For many, the best part of Christmas is watching the same beloved holiday movies for the umpteenth time. We’re paying tribute to our favorites by breaking down everything that makes them annual must-watches. In this Classic Christmas Movie Breakdown, we’re looking at the famous story of one youngster who learned that the very thing that made him different also made him special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Of all the traditional kids Christmas specials that are staples of the holiday movie rotation, Rudolph might feel like the most out of place. The powerful exploit the weak. Conformity rules all. And society marginalizes those who fall outside of the accepted definition of normal. That’s not a story that screams “season’s greetings!” But just like the glowing nose at the center of it all, the story is ultimately a beacon of hope. The “misfits” find comfort in one another and realize their self-worth isn’t defined by others. And the people (and elves) who made them feel like there was something wrong with them come to recognize the error of their ways. As a result they grew as individuals too. Rudolph has endured because, although it starts dark like the storm that threatened Christmas, it finds its way and arrives at a better, more understanding place.
How does it do that? Let’s figure out exactly why this tale has gone down in history.
Does Santa appear? (And is he real?)
The real Santa is prominently involved in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer…and he is the worst. This has to be the least likable Santa Claus ever. Here’s a quick list of his many lowlights: breaks into a song about himself for no reason, doesn’t clap or compliment the choir of elves that sings for him, reacts to Rudolph’s red nose as though this sweet little newborn reindeer is made of ebola, and is ready to cancel Christmas for every kid in the whole world because of some snow. Snow. In the North Pole.
But while everyone likes to point out how quickly he exploits Rudolph’s unique nose when it needs his help, far and away the single worse thing he does is scold Rudolph’s father for bringing his son to the reindeer games, because his son was born different. “Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
What kind of monster says that?!
Do any magical creatures talk?
They talk, they dance, and they sing. From the reindeer to the misfit toys, to the animals of the forest to Sam the Snowman, the world of Rudolph is a very magical place. But the weirdest, most inexplicable magical creature has to be the ruler of the Island of Misfit toys, the half lion/half bird King Moonracer.
We’re not saying the special’s creators were on anything when they came up with King Moonracer. But LSD was pretty popular in 1964.
Are there any religious components?
The North Pole appears to be entirely secular. Possibly because it was too hard for missionaries to travel there.
How lovable is the main character?
Rudolph is delightful. He has every right to be jaded with the whole world. Instead he’s just a sweet kid who wants to fit in. He’s also caring and considerate. He runs off in the middle of the night when he’s afraid his red nose will attract the Abominable Snow Monster. Rudolph doesn’t want to risk the safety of Hermey and Yukon Cornelius. Plenty of us would have told Santa to go to hell when he asked us to save Christmas, but Rudolph is a better, more forgiving reindeer than we are.
How evil is the villain?
Santa is far worse than the Abominable Snow Monster, especially because old “Bumble” is the most adorable yeti ever. There are plenty of other villains too, like Rudolph’s ashamed father Donner, the head Elf who treats Hermey like garbage for wanting to be a dentist, and almost all of the other elves and reindeer.
How sincere or cynical is the movie when it comes to Christmas?
When Santa is this unlikable it’s hard to say the movie has a super positive message about Christmas. However, considering everyone apologizes to Rudolph and all of the story’s misfits have their dreams come true, Rudolph has a genuinely sweet, sincere ending. And for anyone who has ever been made to feel like a weirdo, it’s nice to see these kinds of characters become the heroes.
Does anyone sing?
This is technically a musical, right? The singing never stops. There are solo performances, duets, and a couple of groups songs. The film is lacking one really big emotional group singalong though.
What are the most prominent Christmas themes?
Friendship, family, and understanding. The best part of the whole special is the friendship between the outcasts Hermey, Rudolph, and greatest human ever, Yukon Cornelius. They find comfort and support in one another. And while Rudolph runs away from his terrible father, that leads Donner to go looking for his son. He realizes he has mistreated his child by trying to hide his real identity and making him feel like he’s a disappointment. The other once-intolerant characters follow suit, which is why we can probably also include “forgiveness” and “redemption” as meaningful Christmas themes.
Most memorable quote?
I’ve had “Whoever heard of a skinny Santa!” stuck in my head since I was five. The correct (lame) answer though is, ‘Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
A more awesome answer would be literally anything Yukon Cornelius says. Without question he’s one of the funniest characters ever.
There are so many great scenes to choose from that it’s hard to pick a “wrong” one. But so long as Yukon Cornelius is involved you’re right on the money.
Most emotional moment?
The answer to this question depends on whether you get most emotional at sad scenes (like when Rudolph leaves Hermey and Yukon Cornelius behind to protect them) or happier ones (like when Santa goes to the Island of Misfit Toys to find them all homes).
Honestly, there’s no super obvious answer here. There are many small awful moments, along with so many small wonderful ones. And maybe that’s the biggest reason Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is still a part of our Christmas every year. The forecast isn’t always great, but as long as we can find a beacon of hope to help us weather the storm, things can always get better.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.