Friday, December 08, 2006

The Exploitation Of Rudolph, It’s Animagical!

It’s that time of year when those famous Rankin-Bass cartoons and stop-motion puppet (Animagic) specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty can be seen on TV as frequently as wreaths on long-haul truckers’ rigs. I think the only person that comes close to having produced more Christmas fare than Rankin-Bass was Johnny Mathis, who I’m pretty sure just released his 100th Christmas CD, or something close to it. The ABC Family Channel usually airs most of the Rankin-Bass productions all December long and my girls watched a few of them last night. Among them was ‘Rudolph’s Shiny New Year’ and ‘The Christmas without a Santa Claus.’ It got me thinking that at a certain point, the Animagic Christmas treatment may have been stretched a little too thin.

Obviously, ‘Rudolph’ is as much a part of the holidays as Bing Crosby and fish-stockinged leg lamps giving us the glow of illuminated electrix sex in our windows. It has to be good television for it to have been broadcast over network TV for the last 42 years. Although I seriously doubt that there has been an American child named Rudolph since the first airing of the special in 1964.  There probably has also not been a child named Adolf for even longer, but that has nothing to do with deer that have red light bulbs screwed into their noses.  It's just that the two names rhyme and my mind tends to wander when I write.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the TV classic. It’s the other Rudolph shows that prove maybe there can be too much of a good thing. Apparently, Rudolph has to find Baby New Year after he runs away in ‘Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.’ It seems the little baby ran away because he was embarrassed by his big ears. Of course, Rudolph could sympathize (as could I, unfortunately) because he has that nose and all, but really, is that worth an hour children’s program?

Then there’s the very confusing ‘Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July,’ which just leaves me speechless. I’m still not sure what it was about but it featured Frosty for the first time as a stop-motion puppet. Should this be aired in the summer or in December? Combining the two seems to make as much sense as having Hank Williams, Jr. do a slow and reverent version of ‘Away in a Manger.’ Although if Hank did cover a version of it, please let me know so I can add it to my collection. At least Rudy was left alone for a while until ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys’ came along. That was done digitally though so I won’t consider it for the sake of this post.  Also, it was really bad and very annoying and Lucy and Ethel insist on watching it far too often.  The phrase "gratuitously often" comes to mind.

There were however, several holidays that Rankin-Bass apparently chose to have Rudolph not celebrate. Maybe they figured having a reindeer and snowman enjoy the 4th of July together was the bottom of the barrel. Think of all we missed if they had decided to continue milking Rudolph. (I'm sure there is something extremely inappropriate I could say after just using the phrase 'milking Rudolph," but I am going to resist the temptation.  That would be udderly disgusting.  Dangit!  I couldn't resist.)  There could have been ‘Rudolph’s Thanksgiving’ where he has to coax Tom the Turkey back to the turkey farm so he can be euthanized and ‘processed’ for Thanksgiving dinner. What about ‘Rudolph’s Haunted Halloween’ where he befriends a ghost who is afraid of dark haunted houses but has to haunt someone before he gets his official ghost status? Yep, they cook up a scheme with Yukon Cornelius to pretend to be scared by the timid ghost. It sounds a lot like Casper, but Casper is friendly and this ghost is timid. Trust me, if just for litigation purposes only, there is a difference in the two.

Rudolph would shine (if you’ll pardon the phrasing) in ‘Rudolph and the Leprechaun.’ In that one Rudolph searches for the pot of gold that Louis the Leprechaun lost in a cock-fighting bet. ‘Rudolph’s Meaty Memorial Day’ would follow the reindeer as he rounds up enough meat for Santa’s big ‘Start of Summer BBQ.’ Unfortunately, Santa feels like grilling venison this year. The hour long finale to the Rudolph dynasty would be ‘Rudolph’s Long Lazy Labor Day,’ where he sleeps all weekend before escorting the kiddy elves to their first day of school, but slips on a skateboard while on the way and breaks his leg, resulting in the need to put him out of his misery. Oh the mayhem that could ensue in that one. Wow!

As you can see, while he may have been exploited after the success of his original holiday special, it could have continued and been much worse. The lackluster Rudolph sequels seem to have done little to tarnish the little misfit’s street cred though (you know, that's the first time I've ever used that phrase.  I feel empowered by it.  Maybe using it just helped my street cred.  Ohhh, I'm liking this...) . They are making Rudolph themed everything these days. I actually saw a Rudolph version of Monopoly the other day. As Burl Ives would say, it seems that Rudolph is worth a whole lot of ‘silver and gold,’ no matter what he’s asked to do. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go open another roll of Rudolph toilet paper for the twins.

**The Wonderful World of Nothing Worthwhile’s useless observation for the day: Have you noticed in the original ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ that all of the hands on the puppets are dirty? Especially Santa’s. I don’t know why this is, but you can only watch something so many times until you start looking at things other than the plot…


Odat said...

I see they're all on tv now too...and I'm avoiding It does get to be a bit much.
Have a great weekend michael.

Rob said...

Yeah... dirty hands. I've noticed the same thing. I've often wondered if this was an attempt at realism onthe part of the animators or if it's just what happened when the puppets with their white hands were handled too much. But yes, you bring up a good point.

Morgen said...

Never noticed the dirty hands.
Will have to pop in the DVD tonight.

What about Rudolph's Very Special Hannukah? I'm sure that Burl Ives could've done a great, rockin' version of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, I made it out of clay!"

ho ho ho

mist1 said...

I randomly flipped to Rudolph on tv the other day. I don't know why, but for some reason, it scared me.

The Laughorist said...

An astute cultural critigue, Mistuh C.

Let's just be grateful they never came up with "Rudolf Hess at the Reichstag."

Michael C said...

Odat: I agree. Although I'm sure I'll sit throught at least part of them!

Rob: I bet it was the handlers who had durty hands and didn't wash before handling the puppets...

Morgen: Burl Ives could sound great singing Ac/Dc ;-)

Mist1: Stop motion filming is an aquired poison, I guess.

Laughorist: That would be a very interesting Christmas would probably end up on the Discovery or history channel I bet ;-)