I’ll Never See Rudolph the Same Way Again

I don’t know why, but the Universe is apparently trying to kill all of my dreams and fantasies.

(Not those.)

It may or may not have started when CBS began airing the Victoria’s Secret Angels Fashion Show immediately following the Rankin/Bass claymation holiday favorite, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with the song stylings of Burl Ives. I remember being absolutely dumbstruck by the juxtaposition of the shows. It seemed a treacherous pairing, at best. “Mommy, why are the angels only wearing shiny underwear?” It might have happened then, I’m not sure, but I started to realize some things about my beloved Rudolph claymation Christmas special. Some ugly things.

Hope you've got good insurance, Pops. Kid's gonna need a shrink.

Rudolph’s father is an ass.
Donner may be Santa’s lead reindeer, but as is so often the case with honored and outstanding athletes, he’s also a jerk. As soon as his adorable new son’s nose starts glowing (which is approximately five minutes after he’s born), Donner pitches a fit and rejects the kid. He looks for ways to make him more normal, including scraping up some reindeer house dirt and making Rudolph wear it on his nose. Does he ever wonder from where Rudolph inherited this glow? No. Does he ever self-reflect? No. Does he show his son loving kindness and acceptance? Nope.

Fast-forward to a claymation sequel: “Rudolph Goes to Therapy.”

You're not that cool, pal. And your hat looks stupid.

I Hate Comet.
The name says it all, really – the guy can fly, so it makes sense that he’s in charge of teaching the little reindeer how to take off and land. Apparently, he’s also in charge of telling the kids who to shun. When Rudolph’s new friend, Fireball, accidentally outs him as a beak-blinker, Comet goes bugnuts and tells all the other reindeer not to play with Rudolph anymore. Dude. He’s your buddy’s son. His dad and you go flying around the world together every year, hauling a fat guy and a planet’s worth of gifts on a deadline. You’ve been through so much together – sideways snow, sideways ice, wind shear, tricky landings, dodgy takeoffs, near-misses with planes, that year Blitzen hit the sauce and you had to pick up the slack… Donner’s always got your back. This is how you show that brotherhood?

Dude, what is your problem?

The Head Elf is, like, Elfie Dearest.
First of all, why is an elf allowed to be this miserable? He’s so angry! He’s glowering and mean and he yells at the other elves all the time! He’s a terrible conductor and he thinks the elf choir sucks, when they actually sounded perfectly lovely and charming when they sang for Santa (who didn’t like the song, either, the old coot). And then he’s totally cruel to Hermey just because he doesn’t like to make toys.

Tell us why you really hate Hermey, claymation people. Hmmm?

And Hermey… poor Hermey…
Hermey is gay, okay? Can we just agree? Hermey is gay and that’s why he’s a misfit. It’s not because he wants to be a dentist. Have you noticed the stereotypical difference between the way he talks and the way the other elves talk? Have you noticed he’s the only one who has sweet pink lips? Have you noticed he’s the only boy elf with flowing locks? It’s so obvious. (By the way, his name is definitely Hermey, not Herbie. I looked it up.)

Santa is a d-bag. Santa.
This might have been the most disturbing realization. Santa comes into the Donner cave all “Ho! ho! holy crap what’s up with thiskid?!” He flat-out tells Donner there’s no way the little guy’s going to ever be on his Christmas Eve Dream Team if his schnoz shines like that. He just waltzes in, sees the kid, laughs at him, declares that Donner’s newborn son is defective, and leaves.

Santa breaks Rudolph's heart and kills his little baby dreams

What the hell, Santa? You’re supposed to be the spirit of love and light and joy and magic and wonder. You’re not supposed to be a judgmental hater.

I am so. Disappointed. In you.

So then Hermey and Rudolph run away and Donner and Mrs. Donner are upset but apparently nobody gives a flying fruitcake about Hermey… and they go deal with a scary snow monster and a half-crazy prospector and stumble upon an island full of toys that are messed up except for the doll. There is nothing wrong with that doll. It’s bothered me for years – what’s the problem with Dolly? She seems perfectly fine. So I looked it up, and apparently the Rankin/Bass people claim that her problem is psychological.

