|“||Now how can you overlook that? His beak blinks like a blinkin' beacon!||”|
— Donner describing his son's abnormal nose
Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer is a long-running Christmas television special produced in stop-motion animation by Rankin/Bass, and the company's first Christmas special. It originally aired on NBC on December 6, 1964, as an installment of The General Electric Fantasy Hour, and is now the world's longest-running and highest-rated television special of all time. It is based on the 1939 poem of the same name by Robert L. May (who was an advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward) and its song adaptation by Johnny Marks. Marks also wrote the music and lyrics for the songs in this special, and the background soundtrack includes two more songs he made famous - "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (both of which would later be used in one of the sequels, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July).
We are introduced to Sam, a talking snowman who lives at the North Pole and is reminiscing about the year that the world almost missed Christmas due to a huge snowstorm. He then decides to tell us the story of Rudolph, the son of Donner, Santa Claus's lead reindeer. As the story begins, Donner and his wife are surprised to find that their newborn fawn's unusually red nose is capable of glowing. When Santa visits their cave to meet the fawn and sees the glowing nose, he warns Donner that Rudolph will not be able to pull the sleigh if he keeps carrying this trait for the rest of his life. Consequently, Donner tries to conceal Rudolph's nose with a fake nose made of dirt.
A year later, Rudolph's parents take him to participate in the Reindeer Games, where he and all of the other young bucks are trained to fly and pull Santa's sleigh when they get older. Donner still tries to hide the nature of Rudolph's nose with the cover, which causes his voice to sound as if he had a permanent cold. Despite this, two deer befriend him - a little buck named Fireball, and a beautiful doe named Clarice, who thinks Rudolph is cute and has a crush on him. But during some horseplay, Fireball inadvertently pops the cover off of Rudolph's nose. After seeing his glowing nose, the other reindeer, including Fireball, start ridiculing him, and Comet, the coach, bans Rudolph from the Reindeer Games as a result. Santa even gives Donner a harsh scolding as well, disappointed in how Rudolph had such a great takeoff, but then humiliated himself because of Donner wanting to hide his nose. Clarice is the only one who still likes him and tries to comfort him, but their musings are interrupted by her father, who forbids her from being around Rudolph.
Meanwhile, one of Santa's elves, Hermey, has been having problems of his own - he wishes to be a dentist instead of a toymaker. The Boss Elf, outraged at Hermey's persistent disruption with his dentistry studies, scolds him and tries to get him to obey, but he refuses to change his interests, even under the threat of losing his job and being ridiculed by his fellow elves. As a result, Hermey decides to resign and run away. He eventually meets Rudolph, who has run away into the forest, feeling outcast and heartbroken. The two bond after they discover they each have something that makes them unique. After deciding to be "independent" together, they set out to seek "fame and fortune". Shortly after, however, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North, a carnivorous monster who hates Christmas and feeds on reindeer, soon begins chasing them, due to being attracted by Rudolph's red and shiny nose, but they manage to escape him.
The next day, Rudolph and Hermey meet Yukon Cornelius, a prospector who is obsessed with finding silver and gold. The Abominable Snowmonster (which Yukon refers to as "the Bumble") appears again and pursues the trio, once more due to being attracted to them by Rudolph's nose, but they manage to escape on an iceberg, thanks to the Bumble being unable to swim. Eventually, they arrive on the Island of Misfit Toys, an island home for unloved toys ruled by a winged lion named King Moonracer. Because they are misfits but not toys, he allows them to spend the night on his island, requesting that, when they return to Christmas Town, they ask Santa to help find homes for the homeless toys. However, while Hermey and Yukon rest, Rudolph leaves on his own, having realized that his nose is a danger to his friends.
