Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a long-running Christmas television special produced in stop motion animation by Rankin/Bass. It first aired December 6, 1964, on the NBC television network in the USA, and was sponsored by General Electric under the umbrella title of The General Electric Fantasy Hour. The copyright year in Roman numerals was mismarked as MCLXIV (1164) instead of the correct MCMLXIV.
The special is based on the song by Johnny Marks, which was in turn taken from the 1939 poem of the same title written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May. Since 1972, the special has aired over CBS, which unveiled a high-definition, digitally remastered version 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. It has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special, and one of only four 1960s Christmas specials still being telecast (the others being A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman). And again, as with the Charlie Brown special, Rudolph has now been shown more than thirty-one times on CBS, although in this case, CBS was not Rudolph 's original network.
Sam the Snowman narrates the story of Rudolph, a reindeer who is born with a glowing red nose. His father, Santa's lead reindeer Donner, feels ashamed and uses a special cover to hide Rudolph's nose so Donner and his wife can send Rudolph to take-off practice a year later without Rudolph being ridiculed by the other yearlings. Meanwhile, an elf named Hermey has his own problem - he wishes to be a dentist instead of making toys. The elf foreman scolds him and tries to get Hermey to obey, but the young elf refuses to change his interests.
A year later, Rudolph is a yearling reindeer who is sent to take-off practice to learn how to fly, with Comet as his coach. Donner still tries to hide the nature of Rudolph's nose with the cover. This causes Rudolph's voice to sound as if he had a permanent cold. Despite this, two deer befriend Rudolph. One is a little buck named Fireball, the son of Blitzen. The other is a beautiful doe named Clarice. During some horseplay, Fireball inadvertently pops the cover off of Rudolph's nose. After seeing his glowing nose, the other reindeer, Fireball included, start ridiculing Rudolph; Comet denies Rudolph from being with the other reindeer as a result. Clarice is the only reindeer who still likes Rudolph and tries to comfort him. However, their musings are interrupted by Clarice's father, who forbids Clarice from being around Rudolph. Feeling outcast, Rudolph runs away into the forest.
While in the woods, Rudolph meets up with Hermey. The two bond after they discover they each have something that makes them unique. After deciding to be "independent" together, they set out to seek "Fame and Fortune." After the song ends, the Abominable Snowman, a carnivorous monster that hates Christmas and feeds on reindeer, chases them. The two manage to escape him.
Later, they meet a prospector named Yukon Cornelius who is obsessed with finding silver and gold. The trio manages to flee to the Island of Misfit Toys, ruled by a winged lion named King Moonracer. Because they are misfits but not toys, King Moonracer allows them to spend one night on his island. Rudolph leaves the island on his own, having realized that his nose is a danger to his friends.
A few months later, Rudolph grows into a handsome young stag. He decides to return home despite being ridiculed. When Rudolph arrives back in his cave, he finds out that his parents are not there. He learns from Santa that they left to go looking for Rudolph, and Clarice went with them. Rudolph searches the North Pole and he finds his family and Clarice being held captive by the Abominable Snowman. Rudolph attempts to rescue them before Hermey and Yukon Cornelius find him and they try to help. They manage to knock out the Abominable while Hermey removes the monster's teeth, but Yukon knocks himself, his sled team, and the monster over a cliff when he stands up to the beast. The others return home, where they tell what happened to the others. Rudolph and Hermey stop being ridiculed, and the lead elf finally allows Hermey to open a dentist's office the week after Christmas. Yukon and the others, who survived, make a grand entrance with the Abominable, now reformed by Yukon. Everyone decides to keep the monster around because he can put a silver star on top of Christmas trees without a step-ladder. However, a strong blizzard is too much for Santa's team to handle, so Santa decides to cancel the Christmas Eve flight. But Rudolph's nose inspires him, and he asks Rudolph to lead his sleigh, which he agrees to. Rudolph leads the sleigh to the Island of Misfit Toys and takes the toys along the flight, where they are dropped off to their respective homes. With Rudolph leading the sleigh, it turns out to be a merry Christmas after all.
The character Rudolph was voiced by Billie Mae Richards, later credited as Billy Richards. The 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. The show features Santa Claus (voiced by Stan Francis) and the eight reindeer mentioned in the song. Of them, Donner is identified as Rudolph's father (and his family referred to in passing, likely as a joke, as the Donner Party), and Comet is presented as the coach of the reindeer team. Mrs. Claus is also incorporated into the story.
The show also introduces:
Sam The Snowman - The narrator, voiced by and styled to resemble folk singer Burl Ives, who also contributes several tunes throughout the show. Among the most famous numbers from the special is Johnny Marks' "A Holly Jolly Christmas", which became a Christmas standard in its own right.
