Monday, December 19, 2011

What I'd Forgotten About 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'

Elliot's old enough now to start watching some of the classic Christmas specials, providing me with the opportunity to revisit them. The other night we saw "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the stop-motion-animation special that first aired in 1964. During my youth, it was required viewing every Christmas.

Elliot loved it. But the kid also will watch a locomotive decoupling for 15 minutes, so that's not saying much.

I was surprised by how much I'd forgotten about the special, which I hadn't seen in at least 20 years. And it was interesting to watch it in near-perfect definition. Despite the fact that we were viewing a free clip on YouTube, the video quality was vastly better than anything I'd experienced in the 1970s or '80s — when we were hampered by static, ghosting and a dim CRT picture.

Here's what most surprised me in viewing it again:

1. Rudolph is born and learns to talk the same day. I realize reindeer have fast maturation periods, but this seems unlikely.

2. Santa is a complete dick. When he initially discovers Rudolph's condition, he reacts with open disgust. Then Santa tells Rudolph he won't have a chance to make the reindeer team if the problem doesn't clear up. Later, when the elves try desperately to please the old man with a song ("We Are Santa Elves"), Santa tells them it needs work and marches out, slamming the door. I'm surprised he didn't throttle the imperial elf commander with a telekinesis chokehold.

3. What's with the odd subplot where Santa is skinny and then Mrs. Claus has to fatten him up every year so he can satisfy the children's expectations? (Maybe this is why he's so pissed.) Who is he, Bobby De Niro? This can't be healthy.

4. Hermey the elf opens a dental practice with no medical training whatsoever.

5. They remove the Abominable Snow Monster's teeth to avoid being eaten. Then they give him a job at the North Pole putting ornaments on trees. Great, but what about the years of agony as he subsides on a liquid diet?

6. The dialogue on the Island of Misfit Toys is pretty bleak. Doll for Sue: "I haven't got any dreams left to dream. We'll never get off this island. Never." I'm pretty sure that line was lifted directly from Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

7. Doll for Sue's dim outlook was perhaps warranted. At the end of the story, Santa doesn't deliver the misfit toys himself; he just gives them umbrellas and drops them out of the sleigh from a high altitude. Again, this Santa could give a shit.