Observations on a lifetime of watching “Rudolph”

We didn’t watch Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer much at all last Christmas.  At age three, Matthew was in the “I’m terrified of the Abominable Snow Monster” mode that appears to be a standard developmental phase  for all kids who celebrate Christmas and own a TV.   But how he’s four, and my trial showing of the film the other night confirmed that he can in fact watch the snow monster without succumbing to vivid nightmares of an arctic nature.

That is a happy development for me, because I love the movie.  It’s so replete with memories of my own childhood, and it has that kitschy 1960s-charm that you just don’t see in today’s flashy animated specials.  And that Abominable?  Well, he’s adorable.

And after thirty-seven years (give or take a few) of seeing this film, I’ve noticed a few things.

1) Are there any adult characters in this film who actually start off being positive role models? Santa is narrow-minded and elitist.  The elf foreman (the green guy with the perpetual frown — does he have a name?) bulldozers his way over Hermey’s dentistry dreams without a shred of visible remorse.  The guy running the reindeer tryouts is a disgrace to all coaches (“Hey, listen up, all!  From now on, we won’t let Rudolph join in any of our reindeer games!” )  You almost expect him to start giving the other reindeer wedgies.   And Rudolph’s dad is the stereotype of every father who has ever tried to live vicariously through his son’s accomplishment, literally hiding Rudolph’s light under a bushel in the name of advancing his own social ambitions.  Seriously, they’re all terrible.  Yukon Cornelius is the only guy with any real integrity, standing by Rudolph from the git-go.  And Rudolph’s mom is also a sympathetic character, even though I wish she’d stand up to Mr. Rudolph sometime.  That deer needs a little Aretha.  At least she has the gumption to go out looking for her lost son, even when her husband tells her that it’s “man’s work!”.

Of course, all of these characters grow and  learn their lessons in the end.  Redemption is possible.  And I guess that’s what counts.

2) Okay, for years I’ve wondered what exactly is wrong with the doll who is on the Island of Misfit Toys.  (You know,  the one in the red plaid dress, who can even say “How do you do”? )   She seems perfectly okay.  Maybe she has particularly regrettable tattoo under that dress, or six toes on one foot or something.

3) Cutest line ever: When Hermey and Rudolph join forces.  “Let’s both be independent together!”

4) There is a surprising amount of conformity in ChristmasTown.  Have you noticed how all the elves look alike?  (except for Hermey, and the tall one with glasses).  It’s like the Bokanovsky groups in Brave New World.   And conformity seems to be the number one priority for just about everyone, as discussed above.

Which leads me to:

5) The fact that there is a very, very sweet message to this film.  It’s really a hymn to being different, isn’t it?   Everyone who tries to make the two heroes conform realizes in the end that they have a terrific amount to offer just as they are.  And I don’t want to get all cheesy and maudlin here, but as a mom, I keep learning more and more that  kids are totally unique, individual little creatures.  You can try to make them be what you want them to be, but really, they’ll end up being whoever they are — like the dentist, or the guy with the nose that saves Christmas.  And what initially seem like problems to be overcome are maybe really gifts, when you can crack open your own ossified vision and see things from a new angle.

See?  Even we grownups have a lot to learn from a red-nosed reindeer and his pals.

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