So, what, she just has self-esteem issues?

Are you freaking kidding me?

Initially, Dolly’s part in the show was super-small. They wrote her part larger in two subsequent versions and it’s my personal belief that they forgot to give her a misfit problem and now they want to claim she’s got unexplained mental problems.

So wrong.

Have I had the wrong idea of the North Pole all this time? I have it in my head as some happy place where no one ever cries and nothing bad ever happens except maybe a snowstorm that leaves peppermint-flavored piles of softness that are actually quite tolerable in temperature, and nobody’s a sexist who just blames a sad doll’s problems on some sort of mild female hysteria.

Apparently I equate the North Pole with heaven.

Interesting. I did not realize that until just now.

Oh, sure, everything's just fine now...

Of course all’s well that ends well in Christmas Town, North Pole, because Hermey the Gay Dentist Elf fixes the Abominable’s hurty teeth and Yukon survives a terrifying cliff dive and Rudolph guides Santa’s sleigh through the worst snowstorm in centuries so all the children of the world can be happy on Christmas morning (because Santa was going to be a big quitter until it dawned on him that the little reindeer he punked could save his cranky hide). Sure, everything gets resolved in Christmas Town. It’s just me who’s left with unresolved angst.

Me and Dolly.

Total crap.

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30 thoughts on “I’ll Never See Rudolph the Same Way Again

  1. I love this. I too will never look at Rudolph, which is my favorite of the holiday shows from my childhood, the same way again. You’ve answered some questions (I also always wondered what was wrong with Dolly) and brought many of my subliminal thoughts to the forefront. One question remains though – why is Santa wearing a deerstalker hat and leggings?

    • Because he’s a d-bag! What kind of jerk wears deerstalker hats around his pet reindeer? Jerk. Anyway, I’m sorry if I’ve ruined your claymation happiness… I have always loved the show, too, and look forward to it every year, but I might have to move it down a few spots on my list of favorites since it’s clearly a hateful discriminatory hack job. Who knew?

  2. I watched this once when i was very small. Fast forward about fifteen years, and I watched it again–of course I remembered nothing from the first time. I had no love based on previously developed feelings of nostalgia.
    I too noticed these tragic flaws. I remember my mother, who was watching it with me, saying, “so what’s wrong with Dolly?” neither of us could figure it out.
    And yes, Donner is a jerkface. End of story. Thankfully his mom and Clarice (and what kind of name is that for a reindeer, anyway?) are redeemingly sweet, though.
    Loved the article! Made me chuckle.

    • Hi there! I can’t believe you managed to only see the show once in your young years… I thought everyone had seen it a gazillion times. You’re right, though – the women of the show are sweet and accepting. Even Mrs. Claus, who has to be married to that pompous Santa. Glad you enjoyed!

  3. After all these months, I now concede to your statement: “You are totally in my head!” I am obsessed with Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas specials, and Rudolph was the humdinger. In fact, I wrote about it in my column, criticizing the same points. It’s outrageous! I remember trying, as a kid, to convince people that Santa’s a d!ck in this special. There’s no excuse for that type of plot writing. But then, what can you expect from the people who couldn’t even get the year right in the credits? Excuse me, Mr. Animator, but MCXLIV = 1164….

    Btw, well-spotted on the doll. I honestly can’t remember if it ever occurred to me that she had no obvious fault. I’ve had so many obsessive theories over the years, I can’t remember most of what I’ve observed in this “special.”

    • I knew you would like this post..hehehe. I’m surprised you haven’t called me out for digging at you on your Crank’s Giving post and then turning around and posting almost the same kind of thing. “Rudolph” is really the only Rankin/Bass special I liked as a kid. The others never really did anything for me. I do love the roman numeral trivia, though. And you gotta give them credit for making Sam the Snowman look so much like Burl Ives.

      As to Dolly… technically, she doesn’t have a nose. I don’t know if that’s a problem or if it was common for ragdolls of the age. Regardless, Rankin does not call that the nature of her misfitness. Sigh.

      • Props to you for finding that bit of trivia, too — I had never heard of RB explaining her fault. And yeah, it does ring hollow and insulting.

