Rudolph at 50: Timeless or Showing His Age?

Four things that hold up (and one that doesn't).

by | December 9, 2014 | Comments

Quick: name something that first aired on TV in 1964 that you still watch on a regular basis and quote in everyday conversation. More likely than not you answered Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the classic Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated special that celebrates its milestone birthday this year, complete with a snazzy new 50th anniversary Blu-ray. (There must have been something special in the water in 1964, since it’s also the year when A Charlie Brown Christmas first head-shake-danced its way into our hearts.)

Five decades is a long time for any work of pop culture to remain relevant to an audience, and while the annual network TV airing of Rudolph remains a rare mass-audience touchstone in a 500-channel universe, it’s time to dig in and see just how well this Christmas classic has aged.


The Songs

Not counting the title track, of course — that popular hit dates all the way back to 1949, which was already ten years after the character of Rudolph had been created as a holiday advertisement for the Montgomery Ward department store. (Yes, it’s Rudolph’s dark secret: he was born a corporate shill. Better a song and specials built around him than Ronald McDonald, anyway.) Two of the original compositions for the TV special — “Silver and Gold” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” — have become standards in their own right, while the others (“Jingle Jingle Jingle,” “There’s Always Tomorrow,” “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” “We Are Santa’s Elves”) are hummable enough that you probably have them in your head just by reading this sentence.

VERDICT: Timeless


The Story

It’s a celebration of non-conformity: Rudolph is shunned by friends and family alike because of his glowing red nose, but when he becomes the only hope for Santa to make it through a particularly treacherous Christmas Eve storm, suddenly everyone loves him. Call it acceptance-by-pragmatism if you will, but often the first step for outsiders and minorities toward assimilation into the majority comes from, you’ll pardon the expression, outshining their former tormentors. Rudolph’s acceptance by the popular kids allows Hermey to put aside toymaking to pursue his dreams of dentistry. Both these characters could easily fit into the smash X-Men franchise, where those ahead of the evolutionary curve slowly and painfully find acceptance in the world.

VERDICT: Timeless


The women

Hoo boy — the men get to go on adventures and achieve personal growth, while Clarisse (Rudolph’s most steadfast supporter) and Rudolph’s mother (denied a first name of her own and known only as “Mrs. Donner”) serve the plot only as hostages. And then there’s Mrs. Claus, who has to glad-hand the elves every time her grumpy, short-tempered husband dismisses their musical efforts.

VERDICT: Dated


The animation

Still gorgeous after all these years, a triumph of meticulous stop-motion craftsmanship from an era where you had to do all that stuff by hand and not with computers. Add to the fact that several of the leading characters are furry (or at least hairy) animals or felt-covered Misfit Toys, and the animators’ feat becomes even more impressive.

VERDICT: Timeless


The quotability

Oh, come on: if you’ve never stage-whispered, “Hermey doesn’t like to make toys!” about someone stepping out of their accepted career path, or lamented “No one wants a Charlie-in-the-Box!” or held your nose and bleated, “She thiggs I’bm gcyoot!” upon finding out that someone you find attractive feels likewise, you’re just not trying. (Super-fans will get into the deep cuts, like impersonating the way Yukon Cornelius licks his pick-ax and sighs, “Nothin’.”)

VERDICT: Timeless


So, OK, yes, the women’s roles are fairly diminished (none of the lady elves gets any substantial dialogue, but they’re presented in a fairly cheesecake-y way — by lady-elf standards, at least), but beyond that, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer remains as watchable and wonderful as it was when LBJ was in the White House. Have a holly jolly Christmas.


Alonso Duralde is the author of the quintessential holiday film guide Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. Follow him on Twitter at @aduralde.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer returns for its 50th anniversary broadcast Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 9:00 pm on CBS. Read reviews here.


