Western Animation / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a song and popular Christmas story about Santa Claus's ninth and lead reindeer who possesses an unusually red-colored nose that gives off its own light, powerful enough to illuminate the team's path through stormy weather.

The story is owned by The Rudolph Company, L.P. and has been sold in numerous forms including a popular song, a Rankin/Bass television special (done in Stop Motion animation) in 1964, and a feature film by GoodTimes Entertainment in 1998. Rudolph was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of his employment with Montgomery Ward. Character Arts, LLC manages the licensing for the Rudolph Company, L.P. Although the story and song have not passed into public domain, they have established themselves as folklore (as evidenced by the development of local variations and parodies such as "Deadeye the Lonesome Cowboy," collected in the field by Simon J. Bronner and included in American Children's Folklore).

Johnny Marks decided to adapt May's story into a song, which through the years has been recorded by many artists (most notably by Gene Autry in 1949), and has since filtered into the popular consciousness.

The lyric "All of the other reindeer" can be misheard as the Mondegreen "Olive, the other reindeer", and has given rise to another fictional character, Olive. Similarly, the lyric "and they shouted out with glee" has evolved into a tongue-in-cheek misinterpretation itself, "and they shouted out, 'With glee!'" — prompting singers to shout "With glee!" in response to the line. (This can clearly be heard on at least one recording of a live performance of the song aired during the 2009 season.)

The song in its Finnish translation, Petteri Punakuono, has led to Rudolph's general acceptance in the Finland's folklore as Joulupukki's, the Finnish Santa's, lead reindeer. However, in Finland, Santa's reindeer do not fly. Mike Eheman made the newest version of the song with the actual flying reindeer so Santa can land on rooftops.

Apropos of nothing, the song can be sung to the Hawaii Five-O theme music.

The GoodTimes adaptation has its own work page.

The Max Fleischer cartoon short provides examples of:

  • Determinator: Before they even find Rudolph, Santa and his reindeer do an action film level effort to get at least some of the presents delivered on time.
  • Funny Animal: In this rendition, Santa apparently gives presents to animal children as well. There's even a village for both reindeer and bunnies. This is based on the original short story, where Rudolph is likewise shown to live in a human-like house in a human-like village, and even puts up a human stocking for Santa.
  • Genre Savvy: The reindeers perform ice skating games, and coat themselves with pillows in anticipation of Failures on Ice antics.
  • Humanoid Female Animal: Rudolph's mother in the 1944 short is much more anthropomorphic than the male reindeer (who are already somewhat more anthropomorphic than the Rankin-Bass adaptation). The male reindeer, including Rudolph, are usually quadrupedal, but sometimes walk on two legs when they want to use their hooves as hands; Rudolph's Mother, on the other hand, always walks on two legs, has a much more humanoid body shape (most notably, her arms and legs), and is the only one who wears clothes.
  • Momma's Boy: Rudolph gets teased for being this as well as for his nose. Makes some sense since his mother is the only reindeer shown to be kind to Rudolph at first.
  • Public Domain: While the character and song haven't entered such, this short has. This led to Disney using it in some of their Christmas features, as well as DC comics using the Rudolph design for some annuals.
  • Re-Cut: The cartoon was made before the Johnny Marks song, though was edited and reissued in 1951 with a rendition in the opening and closing credits.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Most of the dialogue for the short is done in rhyming verse.
  • Through a Face Full of Fur: After receiving a medal for his duties, Rudolph's whole body blushes as a bright red as his nose.

