Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Christmas television special produced in stop motion animation by Rankin/Bass. It first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC television network in the United States, and was sponsored by General Electric (who then acquired NBC after the 1986 acquisition of RCA) under the umbrella title of The General Electric Fantasy Hour. The special was based on the Johnny Marks song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" which was itself based on the 1939 poem Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May. Since 1972, the special has aired on CBS affiliate television stations, with the network unveiling a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the program in 2005. As with A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas,Rudolph no longer airs just once annually, but several times during the Christmas and holiday season and on several cable channels (including ABC Family). It has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special in history, and one of only four 1960s Christmas specials still being telecast, the others being A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, andFrosty the Snowman.
Donner's wife gives birth to a baby fawn named Rudolph, but the two are shocked to discover that Rudolph's unusually red nose is capable of glowing. When Santa Claus visits their cave to meet the fawn and sees the glowing nose, he warns Mr. & Mrs. Donner that Rudolph won't be able to pull the sleigh if he continues to carry this trait for the rest of his life. Consequently, Donner tries to conceal Rudolph's nose with dirt.
A year later, Rudolph's parents take him to participate in the Reindeer Games. Here Rudolph, along with all of the other young bucks, will be trained to fly and pull Santa's sleigh when they get older. There, Rudolph meets a friendly reindeer named Fireball and they quickly become friends. The pair then sees a group of does including one named Clarice, who seems to love Rudolph. Fireball then encourages Rudolph to speak with her. She thinks he's cute which causes Rudolph to perform a dazzling leap into the air and fly. However, when Rudolph and Fireball engage in celebratory play, the cover pops off Rudolph's nose and unveils his "non-conformity" - scaring Fireball and ending their friendship. All of the other yearlings then make fun at Rudolph's nose and he is prohibited by Coach Comet from taking part in any more Reindeer Games. Clarice, who is not the least bit bothered by Rudolph's secret, catches up with a sulking Rudolph to try to comfort him. Soon after, Clarice's father forbids her to hang around with Rudolph, breaking his heart and runs away. Meanwhile an elf named Hermey dreams of becoming a dentist rather than making toys. His supervisor is outraged at his persistent disruption with his dentistry studies. Feeling ridiculed and misunderstood, Hermey also decides to run away. Later, Rudolph meets up with Hermey and the pair decide to set off together.
Along the way, they meet a cheerfully and boisterous prospector named Yukon Cornelius, who dreams of discovering silver and gold, before the trio bumps into the Abominable Snow Monster who is attracted to Rudolph's nose. Escaping on an iceberg, they arrive on the Island of Misfit Toys where unwanted toys live with a winged lion named King Moonracer, until he can find homes for them. The king agrees to let them stay for one night in exchange for a promise from Rudolph that as soon as he, Yukon, and Hermey return, they will ask Santa to deliver the Misfit Toys to children who need them. Later that night, while Hermey and Yukon go to sleep, Rudolph decides to leave the island alone knowing that his nose will endanger his friends.
Rudolph grows older and drifts from place to place making and leaving friends as he is continually rejected for his glowing nose. Eventually deciding to go home, he returns to his cave to find that his parents, along with Clarice, have left to search for him. Rudolph then sets out to find his family and discovers that they have been captured by the Abominable Snow Monster, who plans to eat them. After a brief fight, Rudolph is knocked unconscious. Fortunately, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius arrive and hatch a rescue plan. Luring the monster out of the cave, the pair knock the Snow Monster unconscious and Hermey extracts his teeth. Rudolph awakens, but he and his family are blocked from their escape by the also awakened beast who blocks the entrance to the cave. Yukon chases the now toothless Snow Monster to a cliff, driving him off the edge. Mourning Yukon's loss, Rudolph, his parents, Clarice, and Hermey nonetheless return home. where everyone apologizes for the way they acted while telling them about their adventure. Santa promises Rudolph that he'll find homes for all the Misfit Toys, the Elf Foreman agrees to let Hermey open his own dentist's office, even Donner apologizes to Rudolph for being critical about his nose. Upon celebrating, Yukon returns with a tamed Abominable Snow Monster, now a kinder and gentler monster. However, a huge blizzard blows in which threatens to cancel Santa's flight. While announcing the news to the elves and reindeer, Santa is caught by Rudolph's gleaming nose and decides that its light could cut through the storm. Meanwhile, the Misfit Toys, grieving about being left out and unloved, are cheered up when Santa and Rudolph arrive to pick them up. The special ends with Santa wishing the viewers a merry Christmas as he and Rudolph fly off into the night.
