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Friday, December 16, 2011

TGIF: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

I've always had some sort of soft spot for underdogs and misfits.

People who are expected to be a certain way, act a certain way, conform to a certain standard of living. And when they don't meet those expectations, they're deemed unworthy. A misfit.

Believe me when I tell you that I've been there. Many times.

It really bothered me when I was in school, and I couldn't seem to find anywhere where I could fit in. I certainly wasn't any good at sports, so that basically eliminated any chance I had with hanging around with the kids who were on the sports teams. I wasn't exactly the most fashion forward person at school, so I was deemed unworthy by those who were. I couldn't sing or dance, so it made it hard to form any sorts of bonds with the people who did acting and singing at school. And don't even get me started on high school, because we won't even go there.

It's hard enough being a kid who has difficulties finding their way through a crazy and confusing world. It's even worse when a kid has to do that feeling as though they don't have a place in the world to feel like they belong anywhere because everyone else seems to have judged them before they got to know them.

I guess because I've been in those shoes before, I know what it feels like to feel alone in the world. And, because I've been in those shoes before, I tend to have a lot of sympathy for these people who feel lost and alone and have trouble finding out what their purpose in life is.

And for what? Because they look differently? Because they have different interests? Because they believe certain things? Because they eat different things? Because they speak a different language?

Today's entry is a Christmas special that is filled with creatures much like the ones I described up above. Misfits. In fact, I think it's a safe bet to say that almost the entire cast of the special could easily be considered a misfit.

The beautiful part about this special is that these 'misfits' actually had a lot in common with each other. Even more beautiful? The misfits would eventually discover that they weren't really misfits after all.

Today's blog topic is the Rankin-Bass Christmas special, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Debuting on NBC on December 6, 1964 (or, 1164, if you translate the incorrect Roman Numeral date stamp) and airing on that channel until it was picked up by CBS eight years later (where it has aired ever since), Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was based on a creation by department store Montgomery Ward. In 1939, Robert L. May, a staff copywriter for Montgomery Ward, created a booklet for the store as part of Christmas promotion that year for the chain. Initially, May had contemplated using several names for the reindeer, including Rollo and Reginald before settling on Rudolph. The idea came about as a way to save money. Prior to 1939, the retailer would buy a whole bunch of colouring books and give them out free to children, but considering that the 1930s was the period of 'The Great Depression', it soon became costly for the company to continue doing this. By creating their own book, the company saved money, and still had something unique and beautiful to give the children as free Christmas gifts, compliments of Montgomery Ward.

The promotion was a huge hit for the store, distributing over two million copies through the Montgomery Ward stores its first year. The character of Rudolph became so popular that May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, took the story and turned it into a song. Ten years after the creation of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, the song was released to the public. Although singer Harry Brannon was the first singer to sing the song, it wasn't until Gene Autry released the song in November 1949 that the song began to find a place in Christmas carol songbooks.

So, given the background information behind the song (with background information provided by, which also includes a rather interesting urban legend surrounding this song), it's apparent that the creation of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was a popular one.

So, why is it that in the 1964 television special, Rudolph was treated as a misfit?

That was part of the storyline. In the special, a talking snowman named Sam (voiced by legendary singer Burl Ives) narrates the tale, which begins with Rudolph's birth. The son of one of Santa's head reindeer, Donner, Rudolph (voiced by Billie Mae Richards), is just as cute and alert as any other newly-born reindeer.

There's just one little thing that stands out on poor little Rudolph. His nose.

Rudolph's nose was something special. It was bright red in colour. Sometimes, it even glowed. As Donner would say, his beak blinked like a blinking beacon.

Now, Rudolph's mother loved her son, no matter what, and she had the attitude that they would find a way to get around it. But Donner somehow seemed a little more obsessed over it, and not in a good way. It almost seemed like he was ashamed that his own child could have some sort of deformity with a different coloured nose that would stand out amidst the sea of neon lights on the Las Vegas Strip. Donner was so ashamed by Rudolph's nose that for the first few months of his life forced him to wear a black nose cap to hide the eye...ahem...nosesore on Rudolph's face. It wasn't something that Rudolph liked wearing, but believing that it made his father happy, he begrudingly went along with it.

Some time later, Donner takes Rudolph to a take-off practice session. There's a couple of reasons why this was done. One, Donner wanted Rudolph to interact with other reindeer who were his age. Secondly, Donner wanted Rudolph to learn how to fly so that one day, Rudolph could end up pulling Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve.