The Rankin/Bass Christmas Special and its sequels provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parent: Some of the things Rudolph's father says and does are seriously close to the border of emotional abuse. Although considering the time when the creators were growing up and when the movie was released, it probably wasn't intended to come off as abusive and was meant to be a typical father-son relationship. Men being hard on their sons was considered the norm, whether it was fair or not, and could still be considered reasonably well-adjusted. To be fair though, the narrator does state that Donner felt pretty bad about the way he treated Rudolph when Rudolph runs off.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Rankin Bass added a lot of details even to the basic story for their adaptation, including making Rudolph the son of Donner and Vixen (his parents were unnamed in the original story), having Santa show up at his birth to taunt him about his nose (he originally didn't meet Santa until the end), and making the "Reindeer Games" into an official competition to pull Santa's sleigh (rather than just young reindeer playing around). It makes the story seem a lot crueler.
    • Of course, that's in addition to all the things obviously added just to pad out the story - Rudolph running away, meeting Hermey and Yukon Cornelius, finding the Island of Misfit Toys, and so on.
  • Adorkable: Rudolph acts this way.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: A line in the song makes it the Trope Namer.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Some have thought this about Hermey.
  • Animated Adaptation: The Rankin-Bass special, of course. However, many years before the famous stop-motion special, the Jam Handy animation studio made a short subject adaptation of the cartoon (hewing closer to the original story) in 1944, directed by none other than Max Fleischer. The song was not written yet during its original run, but a 1948 re-release of it dubbed in the song over the opening.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Santa's "reindeer" do not even remotely resemble real life reindeer. They, in fact, seem to bear all the hallmarks of the white-tailed deer commonly seen in temperate regions of North America, in both size and body shape, and the fact that the females are depicted without antlers (in real life, female reindeer grow a smaller, but still very impressive set of antlers). Interestingly, it's actually the males who should be lacking antlers around Christmas time, not the females (males shed their antlers around early December, while females keep theirs until summer.)
    • These antlers also seem to be capable of emoting as if they were an animal's ears (watch closely and you'll see the antlers of the adults curl up from time to time). Obviously, real antlers cannot do this, and it may simply be a product of cartoon logic.
  • Award-Bait Song: There's Always Tomorrow.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: The Abominable Snow Monster
  • Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good: Yukon Cornelius is a big, strong, tough guy; and he's the only adult who isn't mean to poor Rudolph. Not that he's exactly dumb, more just incredibly quirky, but it doesn't change the fact that the strong guy is the nice guy.
  • Christmas Elves
  • Christmas Special
  • Cursed with Awesome:
    • In the eyes of some viewers — and offscreen, in-universe children — some of the misfit toys fall under this.
    • Rudolph himself. He's considered a freak, but his nose has its uses.
    • Hermey too. His talent makes him an outcast among the other elves, but he uses it to save his friends from the Abominable. Indeed, this Trope seems to apply to all the "misfits" in the special.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Queen Camilla, the Queen Hippo of Castaway Cove in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, sums it up in this exchange:
    Hermey: (As Rudolph is considering plastic surgery to get a normal nose) But, what if there's another foggy Christmas Eve?
    Camilla: Santa can't afford headlights?
  • Depraved Dentist: Hermey is a rare heroic example. In the climax, he rips out the Bumble's teeth with pliers. In the 2001 sequel he gives him dentures as a Continuity Nod.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: The Abominable Snowmonster.
  • Digital Destruction: Early pressings of the Blu-Ray made Yukon Cornelius' coat look green instead of blue. Thankfully, the 50th Anniversary Edition has it changed back to blue.
  • Disney Death: Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snow Monster both survive the fall, because Bumbles are bouncy.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Subverted: Yukon appears to fall off a cliff while wrestling the Abominable Snowmonster, but they both survive. See Disney Death.
  • Edible Ammunition: One Misfit Toy is a squirtgun that shoots jelly.
  • Feathered Fiend: Eon the Terrible from Shiny New Year, though it's hard to blame him if you look at things from his perspective.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Sam the Snowman. Apparently, his only raison d'etre besides telling the audience the story is to sing and perform on the banjo songs that are only tangentially related to the plot.
  • Forbidden Romance: Clarice's father forbids her from socializing with Rudolph on account of his red nose.