Cast of Characters
- Rudolph is voiced by Billie Mae Richards
- Santa Claus is voiced by Stan Francis.
- Santa's reindeer are all seen and mentioned by name. Three of them (all voiced by Paul Kligman) have roles:
The TV special, with story by Romeo Muller, introduced several new characters inspired by the song's lyrics. Muller told an interviewer shortly before his death that he would have preferred to base the teleplay on May's original book, but could not find a copy.
- Sam the Snowman - The narrator, voiced by and closely resembles folk singer Burl Ives, who contributes several tunes throughout the program. Among the more well-known songs from the special is Johnny Marks' "A Holly Jolly Christmas," which became a Christmas standard in its own right.
- Hermey is voiced by Paul Soles.
- Clarice is voiced and sung by Janis Orenstein. Although real reindeer of both sexes grow antlers, neither Clarice nor any other doe in the special has antlers. Also setting them apart, the female reindeer have much lighter fur than their male counterparts.
- Yukon Cornelius is voiced by Larry D. Mann.
- Mrs. Claus
- Mrs. Donner is Rudolph's mother.
- Elf Foreman (voiced by Carl Banas) is a portly and ill-tempered foreman and songleader of Santa's workshop. He wears a goatee styled to resemble popular songleader Mitch Millerand begins by using Lawrence Welk's famous introduction, "And a one-a, and a two-a, and a three-a!" before conducting the elves in the song "We Are Santa's Elves" for Santa.
- Fireball is voiced by Alfie Scopp (who also voices the other young bucks).
- The Abominable Snow Monster of the North (a.k.a. The Bumble)
- Tall Elf is a minor character who appears in the "We Are Santa's Elves" and "Holly Jolly Christmas" scenes. Tall, thin and bespectacled, this character was an integral part of the stop-motion commercial and subsequent print ads produced for General Electric for the inaugural broadcast. In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, he is renamed Hank.
The Island of Misfit Toys
The "Island of Misfit Toys", another addition to the original story, is an island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent. It is during the initial scene on the Island that Johnny Marks standard, "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year" is performed by the inhabitants. Toy versions of nearly every character from this show were produced in the 1990s. Among its inhabitants are:
- King Moonracer is voiced by Stan Francis. A winged lion who rules the entire Island of Misfit Toys. His appearance is similar to the mystical being, the griffin, a creature who is part lion and part bird.
- Charlie-In-The-Box is voiced by Alfie Scopp and is a misnamed, but otherwise seemingly normal jack-in-the-box who is the island's sentry.
- Spotted Elephant is a polka dotted elephant and also is King Moonracer's footman.
- Dolly is voiced by Corinne Conley and is a seemingly normal girl rag doll with red hair and a red gingham dress. Her misfit problem is never explained on the special, but was possibly revealed on NPR's Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! news quiz show (broadcast December 8, 2007). The show revealed that Rudolph's producer, Arthur Rankin Jr., says Dolly's problem was psychological, caused from being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved.
- Other toys (all voiced by Carl Banas) include a bird who swims instead of flies, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, a train with square wheels on its caboose, a boat that cannot stay afloat, a set of clown nesting dolls with a wind-up mouse as the last one, a water pistol that shoots jelly, an airplane that cannot fly, and a scooter with an unknown flaw.