A few months later, Rudolph grows into a handsome young teen buck. He decides to return home, despite still being ridiculed by the other reindeer when they see him. When he arrives back in his family's cave, he finds that his parents are not there. He learns from Santa that they went looking for him after he ran away and Donner felt guilty about it, and Clarice went with them. Rudolph begins searching for them just as a terrible blizzard starts, and he soon finds them being held captive by the Abominable Snowmonster. He attempts to rescue them but is knocked unconscious. Fortunately, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius arrive, having been sent there by Sam, and hatch a rescue plan to save Rudolph and his family. Luring the monster out of the cave, the pair knock the Snowmonster unconscious, and Hermey extracts his teeth. Rudolph awakens, but the also-awakened beast tries to block them from escaping. Yukon chases the now-toothless Snowmonster to a cliff, eventually knocking himself, his sled team, and the monster over the edge.
Mourning the apparent death of their friend, the others return home, where they tell everyone what happened, after which Rudolph and Hermey stop being ridiculed. Santa promises Rudolph that he will find homes for all the Misfit Toys, the Boss Elf agrees to let Hermey open his own dentist's office next week, and even Donner apologizes to Rudolph for being critical about his nose. Just then, Yukon and his dogsled team, who survived falling off the cliff, make a grand entrance with the tamed Snowmonster. Yukon informs everyone that the monster has reformed his evil ways and has come seeking a job. The monster shows them that he is able to place a star on top of a Christmas tree without the use of a stepladder, and everyone decides to keep him around.
On Christmas Eve, Santa receives a report saying that the snowstorm will not subside, so he decides he'll have to cancel his annual Christmas Eve flight. While announcing the bad news to the elves and reindeer, however, Santa is caught by Rudolph's gleaming nose and, realizing that its light could cut through the storm, asks him to lead his sleigh, which he agrees to. After making the preparations, Rudolph leads the sleigh to the Island of Misfit Toys, and Santa takes them along the flight, where they are dropped off to their respective homes. With Rudolph leading the sleigh, it turns out to be a merry Christmas after all.
- "Jingle, Jingle, Jingle"
- "We Are Santa's Elves"
- "There's Always Tomorrow"
- "We're a Couple of Misfits" (original and current broadcasts)
- "Fame and Fortune" (1965-1997 broadcasts; see "Edits" below)
- "Silver and Gold"
- "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year"
- "A Holly Jolly Christmas"
- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
A soundtrack album was released in 1964 by Decca Records. The album was available in mono (DL 4815) and stereo (DL 74815), and featured all of the songs from the special. Because General Electric was the sponsor from 1964 through 1966, this album was issued as a premium gift with a purchase of any GE item. The album was later reissued in 1973 on MCA 15003; it remains in print on CD to this day.
- The original pre-production work for the special did not include the character of Sam the Snowman, with his songs originally being intended for Yukon Cornelius. Larry D. Mann had even recorded all of the songs as Yukon Cornelius prior to filming. However, Ives was brought on at the last minute to give the special the "full power" that would help sell it to the networks, so the character of Sam the narrating snowman was added. Although Sam resembles Ives, he was actually designed to look like the writer of the special, Romeo Muller. Due to the last-minute addition of Sam the Snowman, several scripted scenes were abandoned and never filmed. One such scene included Rudolph being delivered to Donner and his wife by a stork.
- The original network airings of the special were sponsored by General Electric; three special GE commercials featuring the elves from the special were produced and aired alongside the show.
- On the title card, the copyright year in Roman numerals was mistakenly marked as MCLXIV (1164) instead of the correct MCMLXIV.
- There are only six reindeer in addition to Rudolph, instead of the usual eight. It has been confirmed that there are only six reindeer because of the time that the creators had to make them, and because they were rather expensive to build.
- When Mrs. Claus goes out the door after Santa, the sound of the door slamming occurs before the door is shut. This was corrected in the Freeform broadcast.
The original 1964 airing did not include the closing scene where Santa picks up the misfit toys. That scene was added in 1965, in response to complaints that Santa was not shown fulfilling his promise to include them in his annual delivery. However, due to time constraints, some existing material had to be trimmed to make room for this new scene in subsequent broadcasts.
