Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 6: You Could Even Say It Glows

So, you gotta love random memories.  I was sitting here trying to think of a film to talk about tonight and I started thinking of old Christmas songs I learned as a kid.  Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, Carol of the Bells...man, that's a lot of bells.  All those ringing bells could keep you up until New Year's if they all rang at the same time.  Sorry...I digressed.  Anyway, I was thinking of old songs and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer popped into my head.  Its a sweet little song, all about how an outcast became a star, and I remember it giving me a lot of hope as a child.  Look, I know that sounds corny...but you don't know how different I felt when I was a kid.  I mean I really was odd...even Mom knew it.  So the idea that someone could start as a social pariah and grow to be a big shot was appealing to me (for your information, I loved The Ugly Duckling too).  Anyway, thinking about that song put me in the mind of its stop-motion animation counterpart which was made for television by the talented team at Rankin/Bass.  I hadn't watched the film in over 15 years and yet when I thought of it, I couldn't imagine how I could have neglected to place it in my 25 day round up last year.  So here it comes, Rankin/Bass's Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

The film opens with Sam the Snowman narrating the story of an amazing reindeer who had a glowing red nose.  The reindeer's name was Rudolph...but he was not always thought to be so amazing.  At the start of the story, Rudolph is the shame of his father Donner (who is Santa's lead reindeer) and wears a cover over his nose when he is taken to practice take-offs. Meanwhile, an elf named Hermey is undergoing problems like Rudolph's. He does not want to make toys like the other elves, but instead wants to become a dentist. The lead elf scolds him and tries to get Hermey to obey, but the young elf refuses to change his interests.  Jump to a year later and Rudolph is still wearing a nose cover, which changes his voice, and has Comet for a coach.  Soon, during some horseplay, Rudolph's cover pops off and the other reindeer laugh at him...which sends him into the forest.  While in the forest, Rudolph meets Hermey and the two discover they share a bond.  Soon, Rudolph grows into a young stag and is faced with his song-given destiny of leading Santa's sleigh on that fated Christmas Eve.

Rudolph as a long film is much like Ron Howard's The Grinch in structure.  It features the same idea of expanding a short story into a longer film and embellishes quite a bit to get there.  Along the way, we get a large backstory for Rudolph, several musical numbers, a carnivorous Abominable Snowman, and an Island of Misfit toys.  All these things are not present in the original story or song, but they serve to push Rudolph to his eventual fate as head of Santa's sleigh.  Much of it is frivolous and all of it feels overstuffed...but its done in that wonderful old-school way that makes it all cling together like a really sweet Christmas cookie.  It looks good, it tastes good, and you only need to have it once a year.  Rankin/Bass would go on to make even more holiday specials after this one including The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty The Snowman, and The Year Without Santa Claus...all which would grow to be classics in their own right.  However it is this first creation that sits in everyone's memory as the best...and why not?  Afterall, doesn't the song say "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer...you'll go down in history"?

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