Hermey the Misfit Elf (voiced by Paul Soles) - who prefers studying dentistry to making toys. Quitting Santa's workshop, he and Rudolph run away together seeking "Fame And Fortune." Towards the end of the program, he finally gets his wish to open a dentist's office at the North Pole. One of many memorable songs from the show, "Fame and Fortune" was added to the 1965 airing of the show as a replacement for the reprise of a number called "We're A Couple Of Misfits", sung by Hermey and Rudolph soon after their initial meeting. The special's 1998 restoration saw "Misfits" returned to its original film context, while the 2004 DVD release showcases "Fame And Fortune" as a separate number.
Clarice the Doe (voiced and sung by Janet Orenstein) A pretty doe Rudolph meets at take-off practice, and she immediately develops a large crush on him. In fact, it was Clarice who was part of the reason why Rudolph knows how to fly in the special, because she tells Rudolph he is cute and that gives him encouragement, resulting in a giant leap through the air. Even when the cap popped off of Rudolph's nose, Clarice remained faithful to him and follows him into the woods, where she performs one of the special's musical numbers "There's Always Tomorrow." She disobeys her father when she hangs around Rudolph, even to the point of running off into the woods with Rudolph's parents to go looking for him. The trio was then captured by the monster, but Rudolph rescued them in time. Despite the fact that, in reality, reindeer of both sexes grow antlers, neither Clarice nor any other doe in the special has antlers.
Yukon Cornelius (voiced by Larry D. Mann) - a prospector who leads the audience to believe that he is searching for either gold or silver, but is actually seeking peppermint as revealed at the end of the original version of the special. His greedy behavior inspires the song "Silver And Gold", sung by Ives and previously well-known in its own right. Yukon is a blustery but benign character who ends up helping not only Rudolph and Hermey, but also the Bumble, an abominable snowman. Yukon Cornelius can be seen throughout the special tossing his pick ax into the air, sniffing, then licking the end that contacts the snow or ice. The removal of the scene near the end of the special (for subsequent telecasts) in which Yukon Cornelius discovers a "peppermint mine" by that method near Santa's workshop left audiences assuming that he was attempting to find either silver or gold by taste alone. The scene was returned to the film in 1998 as well.
So-called 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, it is revealed that his name is Hank.
Hermey's Immediate Supervisor (voiced by Alfie Scopp) is the portly and ill-tempered foreman and songleader of Santa's workshop. He wears a goatee styled to resemble popular songleader, Mitch Miller, and begins by using Lawrence Welk's famous introduction, "Ah one, and ah two". He is outraged at Hermey's persistent disruption of the assembly line with his dentistry studies. He also conducts the elves in their song for Santa, "We Are Santa's Elves". However, for all their rehearsals, and because of them, Santa finds the song annoying. Towards the end of the special, he finally grants Hermey's wishes and allows him to open a dentist's office. In one of the show's bloopers, Hermey's immediate supervisor is voiced by a different (and unidentified) voice actor in the musical scene as he begins conducting the group.
The Bumble Monster (a.k.a. the Abominable Snow Monster of the North) - Is a yeti and as the main antagonist pursues Hermey and Rudolph throughout their adventure. The sight of Rudolph's glowing red nose drives Bumble into a rage. Sam the snow man also explains that the Bumble hates everything to do with Christmas as well. Later, Bumble captures Rudolph and his family at his cave. However, Yukon and Hermey come to the rescue by knocking the monster unconscious and extracting all his teeth. Near the end of the film he has a change of heart as he is seen putting the star on top of the Christmas tree and becomes a part of Christmas Town.
Several new members of Santa Claus's herd of reindeer include Fireball, a young buck with a distinctive shock of blond hair who befriends shy Rudolph at the 'Reindeer Games'. The Reindeer Games are the annual contest where Santa Claus evaluates the flight skills of his youngest reindeer. It is Fireball who encourages Rudolph to meet Clarice. Clarice informs Rudolph that she finds him cute. Inspired by Clarice's affection, Rudolph impresses all the reindeer assembled with his flying ability. A playful scuffle with Fireball ensues and the clay/mud cap Rudolph has been wearing to hide his glowing nose comes loose. Fireball is the first to witness Rudolph's true appearance and is terrified by the sight. Though Fireball does not appear on screen to be among the reindeer who mock Rudolph at the Reindeer Games, his voice is clearly heard doing so. He can be heard calling him "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and then some other bucks laugh.
Most of the adult male reindeer, including Donner, Comet, and Clarice's father, were voiced with similar voices by Paul Frees.
