Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Stop Motion animated Christmas Special based upon the classic storybook by Robert L. May, made by Rankin/Bass Productions and first broadcast on NBC (under the General Electric Fantasy Hour umbrella) in 1964.
Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) narrates the story of Rudolph, son of Santa Claus's flying reindeer Donner. To the shock and dismay of his parents, Rudolph is born with a red nose, which lights up when he gets excited. Santa, who's somewhat of a Jerkass throughout, tells Donner that Rudolph will never get to be part of the team pulling his sleigh with such an abnormality. Donner tries to cover up his son's nose with a false one, which works for a little while, but it eventually falls off and exposes poor Rudolph's secret, leaving him to be mocked and ostracized by the other reindeer... save for Clarice, a pretty doe who likes him just as he is.
A second plot thread follows Hermey, one of Santa's elves. Unlike all the other elves, who are content to hammer out toys for all the good little children of the world, Hermey has dreams of being a dentist. His rage-prone supervisor won't tolerate this talk of dentistry, however, and Hermey quits. He meets Rudolph, and the two "misfits" decide to run away together. In their travels they have adventures that include meeting a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, who is searching the wilds of the frozen north for silver and gold; finding an Island of Misfit Toys, where broken and unwanted toys go; and having to flee from the scary giant Abominable Snow Monster.
Directly followed (with diminishing returns) by Rudolph's Shiny New Year in 1976 and the crossover movie Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July in 1979, while the characters re-appeared in the 2001 direct-to-video CGI film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys (also made by GoodTimes, who previously made the unrelated 1998 Rudolph feature film.) Burl Ives returned as narrator – albeit not as Sam the Snowman – for Rankin/Bass' 1976 special The First Easter Rabbit.
The special was also used as inspiration for the North Pole aesthetic in the 2003 film Elf, particularly the elf attire and use of stop-motion characters.
As of 2021, it's the longest running Christmas Special and has been annually airing on television for over 50 years.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and its sequels provide examples of:
- Adaptational Jerkass: Speaking for even general legend, Santa isn't exactly the jolly, warm father figure that he's always been in this special. In fact, he's kind of a complete asshole until the third act (and even then he's hardly warm and fuzzy; he's still arguing with Mrs. Claus and getting annoyed by the elves' song). The first time we see him, he insists to Donner that Rudolph will never be able to join his team unless he grows out of his unusual nose. Then, he's insulting and dismissive about the elves' singing. Later, he angrily tells Donner he should be ashamed for Rudolph's nose. Contrast this with the original story and song where Santa is notably friendlier and accepting to Rudolph's nose which is present for the 1996 Montgomery Ward animated adaptation Rudolph's Lessons for life, 1998 feature film, and the first animated adaptation from 1948.
- Adaptation Expansion: Rankin/Bass added a lot of details to the basic story for their adaptation, including making Rudolph the son of Donner and Mrs. Donner (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 midway through the story), 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.
- Adaptational Sympathy: The original 1939 book and song merely depicted Rudolph as a target of mockery for his usual nose, whereas the special showed the deep psychological effects of being mistreated in such a manner, not just by the other reindeer, but by his own father, and even Santa Claus himself. Several other figures in his position, notably Hermey the Elf and the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, were shown to help further Rudolph's plight.
- Against the Grain: Hermey the Elf wishes to be a dentist instead of a toy-maker. This creates a controversy and shocks the other elves.
- All of the Other Reindeer: It's a given, considering the song is the Trope Namer. Except for Clarice, every young reindeer who finds out about his nose starts calling Rudolph by such offensive nicknames as "Firesnout", "Neon Nose" and "Rainbow Schnoz". And Comet encourages them to make him a social outcast.
- Alternate Continuity:
- The Rankin-Bass specials take place in a timeline distinct from the original Robert L. May book and its sequel Rudolph Shines Again from 1954.
- The DC Comics miniseries (which predates the special, but uses Rudolph's original design by Denver Gillen) takes place in its own distinct continuity as well. Its also an official part of the DC multiverse despite DC only licensing the character, with Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Compendium stating they're set on Earth-Twelve.
- Ambiguously Gay: Some have thought this about Hermey. It doesn't help that his quest to become a dentist unintentionally resembles a Coming-Out Story. In fact, the story of both Rudolph and Hermey could be seen as one, separately. "No straight elf wears his hair that way."
