Making the Grade: The Cast of the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Special

This list is dedicated to Michelle, the Mrs. Claus in the Christmas special that is my life who fattens me up with love every day.

It’s hard to feel one way or the other about Rudolph; I mean, he’s just there, you know? Even during the big action scene with the abominable rudolphsnow monster, his part in the rescue can be summed up as “get knocked unconscious; wait for others to perform unlicensed dentistry.” I know he didn’t ask for a red nose and it’s pretty crummy how the other bucks wouldn’t let him join in their reindeer games, but I’m not sure a story that shows kids that running away leads to a happy ending is what we should be aiming for here. Yeah, yeah, he heroically left his traveling companions because he didn’t want his blinkin’ beacon to point out their location to the abominable snow monster, but you know what else would have worked just as well? Covering his nose with some mud. If only someone had once shown him how to do that OH HEY WAIT AN IRONIC MINUTE NOW. C

The most definitive proof I have that Santa isn’t real is the fact he hasn’t descended from the North Pole like an elf out of hell and sued Messrs. santaRankin and Bass for spitting on his good name with this horrible, horrible representation. Seriously, guys, what the hell? The Santa everyone knows is a jolly, rotund fellow who can’t stop with the loving and the giving and the ho-ho-hoing; in the space of 55 minutes, this skinny Santa treats his doting wife like crap, dismisses his elves’ song about his awesomeness with a “needs work,” encourages the deliberate segregation of Rudolph from the reindeer games and teaches kids everywhere the lesson that The Man only cares about you if your freakish nature can be co-opted to serve his self-aggrandizing agenda. Plus, you see that photo there? He’s wearing a deerstalker hat. Let me break that down for you non-hunting and/or non-Sherlock-fan types: Deer. Stalker. As in, hunting deer. Boo on you, Rankin/Bass Santa. Boo, I say. F

I like Hermey. First, he’s voiced by the same Canadian who did Spider-Man’s cartoon voice in the ’60s, and you know that’s all right. More to the hermeypoint, he’s a non-conformist who sees Santa’s non-unionized sweatshop for what it is and dares to dream of a different path, just like every kid who has ever looked at their own dolls’ overbites and dreamed of a sweet life of flossing and root canals. What freaks me out a little is how the very notion of an elf engaged in a non-toymaking vocation at the North Pole is simply out of the question. I grew up in a mining town (another cold place up north, now that I think about it) and it’s not like every able-bodied person there was swinging a pickaxe to make a living; we had dentists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, video-store clerks, aromatherapists, you name it. Hell, even within traditional elfin occupations there are plenty of options: shoemaker, Keebler chef, cereal box model, Orlando bloom stunt double. So you go, Hermey! A

Yukon Cornelius
Speaking of swinging pickaxes. Boy, that Yukon sure isn’t much for tact, yukonis he? “How about that? Even on an island of misfits, you’re misfits!” I’m sure Hermey and Rudolph really appreciate you pointing that out, pal. Between his solo trek through the High Arctic, his cavalier tossing of sharp implements, and his surprisingly intimate knowledge of a Bumble’s propensity for bouncing, I get the feeling there’s more to this guy than the jovial peppermint prospector he makes himself out to be. (Side note: Start investigation into possible connection between Cornelius and Peppermint Patty from the Peanuts strip.) Maybe they covered his origin story in a little-known sequel, Yukon 2: Electric Boogaloo or something like that. B