The Island of Misfit Toys
The "Island of Misfit Toys", another canonical addition to the original story, is an island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent. Among its inhabitants:
King Moonracer - a winged lion who acts as the island's ruler, voiced by Stan Francis. King Moonracer is responsible for flying around the world each night in search of unwanted toys. He lives in a large castle atop a hill on The Island of Misfit Toys, and acts as a 'governor' to the island, deciding who can or cannot stay on the Island, such as Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius.
Charlie-In-The-Box is a misnamed, but otherwise seemingly normal jack-in-the-box who acts as the island's sentry. Charlie is voiced by Carl Banas, who also voices several other toys in this scene.
Spotted Elephant is a polka dotted elephant and also is the island's footman.
"A Dolly for Sue" (as she calls herself) is a seemingly normal girl rag doll with red hair and a red gingham (checkered) 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.
Bird Fish is a toy bird who swims instead of flies.
A misfit cowboy who rides an ostrich.
Trainer, a train with square wheels on its caboose.
A toy boat that sinks rather than floats; a squirt gun that shoots grape jelly; an airplane that cannot fly, a bear that rides a bike, and "a scooter for Jimmy".
It is during this scene that the 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.
Viewers were so taken by these forlorn characters that many complained Santa was not seen fulfilling his promise to include them in his annual delivery. In reaction, a new scene for subsequent rebroadcasts was produced with Santa, with Rudolph in the lead, making his first stop at the island to pick up the toys.
The songs and incidental music were written by Johnny Marks, with Maury Laws supervising. In addition to the songs previously mentioned, the score also includes the film's love theme "There's Always Tomorrow", sung by the reindeer Clarice after Rudolph is kicked out of the reindeer games (the song is included in the version aired on CBS and in the DVD version, but is removed from the version aired on CBC Television in Canada). Marks' holiday standard "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" appears as instrumental background music when Rudolph first arrives at the Reindeer Games and meets Fireball. As previously discussed, the song "Fame And Fortune" replaced the "Misfits" reprise for later television broadcasts from 1965 until 1998.
In 2006, puppets of Rudolph and Santa used in the filming of this famous television special were appraised on PBS Television's Antiques Roadshow. The puppets had been damaged through years of rough handling by children and storage in an attic. In 2007, both the Rudolph and Santa puppets were restored to original condition by Screen Novelties, a Los Angeles based collective of film directors specializing in stop motion animation. Puppet fabricator Robin Walsh led the project.
Original 1964 NBC broadcast edit
This version includes the original end credits, where elves are seen delivering boxes (which list all the technical credits). It also includes commercials and closing network bumpers. It does not include the Misfit Island finale that was filmed for the following years' telecasts.
In response to viewer protests on the unresolved fate of the toys on Misfit Island, GE shot a new ending which shows the toys being rescued. This is the ending that has been shown on all telecasts and video releases ever since. In the process, several sequences were deleted: the instrumental bridge from "We Are Santa's Elves", the duet reprise of "We're A Couple Of Misfits", additional dialogue by Burl Ives, and the "Peppermint Mine" scene resolving the fate of Yukon Cornelius. Also, a new song, "Fame And Fortune", was shot for the revised version and put in place of the reprise of "We're A Couple Of Misfits".
1998–2008 CBS telecasts
The above 1965 deletions were returned to the film, but "Fame And Fortune" was not included and was replaced with the original "We're A Couple Of Misfits" reprise. This telecast also deleted the "Peppermint Mine" scene (to date, it has never aired on CBS).
Oddly, starting sometime in the 2000s, CBS aired the video for "Fame and Fortune" synced with an edited version of "We're a Couple of Misfits". Beyond that, the special has been edited further due to more commercial time—the special is time-compressed and some musical numbers shortened.
2009 CBS telecasts
"Fame and Fortune" has once again been replaced with "We're A Couple Of Misfits", the special itself undergoing further cuts for more commercial time.
Region 1 DVD cover
When Rudolph was first issued on video by previous owner Broadway Video, the 1965 rebroadcast print was used with the changes listed above under 1965-1997 Telecasts. All current video prints of Rudolph by Classic Media are a compendium of the two previous telecast versions of the special. All the footage in the current versions follow the original NBC airing (without the original commercials) up until the end of the "Peppermint Mine" scene, followed by the final act of the 1965 edit (with the Misfit Island finale and the 1965 alternate credits in place of the original end credit sequence). In 1998, Rudolph was released by Sony Wonder on VHS. In 2000, it was released on DVD, and on Blu-Ray in 2010. This edit has been made available in original color form by current rights holders Classic Media. As previously mentioned, this is also the version currently airing on CBS, albeit in edited form to accommodate more commercial time.