- Animated Adaptation: The Rankin-Bass special is a loose adaptation of the original story from 1939 by Robert May. However, the special marked the second animated appearance of Rudolph after his animation debut in 1948.
- 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.) Then again, these are magic reindeer. note
- 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.
- The "mistletoe" plant seen during the "Holly Jolly Christmas" number ("Ho, ho, the mistletoe...") is simply a sprig of generic-looking leaves without any berries, looking nothing like actual mistletoe.
- Artistic License – Music: The Elf Forman claims the tenor section of his song was weak. While this may be the case In-Universe, to the viewers there was actually a tenor and it was quite clear.
- Ascended Extra: In the original story/poem (notably the Denver Gillen version), Santa's Elves are only seen in a single page putting toys and other goodies into Santa's Sleigh. In the special, they are minor characters who are seen not only making toys, but are seen rehearsing for Christmas Eve before Santa takes off.
- Award-Bait Song: "There's Always Tomorrow", a sweet and idealistic Pep-Talk Song performed by Clarice.
- Berserk Button: The Head Elf finds the idea of Hermey as a dentist ridiculous, until he needs a dental appointment.
- Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: Bumble, the Abominable Snow Monster.
- Big "WHAT?!": A recurring line for the Boss Elf, especially in his reactions to Hermey wanting to be a dentist.
- 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 and somewhat lacking in common sense, but it doesn't change the fact that the strong guy is the nice guy.
- Braving the Blizzard: A horrible blizzard occurs on Christmas Eve. It's powerful enough to blow away much of the town, and visibility is dropped to the point of Santa wanting to cancel Christmas.
- Boyfriend-Blocking Dad: After Rudolph takes Clarice home, her father sternly rebukes Rudolph after seeing his shiny nose:Clarice's Father: Clarice!
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!
- Canon Foreigner: With the exception of Rudolph, Santa, Mrs Claus (although never mentioned in the story and song), Santa's Elves, and the rest of Santa's reindeer. The majority of the characters (such as The Misfit Toys, Bumble, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius, and Clarice) never existed in the original story and song.
- Captain Obvious: After the ice floe carrying Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius crashes in the fog and deposits them onto the Island of Misfit Toys:Yukon Cornelius: LAAAAAAAND HOOOOOOO!Hermey: No kidding.
- Chase Stops at Water: Rudolph, Hermie, and Yukon Cornelius are being chased by the Abominable Snow Beast when they come to the edge of the water. Cornelius cuts an ice floe as a makeshift raft and floats out to sea, while the Abominable falls into the water.Yukon Cornelius: Observe the Bumble's one weakness; the Bumble sinks!
- Christmas Elves: They are minor characters who are not only seen making toys, but are seen rehearsing for their Christmas Eve performance before Santa's annual journey. The exception is Hermey, who wants to be a dentist much to the dismay of The Boss Elf and the other elves. This special also marked the earliest depictions of females elves (who wear pink and white outfits) in Christmas media.
- Christmas Special: A Trope Maker.
- Comically Cross-Eyed: The Bumble, even when he is acting threatening.
- 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.
- Damned by Faint Praise: The rehearsal of "We Are Santa's Elves" is met with a lukewarm reception by Santa, but praised by Mrs. Claus (which doesn't help much) and the Boss Elf criticizes the elf choir afterwards:Santa: Hmm... Well, it needs work, I have to go. [Santa leaves the room]
Mrs. Claus: What does Papa know? It's beautiful! You keep it just the way it was. Papa? Papa?
Boss Elf: [after Mrs. Claus leaves] That sounded terrible! The tenor section was weak!
- Defeat Means Friendship: The Abominable Snowmonster.
- 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.
- Digital Destruction: Early pressings of the Blu-Ray made Yukon Cornelius's 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.
- Double Take: The Boss Elf's reaction to Hermey wanting to be a dentist:Boss Elf: Hermey! Aren't you finished painting that yet? There's a pile-up a mile wide behind you. What's eating you, boy?
Hermey: Not happy in my work, I guess.
Boss Elf: What?!
Hermey: I just don't like to make toys.
Boss Elf: Oh well, if that's all... [pause] What?! You don't like to make toys?
Boss Elf: [mockingly] Hermey doesn't like to make toys!
