Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a cartoon short produced and directed by Max Fleischer, and adapted by Joseph Stultz, based on Robert Mays' story of the same name. It was notably the first time the character of Rudolph appeared in any screen media, and also the last cartoon directed by Max Fleischer before Fleischer Studios folded into Famous Studios in 1942 (though it was released six years later). Produced and distributed by the Jim Handy Organization, it was narrated by Paul Wing.
In the "hills", several reindeer children are busy having a fun time; ice skating, tree climbing, leap-frogging, even decorating a Christmas tree. One young reindeer decorating a tree spots a red object and, curious, tickles it with a leaf. It turns out to be Rudolph, who flops out of the tree with a sneeze. The reindeer who revealed him teases him over his shiny red nose, which hurts his feelings. When he tries to wrap the cushion to join the others on the ice, another snatches it away. Rejected and saddened after being teased and made fun of by the other reindeer children, Rudolph returns home where his mother greets him and tries to cheer him up by reminding him to hang his stocking for Santa. He quickly does so, imagining Santa giving him a lot of toys, and quickly goes to bed, though his sleep is incredibly fitful, saddened by the other reindeer's teasing and taunting.
In the North Pole, Santa Claus peeks out of his workshop and takes notice of the heavy fog, noting it would be tough to get though on his own. When the grandfather clock strikes midnight, Santa quickly rushes in to get his reindeer and get ready for the travel ahead. As they travel, Santa warns that they'd have to fly low to get through the fog, only to crash into some trees. The Reindeer get loose and they try again. Over a town, Santa and the reindeer nearly crash into an airplane and, a little later, crash onto a rooftop. The reindeer and sleigh are stuck on the roof, but they're able to break free.
Reaching Rudolph's house, Santa gives presents to a set of reindeer children, but is caught off-guard by the light in Rudolph's room, only to learn that it's Rudolph's shiny red nose. Surprised by this, he gets an idea and wakes Rudolph. Rudolph attempts to hide his nose, but Santa stops him and tells him of his perils. Agreeing to help him, Rudolph leaves a note for his parents before joining Santa on his journey, leading the other reindeer throughout the rest of the night.
The next morning, news of Rudolph's journey reaches his hometown and all the other reindeer race to a stadium where Santa appoints Rudolph as the leader of his sleigh team. Blushing from head to toe, Rudolph bashfully tells everyone "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night."
- Unlike other Rudolph adaptations, the creatures here are shown to have a mixture of normal and anthropomorphic attributes as it shows Rudolph's mother in an dress and apron and on her hind legs, the other young reindeer on their hind legs and playing human games and Santa's reindeer eating dinner at a table. Another difference to this is that Rudolph is just a normal reindeer who is not related to any of Santa's reindeer.
- This animated version of Rudolph follows the original story much more closely than later adaptations, mostly due to the fact that it was done before the song was written. The short was reissued in 1951, with the song replacing the original opening and closing scores.
- Due to being in the public domain, clips from this short were used for the song's appearance in Disney's Very Merry Christmas Songs (in which it was set to one of Gene Autry's performances of the song), making it a rare instance of footage not owned by Disney being used in the Disney Sing Along Songs series.
- On December 16, 2009, Mike Nelson featured this short in a live Rifftrax Christmas show in San Diego, California, which was broadcast to select theaters in the United States.