Abominable Snow Monster of the North
Maybe it’s just me, but if I woke up and found out someone hit me in the head with a bunch of rocks, stole my dinner and removed all my teeth while I was knocked ousnowmonstert , I sure as hell wouldn’t go home with them and help decorate their tree. But I tend to hold grudges, I’ll admit to that. I’m guessing the monster isn’t too smart, because apparently it didn’t occur to him that deer and elves beaten to a gum-friendly pulp before ingestion are still viable menu options. And it seems odd that a monster that hates everything to do with Christmas (as Sam the talking snowman helpfully explains) would be so quick to join in the tree trimming. I have a theory that involves Novocaine wearing off and the monster coming to his senses as soon as Santa’s sleigh takes flight. It’s not a pleasant scene when Santa returns, let’s put it that way. B-

mrsclausMrs. Claus
She knows the power of carbo-loading. She’s clearly an expert in branding and marketing (whoever heard of a skinny Santa, indeed). She shows her appreciation for the elves’ song number while her husband can’t even pretend to look interested, and she praises them for their hard work after Santa storms off in a huff. She is rocking that bun and apron while Santa dodders off to visit his reindeer while wearing a deerstalker hat that she probably convinced him to wear, knowing full well the ho-ho-homicide that would result if the deer ever figure out what that old dude is wearing on his head. Just try to convince me she’s not the real brains behind this whole operation. A-

Shortly after I showed this list to my loving spouse to get me some of that sweet, sweet validation I’m always craving, she wrote me clariceback: “What about Clarice?” And great galloping gumdrops, she’s right! How can I forget the character whose unequivocal acceptable of Rudolph’s non-conformity offers us some hope that not all of the North Pole’s four-footed denizens are black-nosed racists? Plus, that is a pretty cute bow she’s rocking in her, um, fur. And we can’t forget how it was Clarice and Rudolph’s mom who went out looking for the runaway Rudolph after being told “This is man’s work” by Rudolph’s dad, a line that likely didn’t generate the peals of laughter in 1964 that it would today. My only quibble about Clarice — and it’s not even her fault, really — is that her name has since been commandeered by another famous fictional Clarice, and every time her scene comes up I keep hearing Dr. Lecter purr, “Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming…?” It’s not always pretty inside my head. B

Island of Misfit Toys: Speed Grades 

King Moonracer: Why does he ask Rudolph and Hermey to go tell Santa to come to his island and pick up all the misfit toys? He’s a goddamn lion with wings; you’d think traveling to other places and making his demands known would be two things he ought to be really good at. C+

Charlie-in-the-Box: He’s a misfit because someone gave him the wrong name. I imagine many children of celebrity couples can sympathize. Unfortunate, but not really in “misfit” territory, IMHO. C

Spotted Elephant: He’s a polka-dotted elephant who serves as King Moonracer’s footman. Oh, and he has blue toenails. Those are literally the most interesting things about him that I can come up with. C-

Dolly: She’s unique in that she doesn’t have any physical or nomenclature issues, and in fact it wasn’t until 2007 that Arthur Rankin, Jr., revealed that Dolly’s damage was psychological, caused by her being abandoned by her owner. I sat through three Toy Story movies and The Brave Little Toaster; any more delving into the neuroses of inanimate objects and I’ll be the one with psychological damage. Well, more so. C-

A bird who swims instead of flies: Otherwise known as a penguin. Not impressed. D

A cowboy who rides an ostrich: I feel naught but pity for any tyke so bereft of wonder that he or she must insist that cowboys can only ride horses. B+

A train with square wheels on its caboose: Which can be easily fixed, so I’m thinking he’s just milking his “misfit” status. C-

A boat that cannot stay afloat, an airplane that cannot fly: That non-floating thing might be an issue (though I don’t see any holes in its hull, so maybe this is another toy with psychological issues), but I wasn’t aware that actual flight was a requirement for wooden toy planes. Maybe self-propelled wooden toy planes was one of the reasons why life was way more fun in the olden days before Ralph Nader and a few dead kids ruined playtime for the rest of us. Anyway. Boat: B-, Plane: C+

A water pistol that shoots jelly: My God, people who decide which toys get sent to the island of misfits, are you all insane??? Do you know much fun I’d have making breakfast with one of those bad boys? There wouldn’t be a non-sticky surface left in my house if Nerf figured out the viscosity issues. Come on, Hasbro — get on that. A

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