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Subverted: Yukon appears to fall off a cliff while wrestling the Abominable Snowmonster, but they both survive. See Disney Death.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: This was the first stop-motion Christmas special from Rankin/Bass Productions and the character designs are generally cruder and more stylized and doll-like than in their subsequent specials, including the two Rudolph sequels. The black-haired, vaguely European Mrs. Claus is also very different from the later specials' Mrs. Claus with her red-streaked white hair (which was fully red in her youth), and the elves here are both male and female in equal numbers, with the males in blue suits and the females in pink, while the later specials, including the Rudolph sequels, show mostly male elves in red suits. On a more minor note, Santa's voice actor is neither Paul Frees nor Mickey Rooney, who later became Rankin Bass's two mainstay voice actors for the role.
- Edible Ammunition: One Misfit Toy is a squirtgun that shoots jelly.
- Fantastic Racism: Somewhat. Rudolph was born with a special ability. How did the other reindeer initially react? By laughing at him because he was different. The way Santa and the adult reindeer refuse to give Rudolph the same opportunities as other reindeer, along with Clarice's father demanding that her daughter not be seen with a red-nosed reindeer, definitely elevate the allegory.
- 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. (His only involvement in the actual narrative is that he apparently told Yukon and Hermey that the Donner family are at Bumble's cave.)
- Fluffy Tamer: Yukon Cornelius and Hermey who extracts Bumble the Abominable Snowman's teeth.
- Fluffy the Terrible: Bumble is quite a cute name for a malicious giant monster with More Teeth than the Osmond Family.
- Forbidden Romance: Clarice's father forbids her from socializing with Rudolph on account of his red nose.
- Forced Perspective: Santa's Castle and especially King Moonracer's are shot in a way that tries to conceal that they're hardly any bigger than the characters that are supposed to be living in them.
- Foreign Re-Score: The Brazilian TV and Hungarian dubs have the score mostly recomposed, with the Brazilian score done by Mário Lúcio de Freitas.
- Four-Fingered Hands: All the humans and elves have four fingers on each hand.
- Friendship Song: "We're a Couple of Misfits".
- George Jetson Job Security: The Boss Elf threatens to fire Hermey unless he starts getting back to work; subverted when Hermey decides to resign, and he even makes this clear in "We're a Couple of Misfits":Hermey: You can't fire me, I quit, seems I don't fit in.
- 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?"
- In a way, it almost lampshades Frosty the Snowman...
- Headbutt of Love: Rudolph and Clarice put their heads together lovingly and walk home together after singing to him "There's Always Tomorrow". It lasts until her father interrupts them.
- 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 a 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 - other than his negative reaction to Rudolph's nose, at least) and teaching him a rather valuable lesson.
- I Am What I Am: Rudolph's nose.
- "I Can't Look!" Gesture: Sam the Snowman sometimes hides behind his umbrella during particularly tense moments in the story, especially when the abominable snow monster is involved.
- 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.
- Ink-Suit Actor: Burl Ives' Sam, again, as per normal with Rankin/Bass narrators. Fred Astaire as S.D. Kluger and Jimmy Durante, anyone?
- In Name Only: The plot has nothing to do with the Robert May book, since the producers were unable to find a copy, and thus used the song as a reference for the plot instead.
- "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 he actually treats Rudolph just as bad as they do. He even tells Donner he should be ashamed of hiding his son's uncontrollable, incurable physical abnormality. 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.
- 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 (It is important to note that Donner, Clarice's father, and the Head Elf are depicted apologizing to Rudolph and Hermey before the revelation about the usefulness of the nose.)
- 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: Except for Mrs. Donner, Yukon Cornelius, and King Moonracer, all of the adults around Rudolph treat him in a way that borders on emotional abuse. They never get called out or face any consequences, his Informed Deformity just turns out to be useful, and they accept him. (The exception being Donner, and Clarice's father, who we get an apology from before the big Santa epiphany.)
- 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!
- The Head Elf seems incapable of talking without bellowing.
- 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.
- Living Toy: 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.)
- 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!
- 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.
- Mining for Cookies: In a scene that has since been cut from the original television airingnote , Yukon Cornelius tests the ground around Santa's Workshop with his pickaxe and finds an underground peppermint mine. He then reveals that the peppermint is actually what he's been searching for (not silver and gold like he originally thought), which explains why he licks his pickaxe after testing the ground.Yukon Cornelius: Peppermint! What I've been searching for all my life! I've struck it rich! I've got me a peppermint mine! Wahoo!
