Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rudolph Redux

Recently a friend suggested that the children's Christmas classic, "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer" was, in fact, not so classic.


Hot take: there needs to be a new, updated version of "Rudolph" or the character will cease to be relevant in a decade or two. #getwiththetimes #stopmotionisweird #Donnerisabadfather

What followed was a fascinating discussion about: the history of the show, what people liked about it, what they didn't like, and the deep-seated flaws embedded in the story. I must admit I was taken aback by the whole thing. It's such a part of my childhood that I have always accepted it, whole cloth.

There was plenty of rudimentary animation in kids cartoons back in the day, so the stop motion animation of Rudolph was deliciously detailed to my eyes. I looked forward every year to the opening scenes where stylishly ornamented felt trees glistened and adorable woodland animals sang along with a dapper snowman.

But the abominable snow monster always terrified me. I mean, deep in the gut, dreading-it-in-advance terror. Is he still terrifying to kids today? Or, in this world of advanced special effects, does he just look pathetically hokey? I don't know.

My friend made me think about scarier things embedded in the story. We have the child who is not accepted by his parents and who is mocked by his community. We have his mother and other females who are marginalized by a male-dominated culture. We have a thin Santa who is not acceptable until he gets fat. We have a nasty, dictatorial Elf supervisor.

We have a whole island of misfit toys--well, don't we all identify with them, though?

Standing above it all is the fact that Rudolph is not accepted until his perceived "deformity" becomes a useful "utility" for the group. Then, and only then, is he loved.

How did I never see this? Probably because so many stories are full of similar transformations. Cinderella becomes a beautiful princess, the Ugly Duckling blossoms into a swan, the boring, workaholic pig turns out to be the one who can really throw the best parties. The happy ending touches on that feeling we have deep inside that, "If only ___________ would happen, people would love me."

It is necessary for the story to have a problem, and that the problem be overcome. Could it better? Could it be different? There should be drama, some suspense, humor, maybe a moment of sadness. There should be holiday fun and joy.

Do you think it could be transformed? Or is it a period piece meant to be appreciated as such, like delicate old ornaments that we get out of tissue paper only once a year. What do you think?


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