Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  Firstly, my apologies to the 20 of you who actually read this.  Forgot to post an entry last week, as the ol' personal life got kinda hectic.  Anyway, we're back now, and finishing up Christmas specials with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  I originally wrote this in my notes on December 7, 2019.

Well, another holiday season is upon us.  It's only recently that I started buying my favourite Christmas movies and TV specials on home media.  One of the perks is it's the only way to see them uncut, as they tend to edit them more and more over the  years to add more commercials.  That's why I broke down and bought Santa Claus is Comin' to Town a few years ago...on TV they keep cutting out my favourite part:  the psychedelic music number where the future Mrs. Claus finally realizes she's fallen in love with Santa. 

Now, you may have noticed that Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is usually sold in a boxed set with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and a couple others.  When I was younger and Christmas special season rolled around, I thought of those three as "The Trilogy."  Which is why, a few years ago, I don't know why I didn't buy one of those boxed sets.  I sought out Santa Claus is Comin' to Town individually.  But now that I'm on my "buy all the Christmas movies" kick, I want to get Rudolph and Frosty.  I'm not going to buy one of those boxed sets, because I don't need another copy of Santa Claus.  So, when I finally spied Rudolph and Frosty in a discount bin for $6 each, I said, "Finally!" 

And tonight I sat down to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

This is truly the grandaddy of animated Christmas specials.  First aired in 1964, and has been shown every Christmas since.  I think it does hold the record for longest-running Christmas special.  Also the first one produced by animation studio Rankin-Bass.  They became legendary for their Christmas specials.  It took them four years to produce a second one -- 1968's the Little Drummer Boy -- but starting in 1968, they produced a new animated Christmas special every year, well up until 1985.  Their holiday specials became so well known that their trademark style of stop-motion animationhas become synonymous with Christmas specials. 

And Rudolph really established the formula that all their specials follow:  take the plot for a well-known Christmas song or story, and get a big time celebrity to serve as our narrator.  It helps if he or she is also a singer, so they can sing the Christmas song over the end credits.  Our singer and narrator here is Burl Ives, playing Sam the Snowman, as he tells us the story of Rudolph.

I don't exactly remember when this became event television for me.  I remember watching it a few times when I was a kid.  When VHS became a thing, I adopted this peculiar hobby of collecting Christmas specials, and filled three VHS tapes.  Rudolph was the first one I taped.  I don't think it was until college that I really re-discovered Christmas specials and made the effort to watch Rudolph every year.  Since Christmas always coincided with finals, an hour watching Rudolph was a welcome distraction from the double-whammy of stress. 

I'm sure you know the plot by now.  Rudolph is the son of Donner, one of Santa's reindeer.  Rudolph was born with a shiny red nose, which becomes a great source of family embarrassment.  The Donner try to hide Rudolph's red nose, but the facade falls a year later, when his false nose pops off when he's trying out for the Reindeer Games, and everyone -- even Santa Claus -- is disgusted by a reindeer with a red nose.  The only one who shows Rudolph any kindness is Clarice, who's already kind of sweet on Rudolph.

But Clarice's kindness isn't enough, and Rudolph eventually says, "Fuck this shit," and runs away from home.  He soon runs into an elf named Hermy, who's in the same boat.  Hermy is being ostracized by the other elves, because he doesn't want to build toys, he wants to be a dentist.  So Rudolph and Hermy partner up, and soon join up with Yukon Cornelius, a prospector searching the Arctic for silver and gold.  The three eventually do battle with the Abominable Snow Monster.  (Yukon butchers the world "Abominable," though, and refers to the snow monster as a "Bumble.")

They make their escape and wash up on the Island of Misfit Toys, where toys in similar predicaments to Rudolph and Hermy live in isolation.  They ask the island's ruler, King Moonracer, if they can live there too.  But the king explains that his refuge is for misfit toys, not misfit people, so they can spend the night, but that's all.  Anyway since the Bumble is attracted to Rudolph's nose, and Rudolph doesn't want to put his friends in danger, Rudolph sets out on his own. 

Time passes.  Rudolph grows a little older, and realize that living a life on the run because of a couple of bullies is no way to live.  So he goes home and finds his parents and Clarice are missing.  Santa explains that they went out searching for Rudolph and never returned.  So Rudolph sets out to find his parents, and discovers that they've been captured by the Bumble.  Rudolph puts up a valiant fight, but the Bumble gets in a lucky shot.  This is when Hermy and Yukon come across the scene, as they've been searching for Rudolph.  Yukon manages to clobber the Bumble, and Hermy yanks all its teeth, taking all the fight out of it.  However, Yukon has to get one final blow in, and both he and the Bumble tumble to their presumed death.  Rudolph, Hermy, Clarice, and Rudolph's parents return to Santa's village, and given their heroism, the citizens of the North Pole finally cut them some slack.  Yukon and the Bumble show up as well.  Turns out they were fine, because Bumbles bounce. 

Then a blizzard blows in, and it looks like Christmas will have to be canceled, but Santa realizes that Rudolph's red nose can cut through the blizzard.  So they set out, but first, they make a quick stop at the Island of Misfit Toys to gather up the toys, because Santa knows good homes for all of them.

And this is what I'm talking about by uncut versions.  So when Rudolph first aired in 1964, Santa never picked up the Misfit Toys.  Rankin-Bass was flooded by so many outraged letters, that they shot the new ending for its first re-airing in 1965.  But that meant cutting out a gag from the end of the film...which was restored for this Blu-Ray!

So Yukon does his prospecting by throwing his pick-axe in the air, letting land in the ground, then pulling it out of the ground and licking it.  The gag that was originally cut.  When Rudolph and Santa set out, Yukon throws his pick-axe in the air, licks it, and discovers the most valuable mineral of all...peppermint!  I'd never seen this scene before, and my mind was blown when I saw it on this Blu-Ray.

And let me share my favourite fact about the film...the voice cast is entirely Canadian.  The characters were voiced by CBC Radio's theatre troupe, who did all their radio plays in the early 1960s, as they had the reputation as being some of the finest voice actors in North America at the time.  A lot of the voice actors even showed up in that other classic, made-in-Canada cartoon from the 1960s...Spider-Man.  Hermy is voiced by Spidey, Donner and Santa are voiced by J. Jonah Jameson, and Rudolph's mother is voiced by Betty Brant. 

When all is said and done, Rudolph is still one of the greatest Christmas specials of all, as all embraced the heartwarming message that people will stop bullying you once they realized they need something from you.

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