- Money Song: Burl Ives' song "Silver and Gold" sorta straddles the line.
- More Teeth than the Osmond Family: Bumble has a mouth full of sharp teeth. Hermey pulls them out when they defeat the beast.
- 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, voiced by Burl Ives
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Charlie-in-the-Box, the sentry on the Island of Misfit Toys (voiced by Alfie Scopp), sounds similar to old Vaudeville and Radio-era comedian Ed Wynn.
- No Indoor Voice:
- Yukon Cornelius. "LAAAAAAAAAAAND HOOOOOOOOOO!"note
- Also the elf foreman, who sounds exactly like Yosemite Sam.
- No Name Given: In the original special, the tall elf with glasses is nameless, until Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys, when his name is revealed as Hank.
- 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 Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
- Only Friend: Clarice is the only deer who does not laugh at Rudolph’s nose, at least she is his only friend at first. His mother is also always kind towards him, but she is his mother not a friend exactly.
- Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: In the first airing of the special, once Rudolph and Santa take off, there's some banter between Donner, Hermey, and Yukon, and then the special ends. The Misfit Toys are never come back for, unlike what Rudolph had promised, leading to fan outcry that resulted in a Revised Ending.
- Opinion Flip Flop: So, Rudolph is now popular because they figured out a way for his red nose to be useful. His father chimes in, saying "I knew that nose would be useful someday."
- Our Elves Are Different: Hermey very literally is! Not only does he want to be a dentist instead of making toys, he's the only elf at the North Pole with round ears instead of pointy ones.
- Outcast Refuge: The Island of Misfit Toys is a refuge for toys who are defective in some way (a boat that can't float, a cowboy that rides an ostrich, a Jack-in-the-Box named Charlie). They are collected by King Moondancer in the hopes that one day they might find a home with a child who will love them. Rudolph and Hermie, who are considered misfits in the North Pole, ask to stay in the island forever, but Moondancer tells them that only toys are allowed to stay.Yukon Cornelius: How do you like that? Even among misfits you're misfits!
- Papa Wolf: Donner goes out to look for Rudolph when the big storm hits:Sam the Snowman: Now, you can bet old Donner felt pretty bad about the way he had treated Rudolph, and he knew that the only thing to do was to go out and look for his little buck. Mrs. Donner wanted to go along, naturally, but Donner said, "No. This is man's work."
- Inverted when Rudolph goes to the Abominable Snowman's cave to rescue his family and Clarice's.
- Pep-Talk Song: "There's Always Tomorrow" by Clarice, as she cheers Rudolph after he is kicked out of the games.
- 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!"
- Power Echoes: King Moonracer speaks with a deep, booming voice that has a noticeable reverb effect to it.
- Product Placement: The special was originally commissioned and sponsored by General Electric, which was selling new smaller Christmas tree lights — that looked very much like Rudolph's nose....
- Prospector: Yukon Cornelius.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Rudolph and Hermey, who are later joined by Yukon Cornelius the prospector, and treated hospitably by King Moonracer.Lampshaded by Hermey's and Rudolph's "We're a Couple of Misfits":
Hermey: Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. You can't fire me, I quit! Seems I don't fit in!
Rudolph: Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. Just because my nose glows, why don't I fit in?
Rudolph & Hermey: We're a couple of misfits, we're a couple of misfits. What's the matter with misfits? That's where we fit in.
- The residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, including Charlie-in-the-Box, the train with square wheels, the cowboy who rides an ostrich, and the jelly-squirting gun.
- 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 (male) reindeer in fact shed their antlers around winter. But then again, he is also smaller for some reason.
- 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, Clarice calling Rudolph a hero, and Yukon Cornelius striking peppermint, and elves dropping presents from the sleigh during the end credits. Since 2019, the Freeform airing restored Yukon striking peppermint, and Donner and Clarice watching Rudolph and Santa taking off.
- 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" (this edited version is, to put it bluntly, a mess). They also time-compress the show slightly. The FreeForm airing kept the instrumental section of "We Are Santa's Elves"
- Most DVDs, Blu-Ray Discs, and digital copies released by Golden Books Family Entertainment, Classic Media or Universal 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 (as the original color version was presumed lost for some time until a 16mm copy was discovered by a random collector in 2018, with plans to eventually include it on a Rankin-Bass documentary), 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".
