|Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer|
Promotional advertisement for the original NBC airing.
|Based on||"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"|
by Johnny Marks
|Written by||Romeo Muller|
|Narrated by||Burl Ives|
|Country of origin|
|Running time||55 minutes|
|Original network||NBC (1964-1971)
CBS (1972-present)Freeform (2019-present)
|Followed by||Rudolph's Shiny New Year|
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a 1964 Christmas stop motion animated television special produced by Videocraft International, Ltd. (later known as Rankin/Bass Productions) and currently distributed by Universal Television. It first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC television network in the United States, and was sponsored by General Electric 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 poem of the same name written in 1939 by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May. Since 1972, the special has aired on CBS; the network unveiled a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the program in 2005. CBS now shares rights to the special with Freeform, which acquired rights to air the special as part of its annual 25 Days of Christmas programming block beginning in 2019.
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 continuously running Christmas TV special. 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the television special and a series of postage stamps featuring Rudolph were issued by the United States Postal Service on November 6, 2014.
Sam the Snowman welcomes the viewers to Christmastown at the North Pole and introduces Santa and Mrs. Claus who live in a castle located left of the Christmas Tree Forest. Later on, Sam recalls the year Christmas was almost cancelled due to a big snowstorm and how a very special reindeer saved the day.
Donner, Santa's lead reindeer, and his wife have given birth to a new fawn named Rudolph. Upon admiring him, they are surprised to see that he has been born with a glowing red nose. When Santa arrives, he warns Donner that Rudolph will not make the sleigh team because of his nose. So, Donner decides to hide it by covering it with mud so Rudolph will fit in with the other reindeer.
A year later, Rudolph goes out to the reindeer games, where the new fawns will be inspected by Santa to pull the sleigh when they grow up. During flight practice, Rudolph meets a beautiful doe named Clarice, who tells him he is cute, making Rudolph fly. However, while celebrating with the other bucks, Rudolph's fake nose pops off, causing the other reindeer to mock him and Coach Comet to expel him. Clarice tries to comfort Rudolph, but her father sees and tells her to stay away from him.
Rudolph wanders off and meets Hermey, an elf who ran away from Santa's workshop because he wanted to be a dentist instead of making toys, so they run away together. They then meet a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, who has searched his whole life long to find silver and gold, but never does. After escaping the Abominable Snow Monster of the North, they crash land on the Island of Misfit Toys where unloved or unwanted toys live with their ruler, a winged lion named King Moonracer who brings the toys to the island until he can find homes and children who will love them. The king allows them to stay one night on the island until they can tell Santa to find homes for them by Christmas when they get home. However, Rudolph leaves the island on his own, still worried that his nose will endanger his friends.
Time passes and Rudolph grows into a young stag, still enduring mockery from others. He returns home to find that his parents and Clarice have been looking for him for months. He sets out once again to locate them and finds them all cornered in a cave by the snow monster. Rudolph tries to save Clarice, but the monster hits him in the head with a stalactite. A few minutes later, Hermey and Yukon return and try to save Rudolph. Hermey, oinking like a pig, lures the monster out of the cave and pulls out all his teeth after Yukon knocks him out. Yukon then drives the toothless monster back, only to fall over the cliff.
Mourning Yukon's presumed death, Rudolph, Hermey, Clarice, and the Donners return home where everyone apologizes to them. After hearing their story, Santa promises Rudolph that he will find homes for the Misfit Toys, the Head Elf tells Hermey that he can open his own dentist's office a week after Christmas, and Donner apologizes for being hard on Rudolph. Yukon returns with a tamed snow monster, now trained to trim a Christmas tree. Christmas Eve comes and while everybody is celebrating, Santa reluctantly announces that the weather has forced him to cancel Christmas, but is soon inspired by Rudolph's red nose. He asks Rudolph to lead the sleigh. Rudolph accepts and they fly off to the island where the Misfit Toys, sad about being left alone and unloved, are suddenly cheered up when Santa arrives to pick them up.
Santa wishes everyone a merry Christmas as he and Rudolph fly off into the night.
The TV special, with the teleplay 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. Other than Burl Ives, all characters were portrayed by Canadian actors recorded at RCA studios in Toronto under the supervision of Bernard Cowan.
After the script, concept designs and storyboards for Rudolph were done by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and his staff of artists at Rankin/Bass in New York City. The company's trademark stop motion animation process, known as "Animagic", was filmed at MOM Productions in Tokyo with supervision by Tadahito Mochinaga and associate direction by Kizo Nagashima. Besides Rudolph, Mochinaga and the rest of the Japanese puppet animation staff are also known for their partnership with Rankin/Bass on their other Animagic productions almost throughout the 1960s, from The New Adventures of Pinocchio, to Willy McBean and his Magic Machine, to The Daydreamer and Mad Monster Party?