And Rudolph's personality was charming enough for him to make friends with a couple of the others, despite his fake nose. One was a young buck named Fireball, the other a beautiful doe named Clarice. Clarice and Rudolph really seem to hit it off, and when Clarice tells Rudolph that she thinks he's cute, he reaches a new high.

No, seriously, he jumps higher than any other reindeer at the practice session, earning him the respect of Clarice, Fireball, and Coach Comet.

That is, until Fireball accidentally knocks off Rudolph's fake nose, revealling the scarlet-hued glow beneath.

And boy did the other reindeer laugh and call him names. It was really horrible to witness. I actually remember watching Rudolph when I was a young boy and feeling so bad for him...mainly because I've been where he was in the school playground. It became even worse when Comet declared that Rudolph was unfit to play in any reindeer games just because he had a red nose. Even Santa was upset...but not at Rudolph. No, his dagger eyes went towards the face of the clearly ashamed Donner, who was appalled that he would go to such lengths.

But Rudolph was the big loser here. He lost all his fair-weather friends, was banned from competing in the Reindeer Games, and he was more or less the victim of discrimination.

Ah, but one friend managed to stand by his side. Enter Clarice with one of the most beautiful songs in the whole show.

Wasn't that a sweet moment? And for one brief, shining moment, Rudolph didn't feel like he was such a misfit. Well, until Clarice's father comes around, yells at Clarice, and cruelly tells Rudolph that no doe of his is going to hang out with a red-nosed reindeer. Rudolph is so hurt by this that he decides to run away from Christmas Town.

Can't Rudolph just catch a break?

Somewhere else in Christmas Town though, someone else was feeling Rudolph's pain. Hermey, an elf who worked at the North Pole painting and building toys has a rather different dream in mind. While all the other elves were content to making toys, singing Christmas songs, and being jolly about doing both, Hermey just wanted to be a dentist. He wanted to fill cavities, put veneers on people, clean teeth, freshen breath, give young children toothbrushes instead of tricycles.

Unfortunately, Hermey was the only elf who didn't like to make toys. And once the word got out, the other elves made Hermey miserable by chastising him and making him feel guilty for even feeling this way. Having a tyrannical boss like the head elf didn't help Hermey either, and after a confrontation with the head elf over his dream, Hermey decides to walk off the job and find fame and fortune somewhere else, away from Christmas Town.

But then, Hermey and Rudolph happen to cross paths, and after hearing each others stories, they decide that the best thing for misfits to do is stick together.

(Here's a bit of trivia for you in regards to the above scene. This scene features the song 'We're A Couple Of Misfits', but between 1965 and 1998, this scene instead featured the song 'Fame And Fortune'. Both versions of the special have aired on various cable channels since 1998 though.)

Sometime after Hermey and Rudolph become friends, they bump into another character who could also be described as a bit of a loner. Yukon Cornelius, a prospector who has dreams of silver and gold (and who attempts to find both by throwing his pick onto the ground and licking the end that falls in the snow), and who happens to tag along with Rudolph and Hermey on their journey.

(TRIVIA: There's actually a deleted scene that has never aired on the CBS network showings of the special which explains why Yukon looked for gold and silver the way he did. Turns out that he wasn't looking for silver and gold after all...instead, he was looking for peppermint! There was a scene at the end of the original airing of the special that goes into more detail. I tried looking for this scene on YouTube, but came up empty, so I'll have to go by what this link tells me.)

Not everyone that the trio happens to meet is a friend. For there is a scary, frightening beast that lurks near Christmas Town. A gigantic, mean-looking beast. A beast known as The Abominable Snow Monster (or 'Bumble', as Yukon Cornelius calls it). The Bumble hates everything associated with Christmas, and with his gigantic molars and bicuspids, he has a healthy appetite for anything alive. Luckily with quick thinking by Yukon Cornelius, the three manage to escape the clutches of the Bumble, but soon they find themselves floating aimlessly on an island of ice in the middle of a huge body of water.

Somehow, the three end up landing on an island in the middle of nowhere. Strangely enough, the group finds that the island is the home of several toys. One toy, a 'Charlie-In-The-Box', explains that they landed on the Island of Misfit Toys, a desolate place where all the unwanted toys with various flaws are sent to live out their lives.

Might I add that this song is probably my favourite song in the whole show.

Among the group of misfit toys are a cowboy riding an ostrich, a polka-dotted elephant, a bird that swims like a fish, and a 'Dolly For Sue'.