- Freeform's 2019 telecast finally restored the Peppermint Mine ending, and the whole version of "We're a Couple of Misfits", but also made some smaller edits for commercials.
- 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.
- Shared Universe: The sequel Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July shows that Rudolph takes place in the same world as Frosty the Snowman. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey likewise takes place in Rudolph's world.
- Yukon Cornelius quotes from the W. C. Fields comedy "The Fatal Glass of Beer" when he says "It isn't a fit night out for man or beast!"
- While conducting "We Are Santa's Elves", the head elf imitates Lawrence Welk: "And a one-a, and a two-a, and a three-a!"
- 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.
- The Song Remains the Same: With the exception of the 1980s Brazilian Portuguese TV dub (this was averted in the previous dub), most foreign dubs (including Spanish, Greek, and Japanese) leave all of the songs in English.
- Subverted in the Hungarian dub. While most dubs keep the "You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen" portion in English, this is translated in said dub. The singing portion that follows afterwards is in English, however.
- In the French dub, the songs uniquely have spoken narration added to it, not like a traditional voice-over dub translating the lyrics, but rather explaining the action like a typical narration.
- 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 to postpone Christmas.
- Stay in the Kitchen: When Donner's wife asks if she can help look for Rudolph, he chauvinistically 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.
- Suddenly Shouting: Altogether now, everyone: WHY WEREN'T YOU AT ELF PRACTICE?
- Super Drowning Skills: The Abominable Snow Monster has only one weakness - he sinks like a stone.
- Take a Third Option: Hermey attempts to reconcile his desire to be a dentist with making toys like elves should by creating dolls with teeth. It's subverted when the Head Elf won't let him even do that.
- Taking You with Me: Subverted. Yukon Cornelius tackles the Abominable Snow Monster over a cliff, but they both survive.
- 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: Hermey 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.
- Tragic Abandoned Toy: The main characters visit the Isle of Misfit Toys. It's populated by irregular toys that some child rejected, and they await a chance to please some other child somewhere. One is a jack-in-the-box named Charlie, another is a toy train with square wheels, a third is a bird that can't fly but can swim. During his Christmas Eve flight, Santa Claus stops by this Isle, and collects these toys for distribution.
- Triumphant Reprise: "We're a Couple of Misfits" functions as one for both Rudolph's and Hermie's earlier renditions of "Why Am I Such a Misfit?".
- Under the Mistletoe: Clarice catches Rudolph under it during "Holly Jolly Christmas" towards the end.
- Vocal Dissonance:
- During the opening for the "We are Santa's elves" song, the Head Elf jarringly switches from his normal Yosemite Sam-esque growl to a nasally Porky Pig-like whine, clearly voiced by a different actor, for several lines with no explanation.note
- Despite being the same age as Rudolph, Clarice sounds more like an adult woman than a young girl.note
- Waxing Lyrical: Several times.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Rudolph and his father's relationship can be summed up this way.
- 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 (though it's strongly implied that Rudolph did come to Santa about this when Santa assures him he'll find them homes). This was then averted when viewer complaints about this led to the first Re-Cut; see above.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: Mrs. Claus sounds vaguely Italian or Slavic.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Santa's harsh reaction when Rudolph's fake nose cap comes off leads Coach Comet and the others to shun Rudolph, embarrasses Rudolph and makes Donner feel ashamed of his son.
- Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises: Happens to a reindeer Rudolph befriends when the cover pops off his nose during the reindeer games scene.
- Women Are Wiser: The does are the only reindeer who don't show any prejudice towards Rudolph regarding his nose; Clarice is the more notable in that she has an entire song dedicated to consoling Rudolph after he'd just been humiliated over his nose at the reindeer games.
- In addition to that, Mrs. Claus is more supportive of the elves' song than Santa himself. He brushes it off as needing more work.
- Woodland Creatures: During "There's Always Tomorrow", some rabbits and raccoons appear to sing along with Clarice.
- World of Jerkass: With some exceptions (such as Clarice and Yukon Cornelius), everyone treats Rudolph like crap because of his red nose, even Santa Claus. The elves similarly treat Hermey with disdain for wanting to be a dentist.
- 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).