RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a department store creation, created by Mongomery Ward in 1939. (Ward's is now an online only store based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa). The character was adapted into a song by Johnny Marks and recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. But it wasn't until 1964 when Rankin/Bass produced its now-famous stop-motion tv special.
The story of the reindeer with the shiny nose followed the song very closely but added many subplots, such as an elf that wants to be a dentist, the island of misfit toys, and the abominable snowman.
Son of the famous reindeer, Donner, Rudolph has a bright red nose that Donner believes to be a flaw. Ashamed of his son, Donner covers the nose in mud so that Rudolph would appear 'normal'. But his nose is revealed during the Reindeer Games and Rudolph is shunned for being different. Meanwhile, Hermie the Elf is also having problems fitting in as he wants to be a dentist rather than an elf. Together, the pair head out to find out where they belong. The journey takes them on many adventures including a land where all of the misfit toys reside. They also face and, with the help of Yukon Cornelius, defeat the Abominable Snow-Monster.
This special airs every year on NBC making it the longest running Christmas TV special. And special it is. The lovable characters and fun songs make this a classic show for kids of any generation. The care that Rankin/Bass put into the stop-motion animation gives the viewer a feeling that heart and soul went into this production and even though details like lipsync seemed to be not important, the overwhelming charm made this incarnation of the misfit reindeer a timeless classic.
The main theme of this show is one that everybody can relate to. The story of one who is hated a feared for having extra gifts is something that everyone goes through at least once in their life. That is the connection that draws everyone in. Everybody has gifts and you should not be ridiculed for using them.
In many ways, this is the story of the X-Men. Rudolph is a mutant and should be a superhero. That's my inner geek talking.
THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY (1968)
Based on the song of the same name, the Little Drummer Boy follows the journey of Aaron, a little boy who hates humanity and finds himself the friend to all animals whom he communicates with through his drum. Through a dramatic series of events, he follows the three kings to Bethehem where he meets a newborn Jesus and discovers the meaning of Christmas.
Unlike other Christian animated shows that are often really terrible (including the Hanna-Barbera series The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible), this special has some great stop-motion animation and is one of the most elaborite of the classic Rankin/Bass productions. The human characters are built to appear more human than other productions and the Middle Eastern sets bring a realism to the show.
The Little Drummer Boy will probably be the only Christmas special that I will review that doesn't have to do with Santa, Frosty, Rudolph or other commercial Christmas gimmicks. The fact that this show deals with the actual Christian celebration makes it extra special. In this consumer driven era it is nice to see a show that is not trying to sell anything and just wants to honestly promote good will toward mankind.
This is a very different production for Rankin/Bass. It is a serious drama rather than the funfilled humourous adventures of other specials that we are used to. At times it moves a little slow, but it is only a half hour rather than the usual hour long program.
Both Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy can be found in the Original Television Christmas Classics DVD box set.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964)