Saturday, December 7, 2013

#1,209. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Directed By: Larry Roemer

Starring: Billie Mae Richards, Burl Ives, Paul Soles

Tag line: "The Most Famous Reindeer of All Time!"

Trivia: Rudolph airs on American TV several times during the Christmas and holiday season, and on several cable channels

This is the time of year when many cinephiles turn their attention to Holiday-themed films, watching everything from classics (It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street) to more contemporary titles (Love Actually, The Polar Express). So you can imagine how surprised I was to learn that, over the last three Holiday seasons, I’ve covered exactly two Christmas movies, one of which was the 1974 horror masterpiece Black Christmas

In fact, aside from Black Christmas, Elf (which I wrote up off-season, in July of 2012), and the 1984 made-for-TV version of A Christmas Carol, I’ve ignored the Holiday genre altogether.

Well, it’s time to make amends. 

Throughout December, I’ll be focusing on a number of Christmas-themed movies, and what better place to start than the 1964 Rankin/Bass stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

Most of you are familiar with the story: Rudolph (voiced by Billie Mae Richards) dreams of one day joining Santa’s reindeer team, helping him deliver toys to all the children of the world on Christmas Eve. 

Unfortunately, Rudolph was born with a slight... defect: a glowing red nose! As a result he’s shunned by the other reindeer. His only friend is Hermey the Elf (Paul Soles), who is also an outcast (he’d rather be a dentist than make toys). Tired of being put down, the two leave the North Pole, and on their journeys meet up with a prospector named Yukon Cornelius (Larry Mann), who spends his days searching for silver and gold. 

Together, the three will face off against the Abominable Snowman, a fierce creature with razor-sharp teeth; and make new friends on the Island of Misfit Toys. Over time, Rudolph comes to terms with his unique condition. In fact, as he’ll eventually discover, being different has its advantages.

Along with its timeless tale of self-worth and acceptance, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer features a number of now-classic tunes, the most notable of which is "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas", sung by Burl Ives (who also provides the voice of Sam the Snowman, the show’s narrator). And while some of the stop-motion may look a bit choppy at times, the characters themselves are infused with plenty of personality (especially the boisterous Yukon Cornelius, who shouts almost every line of dialogue). Even with Santa (voiced by Stan Francis) portrayed as a nasty old grouch, chastising Rudolph’s parents because of their son’s nose and ignoring the elves when they perform a song for him, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is sure to bring a smile to any youngster's face.

The longest-running Christmas special of all-time (it’s been broadcast on American television every year since 1964), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has entertained millions of young fans, myself included. As a kid, I never missed an opportunity to watch it, and to this day, Rudolph ranks alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Year without a Santa Claus and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas as one of my favorite Holiday shows.

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