Since those involved with the production had no idea of the future value of the stop-motion puppet figures used in the production, many were not preserved. Rankin claimed in 2007 to be in possession of an original Rudolph figure. Nine other puppets--including Santa and young Rudolph--were given to a secretary, who gave them to family members. Eventually seven were discarded. In 2005, the remaining two puppets of Rudolph and Santa were appraised on Antiques Roadshow; the episode aired in 2006 on PBS. At that time, their appraised value was between $8,000 and $10,000. The puppets had been damaged through years of rough handling by children and storage in an attic. Toy aficionado Kevin Kriess bought Santa and Rudolph in 2005; in 2007, he had both puppets restored by Screen Novelties, a Los Angeles-based collective of film directors specializing in stop motion animation with puppet fabricator Robin Walsh leading the project. The figures have been shown at conventions since then.
This version has the NBC "living color" peacock at the introduction. It includes the original end credits, where an elf drops presents that list all the technical credits. It also includes commercials that were exclusively for GE small appliances with some of the same animated elves from the main program introducing each of the products, and closing NBC network bumpers, including promos for the following week's episodes of GE College Bowl and Meet the Press, which were presumably pre-empted that Sunday for the inaugural 5:30 PM (EST) telecast. The College Bowl quiz show was also sponsored by GE. The original does not include Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit Toys, but does include a scene near the end of the special in which Yukon Cornelius discovers a peppermint mine near Santa's workshop. He can be seen throughout the special tossing his pickax into the air, sniffing, then licking the end that contacts the snow or ice. Deletion of the peppermint segment in 1965, to make room for Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit Toys, leaves the audience to assume that Cornelius was attempting to find either silver or gold by taste alone.
The 1965 broadcast also included a new duet between Rudolph and Hermey called "Fame and Fortune", which replaced a scene in which the same characters sang "We're a Couple of Misfits". Viewers of the 1964 special complained that Santa was not shown fulfilling his promise to the Misfit Toys (to include them in his annual toy delivery). In reaction, a new scene for subsequent rebroadcasts was produced with Santa making his first stop at the Island to pick up the toys. This is the ending that has been shown on all telecasts and video releases ever since. Until sometime in the 1970s the special aired without additional cuts, but eventually more commercial time was required by the network. In 1978, several sequences were deleted to make room for more advertising: the instrumental bridge from "We Are Santa's Elves" featuring the elf orchestra, additional dialogue by Burl Ives, and the "Peppermint Mine" scene resolving the fate of Yukon Cornelius. The special's 1993 restoration saw "Misfits" returned to its original film context, and the 2004 DVD release showcases "Fame and Fortune" as a separate musical number.
Most of the 1965 deletions were restored in 1998, and "Fame and Fortune" was replaced with the original "We're a Couple of Misfits" reprise. A short slide reading "Rankin/Bass Presents" was inserted at the beginning of the special to reflect the company's name change. The "Peppermint Mine" scene was not restored; until 2019, it had not been shown on television since the initial broadcast in 1964.
Starting in 2005, CBS began using the footage of the "Fame and Fortune" scene with the soundtrack replaced by a rather hastily edited version of "We're a Couple of Misfits". The special has been edited to make more time for commercial advertising by shortening some musical numbers. Certain home video releases of the special like the 2010 Vivendi Entertainment Blu-Ray use the same version seen on CBS.
In May 2019, it was announced that Freeform will air the special as part of their annual 25 Days of Christmas line-up for the first time, alongside Frosty the Snowman. The agreement was later revealed not to be an exclusive rights agreement, as CBS retained their broadcast right to air the special twice under a separate license with Classic Media/Universal. Unlike CBS' print, Freeform's print reinstates much of the material deleted or changed from CBS' broadcasts, such as the original version of "We're a Couple of Misfits" as well as the "Peppermint Mine" scene, making it the first time that the latter scene has been seen on television since the original broadcast. Freeform's print of the special also has the 2012 Universal Pictures logo preceding the film, due to their purchase of DreamWorks Animation in 2016.
When Rudolph was first issued on VHS, Betamax, and LaserDisc by Family Home Entertainment and Broadway Video from 1989 to 1997 under the Christmas Classics Series label, the 1965 rebroadcast print described above was used. 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 1964 NBC broadcast (without the original GE commercials) up until the "Peppermint Mine" scene, followed by the final act of the 1965 edit (with the Island of Misfit Toys finale and the 1965 alternate credits in place of the original end credit sequence).
