Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
I’m switching things up a bit today. This isn’t the usual synopsis-style review, since everyone’s seen Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer about 537,000 times. It’s probably the most beloved Christmas classic of all time. When I was a kid, I would always look forward to its annual airing on TV like it was the Super Bowl. But as I grow older, and my brain gets more and more crotchety, I can’t help but notice some really disturbing things going on in this movie, and the very weird messages it conveys. I know it was a different time when Rudolph was made, and we’ve come a long way since then, for better or worse, and what was acceptable 40+ years ago is a little disturbing now. (Yes, I know it’s just an old children’s movie meant to get you in the Christmas spirit, but “overanalyzing movies we loved as kids” is the motto of this site.) So here are the disturbing life lessons of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
Any Imperfection Is Evil
The obvious example is Rudolph’s nose. How did that even happen anyway? What kind of birth defect includes illumination? Was Rudolph’s mother on some kind of fertility drug made of Christmas lights? Anyway, Santa is appalled by Rudolph’s nose, and says that it had better go away through puberty if Rudolph ever hopes to make the sleigh team. How is his nose exactly a handicap, though? It just glows, which doesn’t have anything to do with his flying ability. It makes him look weird, but so what? If Santa has to become morbidly obese for Christmas, what harm could a red nose do? But this is the North Pole (a.k.a., Christmastown), and imperfection that isn’t tied to weight will not be tolerated. Sam the Snowman even calls Rudolph’s nose “non-conformity.” Well we can’t have that.
Rudolph’s parents hide his nose from public view for months, until one day, when playing with the other bucks, his nose mud comes off and everyone sees his true, hideous form. Immediately and without question, he’s banished from interacting with the other kids his age. They catch just one sight of his deformity and it’s all over for him. And this is accepted by absolutely everyone in Christmastown, even his own parents! Rudolph’s mom doesn’t say a word about this, because she’s a woman (see “Women Need to Know Their Place” below). Santa is there for the big reveal, and he also instantly declares Rudolph unfit for society, saying to Rudolph’s dad, “Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself! What a pity, he had a nice takeoff, too!” What an a-hole. Rudolph’s girlfriend, Clarice, is the only one who doesn’t mind, but she’s immediately forbidden from seeing Rudolph by her father.
The evils of imperfection are magnified when it’s revealed that there’s an entire island inhabited by toys that just have even the slightest defects, including a few that don’t actually have any defects at all. It illustrates that the standards of perfection are so strict at the North Pole that no deviation from that perfection is tolerated in any way. The Island of Misfit Toys is an internment camp.
The thing is, these are toys, and as shown early in the movie, all toys are made by elves. So the Misfit Toys are toys that the elves messed up in the manufacturing process. But why weren’t they fixed? As I said, these toys only seem to have minor defects, all of which could be easily corrected, yet it seems that the elves preferred to banish them instead of helping them. It’s pretty messed up.
Here are the toys that we’re introduced to, along with their “defects”:
• Charlie-In-the-Box – Defect: That his name is Charlie instead of Jack. Seriously, that’s it. There’s nothing actually wrong with him except for his name. So why was he named Charlie in the first place?
• Spotted Elephant – Defect: He has spots. That’s all. Why did an elf paint spots on him if the elephant was going to be outcast because of it? A rogue, demented elf? And why couldn’t he have just been repainted?
• A Dolly for Sue – Defect: A perfectly normal doll. No defects whatsoever. So why is she a misfit? It’s never explained in the movie, but according to WIkipedia: “Rudolph’s producer, Arthur Rankin Jr., says Dolly’s problem was psychological, caused from being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved.” Wow. That Sue is one cold-hearted little girl. This is evident at the end when the dolly cries and says, “I haven’t any dreams left to dream!”
• Cowboy – Defect: He rides an ostrich. Soooooo, don’t ride an ostrich. Or you could be two toys: an ostrich and a cowboy who doesn’t ride anything. Not really seeing the big issue here.
• Train – Defect: A train that has square wheels on his caboose. Once again, seems like an extremely easy fix, just put round wheels on it. But I guess the elves just can’t be bothered.
• Boat – Defect: A boat that just sinks. Come on. The elves have probably made hundreds of thousands of boats for Christmas, they don’t know how to make one that doesn’t sink? Again, probably a simple fix. This also applies to the airplane that can’t fly.