TRIVIA: Although I was left confused over why 'Dolly For Sue' was even considered a misfit toy in the first place, Arthur Rankin Jr. later explained that Dolly's problem was a psychological problem, likely triggered by being abandoned by her previous owner.

Surprisingly enough, for being misfit toys, the group seems really tight-knit, where everyone treats each other with respect for who they are, not what flaws they had. It would have made me feel right at home, even though I wasn't a toy.  Apparently, Rudolph and Hermey had the same idea as I, and they asked Charlie-In-The-Box if they could live on the island too. Unfortunately, it wasn't up to him. It was up to the ruler of the island, a winged lion named King Moonracer, to determine whether they were suitable enough to be able to set up a home there.

Sadly, it appears that even Moonracer has standards of his own. Because Rudolph and Hermey weren't toys, they weren't allowed to live there. However, as a consolation prize, Moonracer agreed to let them stay the night. Meanwhile, Rudolph and the others try to come up with a way to find homes for all the unwanted toys on the island.

But Rudolph knows that he can't stay with the others. Having a rather prominent nose that would alert the Bumble to their location like a state-of-the-art GPS device, the last thing he wanted to do was put his friends in harm's way.  So, Rudolph decides to leave his friends behind and set out on his own.

Over the next few months, Rudolph grows a little bit older and wiser, and comes to the conclusion (and blink-if-you-miss-it life lesson for today) that he can't run away from his problems. Instead, he needed to face them head on. Though when Rudolph finally arrives home, he finds that nobody is there with hugs, balloons, or even a welcome home cake. Santa explains that his mother and Clarice have been on a search party for months looking for him since he disappeared.

Rudolph sets out to locate his family and Clarice, and searches high and low in hopes of reuniting with them. But when Rudolph discovers that his family is being held captive by the Bumble, Rudolph knows that he has the fight of his life. Sure enough, when Rudolph stands up against the Bumble, the Bumble knocks him out cold. He fortunately isn't hurt too badly, but he's unable to take on the beast by himself.

But then Yukon Cornelius and Hermey come to the rescue. While Yukon lures the beast out of the cave, Hermey knocks the Bumble out with an avalanche, and while he's in a daze, puts his dentist skills to work by removing each and every one of his teeth! Though in one final twist, Yukon Cornelius seemingly sacrifices himself and his team of dogs as he sails off a cliff with the Bumble. But, don't worry...he and the Bumble both survive. The Bumble actually becomes a nice beast in the end.

And Rudolph and Hermey arrive home to a sea of applause and joy, as all the residents of Christmas Town realize that maybe they treated both of them unfairly. Fortunately, with it being Christmas Eve, and being a day which is all about love and being with your friends and family, Rudolph and Hermey forgive and forget. Rudolph is accepted back into the reindeer games, and the head elf allows Hermey to open up a dentist practice once Christmas is over.

But with the horrible weather and heavy snowfall putting all transportation at a standstill, there might not even BE a Christmas. Santa makes the terrible decsion to cancel Christmas as there was no way that he could make his way through the thick snowfall.

And then the glow of the red light coming from Rudolph's nose made Santa a bit annoyed at first, but then made him smile with glee. What if Rudolph lead his sleigh through the snow to deliver gifts for the good girls and boys of the world?  Oh, but with the way that Christmas Town treated him, Rudolph was sure to say no. Wouldn't he?

Actually, Rudolph was honoured to guide the sleigh. On one condition...

TRIVIA: Believe it or not, the ending that we associate with Rudolph now wasn't the original ending. The original ending just showed the elves delivering presents. And the viewing public did NOT like it. They didn't like the fact that after seeing Santa promise Rudolph that he would find homes for all the misfit toys, their fate in the original airing in 1964 was STILL unresolved. A second ending was filmed for air the following year, and that ending is the one that is still played.

My thoughts? I'm glad they changed it. Because as much of a unit the misfit toys seemed to be together, this way, they had their dreams of being loved again by children accomplished. And that way, everyone in the special got their happy ending. Rudolph was accepted by everyone and got a new girlfriend. Hermey got his dentist office. Yukon found what he was looking for (even though we viewers never saw it). The Bumble found himself being an ally instead of an enemy.

In short...all the misfits ended up finding a place where they belonged...because they all believed in each other enough to make that happen.

So you see, that's a life lesson that we all can take with us. Nobody in this world is a misfit. If you give them a fair shake, and really get to know them, you may find that they're a lot like you. More than you even know.

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