  • Friendship Song: "We're a Couple of Misfits".
  • Hand Wave: How do Rudolph and especially Hermey survive a night in the open at the North Pole before Yukon Cornelius finds them? "Somehow", that's how.
  • Haven't You Seen X Before?: "What's the matter? Haven't you ever seen a talking snowman before?"
  • Heel–Face Turn: Boss Elf finally realizes that Hermey's dentistry dream really does have potential after hearing how he pulled the Abominable Snowmonster's teeth and lets Hermey open shop as dentist, with the first appointments set for as early as the week after Christmas. (Ironically, Boss Elf is the first one who needs an appointment, it seems.) The Abominable Snowmonster itself makes the turn after Yukon outwits it with Hermey's help.
    • And Jerkass Santa? Chalk it up to Laser-Guided Karma hitting him in the form of the Big Snow (he was apparently more of a jerk than usual that year, whereas in the previous year he came across as more reasonable when visiting Donner) and teaching him a rather valuable lesson.
    • The Toy Taker in Island of Misfit Toys after Santa acquaints him with his long lost owner's daughter.
  • I Am What I Am: Rudolph's nose.
  • Immortals Fear Death: Aeon's motivation in the sequel. He's not technically immortal, but he's clearly lived several millennia, and as such, he's terrified of dying, and thinks he can stave off death by kidnapping the New Year. (And he succeeds, just not the way he figured.)
  • Informed Flaw: One notorious point of contention is that the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys doesn't seem to have anything wrong with her. Word of God is that she's depressed.note 
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Burl Ives' Sam, again.
  • "I Want" Song: "Fame and Fortune" before it was changed back to "We're a Couple of Misfits" fits the bill, also the first half-minute of "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year".
  • Jerkass: While All of the Other Reindeer naturally qualify, Santa Claus himself is actually quite abrasive in this edition, first tersely dismissing the elves' song, and storming out, and later, after Rudolph's nose is made public, he not only doesn't stop the other reindeer from ridiculing him, but actually treats Rudolph just as bad as they do. Clarice is an exception though. Not only does she not ridicule him, but she also compliments him, and even becomes his girlfriend in the end.
    • He even tells Donner he should be ashamed for his son's uncontrollable, uncurable physical abnormality.
    • Santa's remark to Donner might have meant he should be ashamed of hiding Rudolph's nose. He bothers to point out he was getting off to a good start on his own.
      • They all have a Heel Realization upon hearing Rudolph and Hermey's story about their travels and realizing their abnormalities can be put to good use after all (even Donner admits he had always known Rudolph's red nose could be useful later on).
    • The head elf is especially bad, and initially refuses to let Hermey be a dentist. He eventually relents and allows him to open a dentist's office after Christmas.
  • Karma Houdini: All of the adults around Rudolph treat him in a way that borders emotional abuse. They never get called out or face any consequences, his Informed Deformity just turns out to be useful and they accept him.
    • Yukon Cornelius is actually the ONLY adult who isn't a jerkass at all!
  • Large Ham: Yukon Cornelius
    Cornelius: We'll all be rich, with the biggest silver strike this side of Hudson Bay! SILVEEERRR!
    Hermey: But I thought you wanted gold.
    Cornelius: I CHANGED MY MIND!
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Big Snow is hinted to have been caused by Santa's unusually jerkish behavior over the past year; earlier in the special he came across as a bit more reasonable, whereas the next year he's shown to be putting down the elves' premiere performance of "We Are Santa's Elves" (and the elves decide that Hermey is to blame for not being there to back the tenor section) and chewing out Donner for his part in deliberately hiding Rudolph's nose. That's right, the man who puts coal in the stockings of naughty children was being naughty himself that year, and just after he voided his Karma Houdini Warranty by coming to Rudolph for help when Donner goes missing, the Big Snow hit and almost caused Christmas to be cancelled. At the very least, it taught Santa a valuable lesson in humility and tolerance.
    • In the sequel Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, however, it's revealed that the foggy weather was caused by the warlock Winterbolt, in an attempt to prevent Santa from making his Christmas Eve rounds.
  • Lonely Together: Rudolph and Hermey most certainly.
    Hermey: Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?
    Rudolph: You wouldn't mind my... red nose?
    Hermey: Not if you don't mind me being a dentist.
    Rudolph: It's a deal!
  • Living Toys: The Misfit Toys. Well, sort of. Apparently, the idea is, they are like this because they're neglected and unwanted, which is why they qualify for this Trope. (The special suggests that all toys are Level 2 on the Sliding Scale of Living Toys.)
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The song that the Misfit Toys sing sounds happy and cheerfulnote , until you realize it's about how lonely they are because they're unwanted.note 