More holiday fun on Rotten Tomatoes:

Tag Cloud

Apple TV+ CNN Women's History Month Mary poppins Britbox book ratings 2018 Shondaland FOX south america Epix Universal Star Wars Film Festival Sneak Peek WGN Academy Awards vampires Nominations kids Pop werewolf TCA Winter 2020 Tarantino natural history revenge Anna Paquin video game show San Diego Comic-Con Trailer spider-man SXSW miniseries casting MTV ITV Classic Film HBO Max versus docudrama Netflix sequel TLC canceled Ghostbusters batman Superheroes Mary Tyler Moore Endgame Sundance cults Interview talk show Captain marvel Teen LGBT 20th Century Fox Crackle DC Universe Turner Box Office Trivia Amazon Prime Video award winner Summer GLAAD Walt Disney Pictures CMT Star Trek YouTube Red TV renewals crossover cancelled TV series AMC aliens Animation crime thriller BBC Adult Swim Fox News Kids & Family Fall TV latino stand-up comedy Podcast spanish language Writers Guild of America hispanic The Purge RT21 Martial Arts Masterpiece strong female leads 007 singing competition politics reboot Family Cannes children's TV A&E binge Extras Bravo war spain Set visit Red Carpet Holidays USA blockbuster YouTube Premium History dc cops Vudu Disney Plus toy story Showtime anthology PBS dceu Comedy screenings period drama tv talk SundanceTV BET cancelled DC Comics richard e. Grant Superheroe slashers National Geographic adaptation Marathons Horror zero dark thirty Christmas Country Marvel Lionsgate GIFs Western ESPN Certified Fresh 2020 crime Sony Pictures Opinion Election zombies Mary Poppins Returns Elton John Stephen King canceled TV shows Warner Bros. Premiere Dates ABC renewed TV shows Musicals FX First Reviews Year in Review Grammys TV TNT comiccon Winners The Witch Chernobyl DirecTV cinemax streaming CBS All Access 45 Watching Series dramedy anime 21st Century Fox biography Hulu sports cars Holiday diversity Amazon rotten movies we love movies technology Lifetime TIFF joker PaleyFest discovery what to watch Avengers dragons Polls and Games cartoon Comedy Central composers GoT E! OWN 2015 President Sundance TV Black Mirror historical drama Brie Larson FXX unscripted Musical Biopics directors The CW screen actors guild CW Seed golden globes disaster halloween CBS nature spy thriller Dark Horse Comics Baby Yoda animated Acorn TV finale quibi police drama spinoff Mindy Kaling Emmys APB 2019 Pirates transformers Discovery Channel romance travel Quiz Amazon Prime game of thrones green book HBO robots OneApp New York Comic Con thriller Awards Marvel Studios Tubi TCA 2017 TCA mutant indie TCM Song of Ice and Fire Binge Guide See It Skip It Character Guide Lifetime Christmas movies Countdown Toys Apple elevated horror Esquire christmas movies Apple TV Plus Ovation The Walking Dead DC streaming service Thanksgiving serial killer Rock MCU zombie Heroines sag awards Chilling Adventures of Sabrina BBC America Lucasfilm El Rey psycho YA Rom-Com 2016 Logo LGBTQ Best and Worst jamie lee curtis Comics on TV Comic Book Netflix Christmas movies Rocketman E3 Trophy Talk Spring TV supernatural teaser TBS Cosplay Rocky NBC ABC Family social media X-Men VICE WarnerMedia Freeform The Arrangement festivals Reality Competition blaxploitation boxoffice based on movie theme song Sci-Fi Shudder adventure television Nickelodeon Nat Geo Pet Sematary Turner Classic Movies Video Games Mystery 2017 Spectrum Originals Tomatazos IFC Films cooking foreign Awards Tour Spike witnail political drama science fiction Oscars Paramount Network hist Emmy Nominations Infographic Mudbound Starz TruTV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt First Look Drama Hallmark Ellie Kemper psychological thriller true crime Film Hallmark Christmas movies mockumentary comic series Valentine's Day comics breaking bad name the review YouTube Creative Arts Emmys cats Peacock medical drama TV Land Music Winter TV Crunchyroll Marvel Television American Society of Cinematographers Action Fantasy MSNBC RT History Photos ghosts Disney NYCC romantic comedy Pixar Television Academy crime drama Paramount 71st Emmy Awards Cartoon Network Columbia Pictures space harry potter independent Arrowverse Pride Month Super Bowl doctor who Disney Channel Calendar free movies VH1 Tumblr Disney+ Disney Plus cancelled television USA Network A24 Disney streaming service Food Network Sundance Now IFC Syfy justice league facebook SDCC sitcom Reality DGA 24 frames cancelled TV shows documentary Schedule