- When the special was rebroadcast in 1965, the song "We're a Couple of Misfits" was replaced with a newly-produced musical sequence entitled "Fame and Fortune". The original scene was rediscovered in 1993 and restored in 1998, bringing "We're a Couple of Misfits" back to its original spot. "Fame and Fortune" was included as a bonus feature on Sony Wonder's DVD releases of the special from 2000 to 2004, but oddly has not appeared on any subsequent video releases. Starting in 2005, CBS's annual presentation of the special instead used animation for "Fame and Fortune" synced with a poorly-edited version of "We're a Couple of Misfits". However, the full "We're a Couple of Misfits" song and sequence do appear on Freeform's broadcasts.
- CBS' rebroadcasts, as well as the Family Home Entertainment VHS releases, cut out the instrumental bridge from "We are Santa's Elves". It is, however, kept intact on Freeform's broadcasts.
- Throughout the special, Yukon Cornelius is seen throwing his pick axe into the ground, taking it out and licking it. It turns out that he is not checking for gold nor silver, but rather searching for an elusive peppermint mine. In a scene right at the end of the special's original broadcast, deleted the next year to make room for the Misfit Toys' new scene, Cornelius pulled his pick from the ground, licked it and said, "Peppermint! What I've been searching for all my life! I've struck it rich! I've got me a peppermint mine! Wahoo!" This scene was restored in 1998 and has been reinstated in all the subsequent home video releases (with the strange exception of the 2004 DVD release). It is still cut from CBS' annual airings, but does appear in the Freeform broadcasts.
- The original 1964 broadcast had a completely different sequence for the end credits, in which the elf who accompanies Santa on the sleigh ride is shown dropping off gift boxes which list all the technical credits. The following year, when the Misfit Toys' new scene was added in, the credits sequence was also redone so that the elf is shown dropping off some of the Misfit Toys. (Oddly, the audio from the original credits sequence was restored in 1998, but kept the Misfit toy ending from the 1965 re-edited version.)
- At some point in the 1970s, the sequence featuring the song "We Are Santa's Elves" was removed entirely, along with Donner telling his wife not to help him search for Rudolph.
- On the VHS releases, the final scene had a few edits:
- The cut to Sam after the sleigh leaves the Island of Misfit Toys was replaced by a dissolve, and the music fades out slightly later.
- The whooshing sounds were muted out.
- The squeaking Rudolph's nose makes when glowing was shortened and altered slightly.
- Santa's second "Merry Christmas!" was rerecorded.
- While Freeform's broadcasts are mostly uncut, they changed the placements of the commercial breaks and removed some of the original commercial fade-outs, particularly the shot of Rudolph following the Northern Lights back to Christmastown as the Abominable Snowmonster's roar is heard.
- Also, due to Freeform running the credits in a split-screen with their promos, Sam's line segueing into the closing song was cut entirely.
Broadcast history and availability
The special was broadcast on NBC from its premiere in 1964 until 1971. CBS acquired the broadcast rights to Rudolph the following year and has aired it every year since. It also began airing as part of Freeform's 25 Days of Christmas in December 2019.
In 1988, Rankin-Bass sold many of the pre-1973 specials and series (including this special) to Broadway Video, headed by Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live fame. Broadway Video's children's division was then sold several years later to Golden Books Family Entertainment. Golden Books Family Entertainment later spun off into Classic Media, which was part of the Entertainment Rights group in the United Kingdom until 2009, when the company was bought by Classic Media's successor, Boomerang Media. In July 2012, DreamWorks Animation SKG purchased Classic Media, and currently holds those rights under the DreamWorks Classics banner. The special is now in the ownership of NBCUniversal, who purchased DreamWorks Animation in April 2016.
In 1976, Rankin/Bass produced a New Year's special starring Rudolph which served as a sequel, titled Rudolph's Shiny New Year. A feature-length film starring Rudolph was later made in 1979, titled Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, which also served as a follow-up to Frosty the Snowman and its sequel, Frosty's Winter Wonderland.
In 2001, a fourth film was released by Goodtimes Entertainment, titled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys. This film, starring the same characters from the original, was produced entirely with computer animation as opposed to stop-motion animation.