  • Matryoshka Object: One of the Misfit Toys is a clown nesting doll, whose smallest doll contains a wind-up mouse.
  • Mean Boss: Hermey's unnamed Boss Elf, although he warms up at the end.
  • Money Song: Burl Ives' song "Silver and Gold" sorta straddles the line.
  • Mrs. Claus: Who admonished Santa for not eating enough, and that kids wouldn't want a skinny Santa.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Donner deeply regrets how he treated Rudolph after his son runs away.
  • Narrator: Sam the Snowman.
  • No Indoor Voice:
    • Yukon Cornelius. "LAAAAAAAAAAAND HOOOOOOOOOO!"note 
    • Also the elf foreman, who sounds exactly like Yosemite Sam.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Abominable Snow Monster is a terrifying presence in the first half of the special when he exists only as a frightening roar while a giant pair of legs go striding by, and the scene becomes very dark. Once we see the whole creature, he's not that scary any more.
  • Older Than They Look: It's implied that Santa's elves are this.
  • Older Than They Think: In-universe, with the story of Nestor the donkey.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Hermey very literally is!
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: King Moonracer, the ruler of the Island of Misfit Toys. A lion with eagle's wings who wears a Cool Crown and has a deep, echoing voice. He's wicked-cool, but sadly, he's only seen briefly.
  • Overprotective Dad: After Rudolph takes Clarice home, her father shows these tendencies after seeing Rudolph's shiny nose:
    Clarice's Father: Clarice!
    Clarice: Papa?
    Clarice's Father: You get back to your cave this instant!
    Clarice: But I -
    Clarice's Father: This instant, young lady!
    Clarice: Yes, sir.
    Clarice's Father [to Rudolph]: Now, there's one thing I want to make very plain: No doe of mine is going to be seen with a red-nosed reindeer!
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: The stuttering, sinking toy boat on the Island of Misfit Toys. "Or a b-b-b-boat that can't sta-stay a...float!"
  • Product Placement: The special was originally commissioned and sponsored by GE, which was selling new smaller Christmas Tree lights — that looked very much like Rudolph's nose....
  • Prospector: Yukon Cornelius.
  • Reality Ensues: Somewhat. Rudolph was born with a special ability. How did the other reindeer initially react? By laughing at him because he was different.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The 2001 sequel depicts Rudolph with stumpy antlers only slightly larger than his younger form. This looks like a continuity Snap Back, but reindeers in fact shed their antlers around winter.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: King Moonracer. Though he only permits toys to be permanent residents of the Island of Misfit Toys (or, as Yukon Cornelius puts it, "Even among misfits, you're misfits!"), he does allow the protagonists to stay the night and requests that when they get back to Christmas Town, they ask Santa to come pick up the toys and search for a home for each of them.
  • Re-Cut: More times than some might expect for a 50-minute TV special.
    • The original 1964 broadcast differs from later versions through Rudolph's and Hermy's performance of "We're a Couple of Misfits," Donner expressing pride in his son guiding Santa's sleigh, Yukon Cornelius striking peppermint, and elves dropping presents from the sleigh during the end credits.
    • Beginning in 1965, "We're a Couple of Misfits" was replaced with "Fame and Fortune," and "We Are Santa's Elves" lost an instrumental scene with physical humor, to make room for commercials. Also, at the request of viewers, a new scene featured Santa collecting the Misfit Toys from the island and a new credits sequence showed elves delivering them to unseen households. As a result, Donner and Yukon Cornelius's witnessing Santa's flight was removed. This is the same version Family Home Entertainment and Golden Books Family Entertainment sold on VHS.
    • Platypus Comix's review of a 1979 broadcast note  reveals a version which cuts all of "We Are Santa's Elves," as well as a brief moment when Donner asks his wife to Stay in the Kitchen. (The author claims every other version he's seen contains the latter moment, suggesting it was reinstated during the mid-1980s.)
    • In 1998, CBS came to the rescue and restored "We're a Couple of Misfits" and "We Are Santa's Elves" to the special, but still included the scenes of the Misfit Toys becoming presents. Due to the retaining of those scenes, the special still does not include the original ending or end credits sequence.
    • Beginning in 2005, Rudolph got screwed by CBS when they decided to make room for commercials by cutting the "We Are Santa's Elves" instrumental and Donner's and Yukon Cornelius' scenes of the ending again, and also syncing a shortened "We're a Couple of Misfits" to the animation of "Fame and Fortune." They also time-compress the show slightly.
    • Most DVDs, Blu-Ray Discs, and digital copies released by either Golden Books Family Entertainment or Classic Media feature the cut that most closely matches the original broadcast. It includes "We're a Couple of Misfits" and the uncut "We Are Santa's Elves," and also places Donner's and Yukon Cornelius' final scenes right before the scenes of the Misfit Toys becoming presents. However, it does not include the original end credits sequence, and Classic Media DVDs produced from 2005-2006 are inexplicably missing Donner's and Yukon Cornelius' final scenes.
