday tradition, and much-anticipated custom at that. Like a fine mulled wine, it gets better with age, and can only continue to flourish.