In 2014, in commemoration of the special's fiftieth anniversary, a graphic novel titled The Island of Misfit Toys was written by Brendan Deneen. The graphic novel serves as an interquel to the special, with the bulk of the story's events taking place between Yukon and the Snowmonster going over the cliff, and their showing up at Santa's workshop. In the story, Charlie-in-the-Box accidentally drifts out to sea when the snowstorm hits, and King Moonracer goes searching for him, accompanied by Dolly, the Spotted Elephant, the Ostrich-Riding Cowboy, and the train whose caboose has square wheels. On the way, they are joined by Yukon and the Snowmonster, who have been searching for Yukon's sled dogs, as they got separated from him when they went over the cliff. The comic notably expands on the respective backstories of Dolly and the Cowboy, who become close friends during the adventure.
In 2016, a 10-minute 4D attraction film adaptation of the special, directed by Chel White, was produced for SimEx-Iwerks and shown at amusement parks such as Busch Gardens and SeaWorld. The short was included as a bonus feature on the 2018 DVD and Blu-ray releases of the special.
References in other media
- In the newspaper comic strip FoxTrot, Rudolph, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius, Sam, and the special's version of Santa made cameos in a storyline that ran from December 16-21, 1996, in which Paige dreams of visiting the Land of Animated Christmas TV Specials.
- A later FoxTrot strip, published on December 5, 2002, has Peter watching a new TV special featuring the Rudolph characters that was apparently written by Jason, titled Rudolph's Lord of the Rings Christmas.
- In November 2007, the Aflac insurance company aired a commercial that featured Rudolph, having caught a cold, not wanting to miss work. All his friends say that he will not be able to pay for his expenses. Santa Claus then tells them about Aflac. Charlie-in-the Box wonders what will happen if Rudolph is not better by Christmas, but Rudolph imagines that the Aflac duck can fill in for him. A week later, Rudolph recovers, but Blitzen is sick, so the Aflac duck is filling in for him.
- A 2009 commercial for Verizon features the Misfit Toys trying to comfort a lonely iPhone.
- A 2011 commercial for Bing.com features the Abominable Snowmonster failing to scare elves with a weak, high-pitched roar, which leads him to search on the service for videos of scary monsters, which he imitates to form a much more menacing presence. A follow-up commercial features the Snowmonster, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius using Bing to find the perfect vacation spot, which turns out to be the Island of Misfit Toys.
- A 2012 commercial for Windows Phone Daily features Bumble with the Misfit Toys as he is texting on his cell phone, and somehow every time he smiles or does something, the misfit toys would flee from Bumble, but after the commercial, it turns out that Dolly understands Bumble more than the other Misfit Toys.
References in other Christmas specials
- In "A Pinky and the Brain Christmas", Pinky mentions to Brain that he wants to be a dentist instead of an elf (to which Brain replies, "You've been watching too many Christmas specials, Pinky").
- In the Pauly Shore episode of Mad TV, there was a parody of the special titled "Raging Rudolph".
- The design for Santa's workshop and the elf uniforms in Elf were based on this special. Also, Leon the snowman was inspired by Sam.
- In the Kim Possible episode "A Very Possible Christmas", upon landing at the North Pole, Ron and Drakken quote the "Land ho!"/"No kidding" dialogue that Yukon and Hermey said upon arriving at the Island of Misfit Toys.
- In The Simpsons episode "'Tis the Fifteenth Season", Homer Simpson briefly watches a fictional stop-motion television special titled The Year Santa Got Lost, in which several of the Misfit Toys from this special are shown listening to a story told by a mailman voiced by Jimmy Stewart.
- In That 70s Show's Christmas episode "An Eric Forman Christmas", Kelso has a Claymation-esque dream where Rudolph, Santa, and the Little Drummer Boy assure him that he's not too old for Christmas and watching Christmas specials.
|Burl Ives||Sam the Snowman|
|Billie Mae Richards||Rudolph|
|Larry D. Mann||Yukon Cornelius|
The Abominable Snowmonster of the North
|Stan Francis||Santa Claus|
|Carl Banas||Boss Elf|
|Peg Dixon||Mrs. Claus|
|Bernard Cowan||Clarice's father|
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the Internet Movie Database
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at RetroJunk.com
- Rudolph! at tvparty.com
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) at TV Tropes
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Behind the Voice Actors
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the Internet Movie Cars Database
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