Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer



Robert L. May (1905-1976), a copywriter for Montgomery Ward in Chicago, created Rudolph in 1939 as a poem, adding the character to the list of Santa’s reindeer given in Clement C. Moore’s famous “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The store had traditionally had a coloring book give-away at the holiday season and wanted to save money by offering their own production. May rejected the names Rollo and Reginald for the reindeer, and the store initially had some reservations about the red nose implications, but the character became popular and spawned a 9-minute cartoon in 1948.

The song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was written in 1949 by Johnny Marks, brother-in-law of May, and recorded by Gene Autry the following year. Since then, everybody and their jingle dogs have recorded the song. The claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer appeared in 1964. When Reagan deregulated advertising, the elf song was typically cut when this aired on network television for many years.

Notes: Videocraft International Productions.
Produced: Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass (the production team responsible for The Last Dinosaur)
Directed: Larry Roemer
Written: Romeo Muller
Story: Robert L. May
Title Song: Johnny Marks
Voices: Larry Mann, Billy Richards, Paul Soles.

The technique of verisimilitude is exemplified effectively with newspaper headlines showing grim winter scenes very unlike the claymation atmosphere characteristic of the remainder of the show.

Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives), our narrator, welcomes us to Christmastown (the North Pole) whose “#1 citizens are the Clauses,” and explains that “some years ago” a blizzard threatened Christmas. We see Mrs. Claus pushing food at a relatively skinny Santa, and Sam says, “It’s always the same story.” He trumps up the surprise notion that some of us haven’t heard the story of Rudolph and tells us to “pull up an iceblock.” The credits run.

One spring prior to the big blizzard, Donner and “Mrs. Donner” have a calf with a hideous facial deformity. Their anxiety is justified when Santa visits the cave, sings the self-promotional “Jingle Jingle Jingle,” and tsk-tsks about Rudolph’s nose. What Sam refers to as a “nonconformity” the Donners decide to keep hidden. Reindeer, we learn, also must regularly hide from the Abominable Snow-Monster, and Dad Donner shows Rudolph how he uses his antlers to pretend to be a stick.

Meanwhile, Hermey the elf is not happy in his toyshop work, but his orthodontal career aspirations render him a “misfit.” Rudolph is made to wear a nose-cover which he complains is “not very comfortable.” Donner insists that “self-respect” is more important. And Christmas comes and goes.

The next year, the elves practice their own self-promotional song, “We Are Santa’s Elves” (“We work hard all day, but our work is play”), but Hermey is missing, working on dolls’ teeth instead of “practicing” how to be an elf by going “hee hee and ho ho.” He gets chewed out by the chief elf and decides to take off.

Meanwhile at reindeer practice, girlie deer flirt with Rudolph and his new friend Fireball. Coach Comet announces, “My job is to make bucks out of you.” Rudolph speaks awkwardly with one doe, Clarice, and when she says she thinks he’s “cute” he flies and impresses the other reindeer. But his fake nose pops off and the others laugh in derision: “Hey, Fire-snoot!” “Shnozz!” Santa tells Donner he should be ashamed of himself and Comet says that “we won’t let Rudolph join in any of our reindeer games.”

Clarice still walks homewards with him, singing in non-sequitur reassurance, “There’s Always Tomorrow For Dreams to Come True” (“We all pretend the rainbow has an end, and you’ll be there, my friend, some day”), until her father snatches her away from Rudolph the freak.

Hermey and Rudolph meet up, sing “Fame and Fortune,” and Hermey proposes, “What do you say we both be independent together?” Unfortunately, the Abominable Snow-Monster is able to track them because of ol’ Fire-snoot. The next day they meet Yukon Cornelius, a prospector with a dogsled team that includes a poodle. He rants about silver and gold, minimally prompting Sam the Snowman to sing “Silver and Gold,” a supposedly anti-materialistic tune rating tinsel and wrapping paper above precious metals (“What would a Christmas tree be” without sparkly crap all over it?).

Cornelius needs to get supplies: “cornmeal, gunpowder, hamhocks, guitar strings.” But the Abominable chases them until they create an ice-break and float away. We learn that Donner is headed out to look for Rudolph, telling the Mrs. that “This is man’s work.” Mrs. D. and Clarice venture out themselves anyway.

The adventurers have now landed on the Island of Misfit Toys, where a Charlie-in-the-box and other plaything rejects sing “When Christmas Day Is Here” (“Toy galore scattered on the floor; there’s no room for more, and it’s all because of Santa Claus!”). In the course of the song, we meet a water pistol who shoots jelly, a bird who swims, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, a boat that sinks, a bear with feathers, an elephant with the pox, and a ragdoll. (A long-standing question has involved the undetectable flaw in the ragdoll. One myth has it that she is a homicidal maniac, but the barely known fact is that she is included among the Misfit Toys because she pees hydrochloric acid.)

The leader of the island, King Moonraiser, a rage-aholic flying lion, searches the earth for unwanted toys and brings them to the island. Rudolph, Hermey, and Cornelius are not welcome since the island is exclusively for toys (“Even among misfits you’re misfits”), but the tyrant nevertheless extracts a promise from them that they’ll notify Santa Claus of the Island’s existence. That night, Rudolph sneaks off alone, not wanting to jeopardize the others because of his snoot.

Rudolph grows antlers and supposedly realizes “you can’t run away from your troubles,” although he seems to have mangaged to do so quite well so far. He returns to Christmastown’s taunts of “Neon-Nose” where Santa tells him the other deer have gone to find him. As Rudolph sets out to retrieve them, the big storm hits.

Rudolph finds the cave of the Abominable Snow-Monster, a geo-architectural hell-mouth, in which the other deer are presumably about to be eaten. Rudolph gets conked out, but Yukon Cornelius and Hermey happen along. Hermey oinks to lure the Monster to where Yukon can pick-ax ice and a boulder down upon him. Hermey removes the Monster’s teeth and when Yukon bullies the Monster towards a cliff, he, Abominable, and the dogs all fall over to their grisly deaths.

The others are all very sad “but they realize that the best thing to do is to get the women back to Christmastown.” For it is nearing the holiday. Santa promises to visit the Island of Misfit Toys and Hermey will open a dentist’s office with the chief elf holding the first appointment. Donner apologizes. Then Yukon appears again, insisting Snow-Monsters “bounce” and that he has “reformed” this one. Abominable places a star on the top of a tall tree.

The next day is Christmas Eve and Mrs. Claus is still pushing food — “Eat, Santa, eat. The children expect a fat Santa.” However, weather reports are bleak: “We’ll have to cancel Christmas.” When Santa announces this, lo, a nose revelation: “What I’m trying to say is: Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” After a rousing rendition of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” Santa is now fattened enough to burden nine reindeer, and with much pomposity (“Full power!” “First stop: the Island of Misfit Toys!”) they take off into the Arctic sky.

After resignation to nihilistic despair among the Charlie-in-the-box, the elephant with the pox, and the ragdoll, Rudolph’s nose and Santa show up, the misfits hitch a ride, and all toys are distributed down chimneys the world over as the credits run and the Rudolph song is rendered. Santa has the final word: “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”

Introduction to Literature