Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Social Statement

As a follow-up to my post on Charlie Brown's insane christmas special, here is a quick run down of the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This has always been a favorite of mine, for various reasons. Rankin/Bass figure prominently in my childhood, having done the wonderful animated version of The Hobbit that has brought joy for as long as I can remember. And this story is so odd and delightful, with funny stop motion animation and disturbing character voices that stick with you long after you forget the other aspects of the story.

(Hermey the Misfit Elf is particularly odd-- an effeminate elf outcast for his preferences? Really? Okay it is 1964, a more innocent age perhaps. But are they trying to say something with this?)

One thing that really struck me as a child still is very much evident as you watch the show today: Every male character is a jerk. Rudolph's father shuns him, Santa mocks him, the coach of the reindeer games actively encourages the other reindeer to exclude Rudolph. The women fare better, at least. Although they are pretty excluded from the Christmastown power structure. Santa calls Donner's wife "Mrs. Donner." Mrs. Clause is of course basically unseen, except when trying to get Santa to eat. (Does she have a first name either?)

There is Clarice, Rudolph's girlfriend. She's nice from the start, though I'm wondering why as I watch it now. Is she trying to get at her parents? Why does she instantly fall for the oddball? I understand not mocking him or shunning him, but love at first sight? Maybe she's just a friendly doe.

The real cultural high point of this is the Island of Misfit Toys. It gets better every time I see the show. It's so dark and funny and sad. Some of the things are not even the toy's fault. A water pistol that shoots jelly? Just don't put jelly in it, kid! It's no one's fault but yours! The high craziness is definitely saved for the island. The king is a flying lion (?) named Moonracer. Wow. I mean I was not raised in an incredibly pop culture savvy household. Christmas involved Santa, assorted elfs, reindeer... the Christian aspect had Mary and Jesus and wise men. Flying Lion King Moonracer did not factor in anywhere. God bless you, though, Rankin/Bass!

Yukon Cornelius carries a six shooter throughout the show as well. I loved that.

As always the best thing about these sixties cartoons is the random dialogue scattered throughout the show:

"I'm off to get my life sustaining supplies: Cornmeal, gunpowder, hamhocks and guitar strings." (I'm sure my grandfather used to say that.)

"No! This is man's work!"

"That silly elf song is driving me crazy!"

"I don't have any dreams left to dream."

"Rudolph existed as best he could."

"They realized the best thing to do was to get the women back to Christmastown." (I will say this to Viri in reference to Jaime and Arkaedi every chance I get from now on.)

This is the day to be in watching cartoons, too. It is winter death storm outside.

We're loving it. It's rare we get a snow in Seattle. I'm glad it's here. I'm also glad, however, that it's rare.

1 comment:

Herc said...

Well then, Merry Christmas...