Posted by: Hannah | 12/06/2011

in which Rankin & Bass ruin everything

When I was a kid the only channel we could get reliably was CBC.

CBC did not and does not have the broadcast rights to any of the ‘classic’ Rankin & Bass Christmas specials, so did not see them until I was in university.

The stop-motion hijinks of Rudolph, The Little Drummer Boy,  and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town were thus not a part of my childhood, and I do not view them through the lens of nostalgia as so many others do.

So let me say this – these are terrible, terrible shows that should not be viewed by anyone.

Let’s start with The Little Drummer Boy, because I don’t think I’m alone in my distaste for it – it’s not on any of the major networks, and indeed I only saw it myself a couple of years ago when it aired on Treehouse. Start watching around minute 3:40 or so:

Note the wide scary eyes, the drummer boy’s father getting murdered by sheep thieves, the DEATH and FIRE and MAYHEM. Note also the large noses and evil eyebrows.

I do not recall any of these events in the annoying but ultimately harmless children’s song, wherein a small boy offers the baby Jesus the gift of music.

Needless to say when Harry and I settled in to watch this one Christmas, it was a lesson for me in the value of pre-screening bloody everything, because you just never know when a children’s program will suddenly take a turn for the OMG YOUR PARENTS HAVE BEEN MURDERED.

Add in the animals ‘dancing’ except they look like they are possessed by demons, the fact that Joseph looks like a caricature of Shylock but Mary looks like Barbie, and the undeniable fact that no newborn baby on earth would be soothed by drumming for heaven’s sake, and you end up with one hot creepy mess of a TV special.

Moving on to Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, which I actually find kind of charming if I don’t think about it too closely. The fact that Fred Astaire narrates it goes a long way with me; his voice is so smooth, so soothing, that I have a hard time getting worked up about it. But, you know, there are some issues. Like, why does he have a penguin for a sidekick? What’s the deal with the Winter Warlock? Why is the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger a fat German but everyone else in town is (judging by their accents) American? And once again, why does the love interest look like Barbie? (Perhaps Rankin & Bass only had one “girlfriend” puppet?)

Here’s a trailer which gives you a pretty good overview, if you haven’t seen it:

Now, the fact that Santa is voiced by Mickey Rooney is a little weird… although I can overlook it. The wedding sequence is a bit odd and possibly off-putting for atheists / agnostics / people who assumed a special about Santa Claus would leave out all the God stuff. But all in all, not bad. And not scary, unless the very fact of stop-motion scares you, in which case you will hate this and have nightmares about that goddamn penguin (who honks like a goose, incidentally. Very disturbing.)

And finally the one that inspired this whole post, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ack ack ACK if I live to be a hundred I will never understand the appeal of this horrid program. Let’s see, what have we got…

  • Santa is a mean bastard who pits his reindeer against one another in some sort of ‘culling the herd’ approach to choosing the eight lucky ones who do all the actual work on Christmas Eve. He also complains bitterly about the elves whenever they are out of earshot and resents their attempts to make their workplace more jolly through song & lame choreography.
  • Mrs. Santa is a skinny bitch who spends the whole year force-feeding the naturally-slim Santa until he is fat. Also, she calls him ‘Papa’, which means he calls her ‘Mama’, which is just freaky.
  • All of the other reindeer are assholes who torture Rudolph just because he’s different.
  • Donner is Rudolph’s father, and is completely non-supportive of his son’s nose, even though having a red nose is not a lifestyle choice, it’s something he was born with.
  • The flight instructor / coach character is a rampant jackass who bans Rudolph from the reindeer games, even though the other young ones hadn’t actually thought of going that far with it.
  • Donner is not only a terrible father, he’s also a misogynist. When Mrs. Donner wants to go and help look for the missing Rudolph, he forbids her to come saying “no, this is man’s work”. AAAAGGGGGHHHH my brain.

And we haven’t even left the reindeer herd yet!

