TIRED: This movie is about being yourself and embracing what makes you different.
WIRED: This movie is about how society will only accept you once your usefulness becomes apparent and others can benefit from your skills.
However you want to look at it, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a staple of the holiday season and one of the most iconic films to come from the Rankin/Bass production house. A story of a social outcast, ridiculed and demeaned by his peers, leaves home and goes on a journey of self-discovery, eventually returning home just in time to save the day has really resonated with audiences over the years. Additionally, attached to the film is one of the most recognizable Christmas songs of all time, making this film a neatly wrapped package of holiday cheer and good tidings. But is the film as genuine as I remember, or is it purely nostalgia?
Let’s find out?
The positives first. Firstly, what Rankin/Bass (known at the time as Videocraft International) are known for: their use of doll-like stop motion characters, powdery snow landscapes and cell shaded snow particle effects. In my opinion, stop motion animation is one of the most under-appreciated forms of filmmaking, with a long-lasting history that has seemed to fall out of favor in the past few years. Studios like Laika have been doing their best to keep the art style afloat with films like Coraline, ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings. While the art style continues to draw praise from critics, the turnout for these films have been less than stellar. Rudolph takes us back to the days where there was nothing like this seen before. The designs and style are timeless, innovative and cheerful. The clay figures look great alongside the winter backdrops, adding a heartening, whimsical property to the film.
While the song that everyone recognizes from the film is the titular song (though it was created before the film’s inception), there’s plenty of other memorable original songs to fill the film. “We Are Santa’s Elves” establishes the dynamic of the elf side-characters and presents the dilemma for our wannabe dentist elf, Hermey. “We’re a Couple of Misfits” is a humorous back and forth between Rudolph and Hermey as they begin to rage against the society that has made fun of them in the past (an anthem I’m sure this generation can get behind). Alongside the memorable songs is a talented voice cast that bring the film to life, led by Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman, our trusty narrator.
Aside from the wonderful animation and catchy songs, there really isn’t too much more substance to this film. There’s moments, particularly later on in the film, that are paced so slow that I remember even as a child growing disinterested. The first half is without a doubt the best section, as the later half just seems to meander about until reaching the climax. Also, let’s talk about exactly what kind of message this film gives off.
Rudolph is bullied and mocked because of his nose from the day he is born. Santa, the perceived wise leader of the North Pole, advices Rudolph’s father to hide his son’s deformity. Now, one could say that Santa was doing this to protect Rudolph, but it’s Santa. His word is essentially law, and if the other reindeers were to make fun of Rudolph he could easily shut them up. But instead, he encourages Rudolph to hide what makes him different. This is a very odd and misguided judgement call from one of the most wholesome characters imaginable. So for almost the entire film everyone from the reindeer coach to the reindeers in training mock Rudolph. It’s not until Rudolph rescues his family from the Abominable Snow Monster that everyone begins to treat him with decency. When the snowstorm arrives and threatens to ruin Christmas, Santa finally sees Rudolph’s usefulness and allows him to pull his sleigh. Basically, all of these peers and authority figures were against Rudolph because he looked different and wouldn’t change their opinion about him until he committed an act of heroism. Not really the feel-good moral you thought it was back in the day, huh?
I don’t know, maybe it’s because I was drinking the featured cocktail below while writing this, but something about this film just felt off upon reflection. It’s heart is in the right place (I think), but the whole ordeal feels a bit misguided. It’s visuals and music still leave me with a feeling of warm nostalgia though, so if I can focus on that and not on the moral maybe I can enjoy this film.
Or maybe I’m just a 25 year-old home bartender looking to deep into a children’s film yet again. I’ll let you choose your own adventure on that one.
Everyone else may make fun of Rudolph and his deformity, but I think he’s a pretty cool guy. Thusly, we remember him with a delicious dessert cocktail called Reindeer Games. In it you’ll find usual dessert suspects, chocolate and vanilla, shaken into a creamy sweet blend. But what brings this cocktail together is the garnishes, turning this ordinary dessert martini into a spitting image of the red-nosed one himself. Using one of my favorite sweet snacks, Pirouettes, for the antlers and a slightly sliced cherry for the nose, we have a cocktail that’ll make you feel like you can fly!
- 1.5oz vanilla vodka
- 1oz chocolate liqueur
- 1.5oz cream
- Garnish: Maraschino cherry
- Garnish: Pirouette cookie straws
- Shake ingredients with ice.
- Strain into chilled martini glass.
- Place two cookie straws in drink to form antlers.
- Slice a small slit into a stemless cherry and rest it on the rim of the glass to make the nose.