• Squirt Gun – Defect: Shoots grape jelly instead of water. I’m just speechless on this one. Why can’t it be filled with water instead? Is there some kind of magical infinite jelly supply in there? Even if that were the case, it would be really useful for breakfast.
• A Scooter for Jimmy – Defect: None. Completely defect-free just like the dolly. Maybe Jimmy is Sue’s brother, and just as cold-hearted.
• Bird Fish – Defect: A toy bird that swims instead of flies. This doesn’t even make any sense. Besides, what toy bird actually flies by itself anyway?
So what’s the problem here? I think King Moonracer is keeping these toys on his island for some kind of nefarious purpose. He goes out at night and rounds them up and brings them to the island, but they’re all miserable there, so how is he making their lives better? But at least they all get delivered to good homes at the end right? Well, now they do, but in the original airing of the special, that scene wasn’t in there, meaning Santa went back on his word and refused to deliver these freaks. Which is just… awful.
Keep Your Ambitions to Yourself
Hermey is an elf who would rather be a dentist than make toys, but the other elves laugh at him, and the Head Elf yells at him for not wanting to do what the Christmastown society demands that he do. And really, there has never been a dentist at the North Pole before? Gross.
So just because Hermey wants the freedom to choose his own career, he’s ostracized by the community. Now, I know he comes back at the end and is accepted as a dentist, but you have to realize that this Christmas thing has been going on for hundreds of years. That’s centuries of unyielding, oppressive conformity. This is evident when the elves present Santa with a new song that’s all about how they serve him unconditionally, and he doesn’t even give a crap. That’s what happens when dictators get all the power they crave, they get bored.
Women Need to Know Their Place
There are three female characters in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Mrs. Claus, Rudolph’s mom, Mitzi (Mitzi?), and Rudolph’s girlfriend, Clarice. Mrs. Claus is essentially just Santa’s housekeeper, her only role to make sure that Santa eats enough to get fat for Christmas (why does Santa have to be fat, anyway?). So she knows her place, and seems very content in it.
Women needing to know their place is best illustrated when Donner goes after Rudolph and Mitzi and Clarice want to come with him, but Donner tells them, “NO! This is MAN’S work!” They defy him though, but because they’re supposed to know their place, they’re kidnapped by the Abominable, and end up only exacerbating the situation. So STAY HOME, ladies!
Castrate What You Can’t Control
The Abominable Snow Monster of the North is feared by everyone at the North Pole because he’s big and doesn’t like Christmas. So the Abominable doesn’t care for Christmas, just like Hermey doesn’t care for making toys, and he’s outcast for it. You can’t have one belief that’s outside of the accepted standard in Christmastown.
Although the Abominable never actually hurts anything or anyone (e.g., when he has Clarice and Mitzi in his cave, all he’s doing is petting Clarice), Yukon Cornelius tries to kill him by pushing him over a cliff, even though Hermey has already pulled all of his teeth out to make him docile. Ghastly. So in the end, they put him into a life of servitude, where he has to spend the rest of his days drinking his meals and being forced to do work on the one thing that he hates: Christmas. Sickos. Again, this is a creature who is never seen harming anyone.
Care About Someone Only When You Need Something From Them
Although Donner, Mitzi, and Clarice are worried about Rudolph and go to look for him, nobody else in Christmastown gives a rat’s fat feet about Rudolph or Hermey, even though they’re gone for months. I guess they all just assumed they were dead. When Rudolph does come back, nobody is like, “Oh I’m so glad you’re alive!” They just start making fun of him again. He goes home to find that his family has also been missing for months. Santa tells him about it, but of course he doesn’t really care, he just cares that Donner won’t be around to pull the sleigh. WHAT AN A**HOLE.
Of course, when they NEED Rudolph’s nose to help Santa’s sleigh see through a snowstorm (and Santa is annoyed by Rudolph’s nose right up until the second he realizes he could use it) everything is ace of spades. By the way, Rudolph’s nose isn’t THAT bright, there isn’t one flashlight in Christmastown they could use instead? And is there a snowstorm worldwide? Santa wants to cancel Christmas because of a local storm? Well, this question is answered during the end montage when Santa is delivering presents and there isn’t a snowflake in the sky.
So there you have it. Christmastown may be the worst place on Earth, and Santa is worse than Stalin. Have a holly jolly Christmas!