    • Some airings cut out "There's Always Tomorrow".
  • Role Reprisal: Billie May Richardsnote  reprised Rudolph in every Rankin-Bass featurette until her death. A curious example occurs in the 2006 special, where Kathleen Barr from the Goodtimes animation reprises Rudolph, despite the interpretation following the Rankin-Bass continuity.
  • Santa Claus: Probably as bad a depiction as you can get without breaching the guidelines of children's programming.
  • Saving Christmas: Santa thinks they might have to cancel Christmas due to the fog — that is, before he sees Rudolph's nose.
  • Sneaky Departure: Rudolph feels he's endangering the others because his glowing nose always exposes them when the Abominable Snow Monster is near, so he leaves them in the middle of the night.
  • Society Marches On: In 1964, the squirt gun from the Island of Misfit Toys was a misfit because it squirted jelly rather than water. Now it's a misfit because it's a toy gun that looks like a real gun, which is no longer legal or acceptable.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Is it Hermey, Hermie, or Herbie? ("Hermey" seems to be the official spelling)
  • Spinning Paper: This is how the special begins, with live-action footage of people stuck in snow while newspapers fly up at the screen, with headlines screaming about a cold wave bringing snowstorms so severe that they threaten Christmas.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: When Donner's wife asks if she can help look for Rudolph, he responds, "No. This is man's work." Joined by Clarice, she follows up, though, and it gets worse for both of them when they all get captured by the Abominable Snow Monster. However, this is more of a subversion, as Donner feels genuinely responsible for his son running away, so he believes he should be the one to look for him.
  • Stop Motion: A classic example.
  • Tap on the Head: Yukon Cornelius does this to the Abominable Snowman to allow Hermey to extract all his teeth.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Clarice. Red bow and huge eyelashes!
    • Elves have this too.
  • Through a Face Full of Fur: Rudolph blushes after Clarice compliments him.
  • Titled After the Song: Most Rankin/Bass Christmas shows would fall under this trope, though it's sort of justified in how they're usually retellings of the song's lyrics.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Finally through with running from his problems, Rudolph finds his family and Clarice at the mercy of the Bumble and wastes no time fighting the creature off to save them. He proves horribly outmatched, but his bravery after months of fleeing from the creature cannot be understated.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Bumble gets redeemed after his Disney Death and helps Santa's elves prepare Christmas. Santa and most of the adults are also considerably nicer in the sequels.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Hermes lures the Snow Monster away from the reindeer by squealing like a pig, after Cornelius tells him, "I've never seen a Bumble turn down a pork dinner for deer meat." And it works.
  • Under the Mistletoe: Clarice catches Rudolph under it during "Holly Jolly Christmas" towards the end.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Several times.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Rudolph and his father's relationship can be summed up this way.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Toy Taker in Island of Misfit Toys abducts toys with the purpose of protecting them from kids he believes are neglectful and abusive. As it turns out, he is in fact a teddy bear who spent a lot of his life forgotten and accidentally sent away by his owner.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Initially played straight. In the original 1964 presentation of the special, the Misfit Toys are never seen again after Rudolph leaves their island. This was then averted when viewer complaints about this led to the first Re-Cut; see above.
  • Woodland Creatures: Used in "There's Always Tomorrow".
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: If you think about it from his perspective, Aeon the Terrible from Shiny New Year—Yes kidnapping an infant and trying to avert the coming of the new year is a jerk move, but Aeon can only live for one aeon (hence his name) and if the new year comes, that deadline will finally be up and he'll be reduced to ice and snow. In short, Aeon isn't so much malicious as he is terrified of dying. Fortunately, Rudolph and Happy manage to avert that fate for him.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: A squirrel chucks a gold nugget away after discovering it's inedible. Also, Rudolph thinks that Yukon's desire for silver means he's looking for tinsel.
  • Your Size May Vary: The Abominable is clearly much bigger in his first scene, where he's so big you can only see his legs striding by, never see his torso at all, and Rudolph can jump down inside his footprint (at least 35-50 feet). When we see him in a full body shot, he's only a little taller than twice Yukon Cornelius' height (12-14 feet).