In 1998, the special was released by Sony Wonder on VHS. In 2000, it was released on DVD, and on Blu-ray Disc in 2010 (although the Blu-ray does not contain the bonus features from the previous DVD release.) This edit has been made available in original color form by former rights holders Classic Media, (which in 2012 became the DreamWorks Classics division of DreamWorks Animation, and finally in 2016, part of Universal Pictures) As previously mentioned, this is also the version that had previously aired on CBS, albeit in edited form to accommodate more commercial time. In November 2014, Classic Media released a 50th anniversary edition of the special on Blu-ray.Walmart released an exclusive 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition with a storybook. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released another DVD and Blu-Ray of the movie in 2018.
The songs and incidental music were both 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 Clarice after Rudolph is kicked out of the reindeer games. Marks' "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", which became a holiday standard after its initial release in 1958, appears as instrumental background music when Rudolph first arrives at the Reindeer Games. Also included in the soundtrack is an instrumental version of Marks' setting of the Christmas hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."
In 1964, an LP record of the soundtrack was released on Decca Records. It contained different mixes of the original songs performed as they are in the special, with the exception of Burl Ives' material, which has been re-recorded. MCA Special Products released the soundtrack on CD in June 1995. It is an exact duplication of the original LP released in 1964. Tracks 1-9 are the remixed soundtrack selections while tracks 10-19 are the same songs performed by the Decca Concert Orchestra. The song "Fame and Fortune" is not contained on either release. On November 30, 2004 the soundtrack was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over 500,000 copies.
Books and other items related to the show have in some cases misspelled "Hermey" as "Herbie". Rick Goldschmidt, who wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Making of the Rankin/Bass Holiday Classic, says the scripts by Romeo Muller show the spelling to be "Hermey".
A Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer video game was released on November 9, 2010. The adaptation was published by Red Wagon Games for the Wii and Nintendo DS, and was developed by High Voltage Software and Glyphic Entertainment respectively. The Wii version was received poorly, and garnered extremely negative reviews from sites such as IGN giving it a 1.5/10.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer received an approval rating of 95% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on thirteen reviews, with an average rating of 9.37/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a yule-tide gem that bursts with eye-popping iconography, a spirited soundtrack, and a heart-warming celebration of difference." In December 2018, a Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll which surveyed 2,200 adults from Nov. 15-18, 2018, named Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the most beloved holiday film, with 83 percent of respondents having a generally favorable response to the title.
The Rankin/Bass special inspired numerous television sequels made by the same studio:
The television special's familiarity to American audiences through its annual rebroadcasts, along with its primitive stop-motion animation that is easy to recreate with modern technology and the special's ambiguous copyright status, has lent itself to numerous parodies and homages over the years.
Animator Corky Quakenbush has produced parodies of Rudolph for several American television shows:
In the sci-fi/comedy series The Orville, in the episode "About a Girl", characters watch Rudolph to make the character Bortus consider his plans to arrange gender reassignment surgery for his newborn daughter (Bortus's species, the Moclans, are a single-gender species who statistically produce only one female every seventy-five years, with females thus having no clear place in their society) by demonstrating how unconventional people can accomplish great things, although Bortus humorously misinterprets the film to suggest that Rudolph's father might have considered euthanizing his child as an anomaly.
This section possibly contains original research. (December 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
The copyright of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special lies in an area of uncertainty in regard to American federal copyright law. When the recording was originally published, the date of copyright (published in Roman numerals) was accidentally listed as 1164 (MCLXIV), omitting an M that should have been present (1964 in Roman numerals is MCMLXIV); this mistake was not corrected with subsequent edits and remains on televised prints to this day. The songs were validly and separately copyrighted, and the original character on which the special was based also remains under copyright and trademark protection, extending some indirect copyright protection to the special as a derivative work. (A number of films, such as It's a Wonderful Life and His Girl Friday, fall under similar circumstances: a public domain film loosely based on a copyrighted work.)
Assuming the error in the copyright is considered substantial enough to invalidate it (U.S. copyright law before 1988 required works to have a valid date on a copyright notice, while providing some leeway in regard to non-substantial errors), the error puts large portions of the special not directly tied to the songs or original story into the public domain. (Some of the characters, particularly Santa Claus and the adult reindeer, relied on material that was already public domain anyway; all of the characters except Rudolph, most of the images, and large portions of the spoken soundtrack would thus be public domain in this interpretation.) Because of the indirect copyright protections and uncertainty over their extent, permission is still required to show the program as a whole. The extensive derivative works seen in popular culture are likely a byproduct of this uncertain copyright status.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the nation's longest-running and highest-rated Christmas television special 'went down in history' to receive its stamp of approval today. The set of four Limited Edition Forever stamps depicting Rudolph, Hermey, Santa and Bumble were created from still television frames from the special which premiered 50 years ago in 1964.
Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps. The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stamps are being issued as Forever® stamps.