Let’s not forget that, you know, who ever aspired to be a dentist? *shudder* And how does the poor Bumble eat after that little twit yanks all of his teeth out? And if elves make all the toys, then didn’t they also make the Misfit Toys? So how can Santa not know about them? And if you’re magical enough to fly all the way around in the world in one night, how are you still susceptible to things like snow and wind?

It is ass. It really is. For some reason, my kids love it, and it’s become a part of their childhood somehow and thus I have to watch the stupid thing every year.

Add in some truly awful musical numbers and let’s not forget it’s an HOUR LONG OMG, and this one almost makes my heart shrink three sizes.


With thanks to Nicole, who got in there first with the complaining about Rudolph and thus forced me to contemplate a longer post. With video links. 



  1. I have never watched any of these films. And I’m sooooooooo very okay with that.

    BTW, what’s with the “snow” falling on your blog. That’s so cool.

    • The snow is a WordPress add-on you can select in December. I love it. 🙂

  2. I’ve never seen the Drummer Boy. And I’m never going to, based on that. HOLY CRAP. There are sheep thieves. They kill the dad. They burn everything to the ground. My kids would have freaking nightmares from that. *I* would have nightmares. Also – it seems weirdly racist.

    • It’s really racist, I agree. I’ll bet there are parts of the Republican party who would totally be on board with the whole “Arab terrorists have been ruining Christmas from the beginning. Also the Jews” thing… but it is WEIRD.

  3. To me the surprising thing about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is Santa’s complicity in the bullying and ostracism. I expect more of Santa than that – I’d prefer to see him as a Dumbledore figure, someone who quietly opposes all bullying, even if he is often busy/elsewhere when it is occurring.

    But I don’t know if it’s really problematic that Donner and the other reindeer are depicted in this way, given that our allegiance is always with Rudolph and the whole point of the show is that such prejudice and exclusion are wrong and hurtful. Everyone – even the abominable snowman – has something to offer, if we are capable of seeing past the mindless conformity of the majority. Would it be better if we just pretended that bullying and prejudice don’t exist? Or would we prefer if all the adult characters were enlightened, leaving the young bucks to do all the bullying?

    • Well, my tongue was pretty firmly in my cheek on this one. I mean, it doesn’t bother me so much that I don’t let my kids watch it when they ask. That said, coming to them for the first time as an adult I just wonder exactly how it is that people who grew up with it have such fond memories, when there are so. many. characters and moments that are unlikable or act in ways that are just plain off-putting.

  4. We taped the Rudolph special off of CTV when I was six or seven along with a bunch of other Xmas specials (on our first-ever VHS tape for our first-ever VCR), so it was indeed a part of my childhood. However, a few years back my Mom sent a store-bought copy of Rudolph (on VHS) for us to watch with my older daughter (who was four at the time) and none of us could sit through it. Just bloody awful, for all the reasons you just mentioned.

    BTW, the same tape of Xmas specials (which was eight hours long!) also included How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Xmas, and A Christmas Carol (the one with Alaistar Sim as Scrooge) – all of which have aged much better than that wretched Rudolph special.

    • The Alastair Sim Scrooge is the definitive version, for sure. I’ve got it all ready to go for tomorrow night as my reward to myself for getting the Christmas cards done.

  5. Rudolph is BORING. Is it really only an hour long? I could have sworn it was longer than that…

    I came to Santa Claus is Coming to Town as an adult, and I love it. On the “Santa gets married” bit, I thought it was kind of cool that they married in the cheap showiness of nature, rather than in a church. Little bit of pagan undertones there, if you ask me.

    • Ha, good point. Pagans for all! (I actually think that scene is really sweet. But Hubs was a bit taken aback so I thought it was relevant to add).

  6. OMG, yes. We only had two channels growing up, CBC and Global, so I remember well the lack of good Christmas specials. (Did CTV nab ALL the good ones?!?) The Rankin & Bass shows were all so scary and disturbing, especially the Abominable Snowman in the Rudolph special.

  7. […] wrote a dissertation on this very subject several years ago. In brief – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ugh. I hate everything about it. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: