Rudolph Revisited

The cast of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

I was shocked to learn that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been flying on network television as a holiday special for 50 years. I wasn’t aware reindeers could fly that long.

Rudolph, the herky-jerky animated Christmas special based on the song of the same name, introduced millions of kids like me, and later my children, to colorful characters like Hermey the elf, Yukon Cornelius, and the Abominable Snow Monster; all of whom have absolutely nothing to do with the simple lyrics that have been burned into our skulls since we were born.

But creative license aside, this imaginative retelling on television of the outcast reindeer with the shiny nose who ultimately guides Santa’s sleigh has taught generations of impressionable kids valuable, heart-warming morality lessons around ostracism, bullying, heroic revenge, and the use of Norelco electric shavers.

Not long before Blockbuster took the special out of holiday special, we were treated to broadcast productions like Rudolph and Charlie Brown and The Grinch when the big networks and their sponsors saw fit—usually at 8:00 PM on the one school night when we had to dress up and sing in our school choral concerts.

Later, when holiday specials became available on videotape they were rebranded as holiday classics, watchable whenever the Christmas spirit struck. When he was a little boy, my older son once watched Frosty the Snowman every day for a week in July. I thought I was going to shoot myself.

Over time the once-a-year network holiday specials were thankfully augmented with more entertaining Seinfeld Festivus episodes or warm holiday experiences shared among pre-Facebook Friends on NBC.

Nowadays even this doesn’t cut it. I mean, really, would you embrace binging on eggnog and holiday episodes like NCIS: North Pole or A Walking Dead Christmas or Green is the New Red or a guest turn by Santa Claus as a psychopath on The Black List?

OK, maybe you would, but I think you get my point. It is a lot harder to generate the innocent magic of the holiday season on television today than it was when the animated Rudolph was created 50 years ago. That is why holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer must be rebroadcast year after year—to keep our imaginations alive.

Otherwise they would suffer a fate like this:

Rudolph Fifty Years Later: Where Are They Now?

Santa Claus is forced to suspend his North Pole operations after the Supreme Court rules that his workforce of elves reinforces discriminatory hiring practices and his illegal access to naughty and nice files are in violation of HIPAA laws governing patient privacy. He starts an online service called Santizon and tops Forbes list of the richest people, thereby proving that he does exist.

Hermey becomes a dentist and marries a nice Jewish girl from Long Island after Santa relocates his workshop to China and replaces all of his elves with 3D printers. Hermey starts making dreidels after he admits that Christmas was never his holiday.

The Flying Reindeer fall victim to automation and are upgraded to drones that operate from large Santizon fulfillment centers scattered strategically around the globe. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen sell the rights to their names to the adult entertainment industry. Comet and Cupid enjoy brief careers as carriage horses before they are banned in New York City. Donder and Blitzen go on to become QVC pitchmen for a line of male grooming products.

The North Pole is converted to landfill and later becomes an EPA Superfund site after significant amounts of Xmasthylicon, a toxic chemical used to hermetically wrap toys in plastic, is discovered embedded in the ice.

The Abominable Snow Monster and Yukon Cornelius move to California and become a couple under the state’s more liberal marriage laws.

Frosty the Snowman enjoys success briefly as a 60s folk singer named Burl Ives, but in later years loses a life long battle with Global Warming.

And what about Rudolph, the most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph marries his sweetheart Clarice and becomes a research engineer for General Electric. They produce three children, all of whom have shiny noses. Today they live in a retirement home for flying animals in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will go down in history as the father of GPS.

I don’t know, revisiting Rudolph after 50 years kind of removes some of the magic from of the story.

My family didn’t watch the fiftieth anniversary of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer when it aired on network television this year. My son came home from college and we all attended his brother’s high school holiday band concert the night it ran. These are now the things that are special at this time of year.

Not that I would have watched it anyway. With three kids and a couple of DVD player over the years, I have seen all of these old holiday classics more times than I care to remember. In fact, if one year had lapsed between every viewing, I would be older than Santa Claus right now. Maybe even Jesus.

Still, just knowing that the original Rudolph has endured for 50 years gives me some sense of holiday spirit. Because as long as there are still kids with imagination and parents who remember being kids with imagination, I can remain confident that Rudolph will continue to heroically guide Santa’s sleigh one night every year at Christmas.

And that is pretty special.