        Have you ever seen Little Drummer Boy? Easily the darkest, most disturbing Christmas special ever. Followed closely by Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey, whose mother FREEZES TO DEATH trying to protect him in a storm after he runs away. Joy to the world!

      • Never saw either of them… safe to say they’re not on my list, based on those descriptions. I did see “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” the other night and decided that Burgermeister Meisterburger – aside from having an easily bastardized last name – reminded me of a deceased co-worker whose last name was similar to his first. I spent the larger part of the show debating whether I was speaking ill of the dead by saying that.

  4. This is a great dissection of a childhood classic. I wish I had written it. In their defense, maybe they thought they were trying to flesh out the song, even though Santa is clearly NOT a d-bag in the song. Speaking of which, I always thought the song’s intro to be a bit odd: The singer suggests matter-of-factly that we all know the names of the ordinary reindeer but then asks if we’re capable of remembering the most famous one. To me it’s like claiming that we all know Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Grover Cleveland, BUT how many of us actually remember George Washington? Does this mean that now we have to rethink Gene Autry, King of the Cowboys, too?

    • Hello there! I recognize you from Corrections & Contradictions’ blog. Welcome! Yeah, I don’t have a problem with fleshing out the song – I think my objection is making the adults – and particularly Santa – the bad guys. And you make an excellent point about recalling the most famous reindeer. Duh… I wonder if that was in the original poem or if Johnny Marks added it when he wrote the song. (The poem was written by Marks’ brother-in-law, for a Montgomery Ward ad campaign. That’s right – Rudolph’s commercial.) And I always thought John Wayne was king of the cowboys. Hmmm…

  5. Yes! Precisely! Thank you! And thanks for figuring out what Hermey’s name really is. We dvr’d it a few years ago and kept rewinding it whenever anyone said his name. It was almost a precise 50/50 split between sounding like Herbie and Hermey.

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  7. Dude…. You and I must be on the same wavelength or something…. I am a stand-up comedian and I just started writing material based on this very same subject!!!!!!!

  8. “Dentist” is definitely code for gay in this show. I think it was a bunch of tongue-in-cheek hollywood types having a little fun after the blacklisting of the late 50s and early 60’s. No input on whether Hermey was born a “dentist” or just chose a “dental lifestyle”, but that little dude definitely is not attracted to the normal elf things like toy-making. The larger allegory here is political. Most of the blacklisting during the McCarthy/HUAC era was against real or suspected communists. I believe Burl Ives (Mr Snowman himself) was outspoken on the subject. Watch it again, substituting “Communist” for “Red-nosed” (or just change red-nosed to “red”, I guess). And Where do the misfit toys hang out? On an Island…! Just what ISLAND could they be referring to in 1964, huh? And that big lion who rules the island… the one with the big, bushy black mane..? Tell me that’s not Castro…

    • So… you’re saying they’re all Communists and Robert May wrote the poem in 1939 for a Montgomery Ward ad AND to convince the world that communism could lead it to happiness? Wow. Was it code? Two blinks for Castro, three blinks for Stalin?

  9. Nope, I’m saying that Romeo Muller and some other snarky writers (who may or may not have been dentists or had red noses) took May’s line about being excluded from the reindeer games and decided to take some thinly veiled shots at the recently disbanded House Unamerican Activities Committee and other Hollywood witch/dentist-hunters. They weren’t necessarily pro-communist, just anti-hater.

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  11. You rock! I am a therapist and grew up in the Rudolph/rankin Bass era. That’s what it was like and it did suck. I realized years ago that Hermy is gay. In fact, you will notice that when he sings “misfit” his lips form the word “ho-mo.” Truly, no kidding. Merry Christmas. and thanks for the laughs.

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  14. I agree with all your points, I just wanted to add the doll is a misfit because she doesnt say “mama” like other dolls she says “how do you do”. Messed up, I know, apparently a dolls cant have manners can only teach a girl she has to be a mom. Lol

  15. I too love Rudolph but am horrified by just how abusive Santa and Donner and Comet are. Just horrible. And we won’t go into the whole “Xmas is canceled because Santa can’t hand out presents for everyone” – a terrible message for children that Charlie Brown and the Grinch specials tried to fix.

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