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  • Accidental Aesop: Hermie's desire to become a dentist unintentionally (as this was released in 1964) resembles a Coming-Out Story.
  • Adaptation Displacement:
    • "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" originated with a book published in 1939 for a department store's Christmas marketing, which pre-dates the Rankin/Bass special by twenty-five years, the song by ten years, and is almost forgotten. The book has little in common with the Rankin & Bass special and focuses only on Rudolph being shunned for his nose before Santa asks him to lead the reindeer team. Hermey the Elf, the Abominable Snowman, Yukon, and Clarice were all created for the Rankin & Bass special & do not appear at all in the book. Ask anyone if they know Rudolph, and they'll either answer with the song or the Rankin & Bass special, and be very surprised if you mention the original book.
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    • The song is another example of this for the book, by the Rankin & Bass animators. Even though it was written in 1949 by Johnny Marks, the brother-in-law of the book's author Robert May, the song was the basic inspiration & theme-music for the Rankin & Bass special, as the animators had only heard of the song.
    • The trope is averted by the first animated short of Rudolph, which was produced and directed by Max Fleischer. Released in 1948, it predates the Rankin & Bass special and the song. Fleischer's short is based on and true to the original book, though it was later re-released in 1951 with the song added to its soundtrack.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Santa is in fact a big jerk in the original film because he never even "liked" Rudolph (if you can call it that) until he realized that he could exploit his nose. In other words, Santa only cares about Rudolph's nose, not Rudolph.
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    • Rather than being an "abusive" parent, it could be argued that Donner, having grown up in that environment, knew the pain and suffering in store for Rudolph and wanted to spare him.
    • Did Comet exclude Rudolph from the reindeer games out of prejudice, or was it for the good of the other young reindeer who might be distracted and he chose the wrong words in Rudolph's presence?
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: One line floating around the Internet is Mrs. Claus' demand, "Eat Papa, Eat. Nobody likes a skinny Santa." This exact line is not uttered in the special. She says the former sentence towards the end by itself, and earlier says, "Whoever heard of a skinny Santa?", but never both at the same time.
  • Can't Un-Hear It: Just try reading any of the other adaptations of the story, be it books or comics, without hearing Billie Mae Richards' iconic Rudolph voice or the Rankin-Bass specials interpretation of the classic song.
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  • Crosses the Line Twice: Rudolph scaring a fellow buck when the cover comes off his nose.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • All of the Misfit Toys, not only for being The Woobie, but because most were perfectly good toys, and even the ones that weren't would still delight a child. The particular stand-out is the doll ("A Dolly for Sue"), who had only a few lines outside of the ensemble cast, yet she's beloved for how tragic she is.
    • Yukon Cornelius. Just look at that moustache!
    • King Moonracer, Also doubles as a One-Scene Wonder.
    • The Toy Taker aka. Mr Cuddles seems to be considered one of the better elements of the 2001 sequel.
    • The Boss Elf, thanks to his memetic "WHY WEREN'T YOU AT ELF PRACTICE?!" line.
  • Fair for Its Day: In spite of the criticism the 1964 special has received today for most of the characters being mean to Rudolph, the special clearly shows that Rudolph was adversely affected by the ostracism he received. And as for Donner's harsh parenting skills, when he finds out that Rudolph has run away, he realizes that he Was Too Hard on Him. Towards the end of the special, everyone, including All of the Other Reindeer, apologizes to him for their mistreatment of him, even before they realize that his red nose could be useful to anybody.
  • Fanon Discontinuity:
    • The sequel, Rudolph's Shiny New Year, suddenly has a completely different Rudolph puppet, despite starring the same character and taking place immediately after this special. Not to mention he's also young again in all the sequels. Or did he get his antlers trimmed once in a while?
    • Fans of both the "originals" and the traditionally animated 1998 film will agree that the computer animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys never should have happened. Arguably a song or two and using the original designs the other sequels altered are the only saving graces, if even that.
  • First Installment Wins: None of the sequels will ever hold a candle to the original 1964 special. Note however, it is not the first Rudolph film altogether (that honour goes to the Max Fleischer short, which is received well, but is far more obscure).
  • Fountain of Memes: Yukon Cornelius. Being a Large Ham and the only adult who isn't a Jerkass helps.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
  • Jerkass Woobie: Donner. He's aloof to his son, and tries to get him to hide the glowing red nose, but when it's revealed, Santa is downright cruel to Donner. And when Rudolph runs away, Donner is the first to go and look for him.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "You eat what you like, and I'll eat what I like!"
    • "I'm cute! I'm cute! She said I'm CUTE!"
      • Preferably said as though one has a stuffed nose: "She said I'm CYUUUUUUUUUDE!"
    • For whatever reason, the phrase "WHY WEREN'T YOU AT ELF PRACTICE?" inexplicably exploded in popularity in December 2017.
    • "Quick, douse the light!"
    • "Bumbles BOUNCE!"
    • "No! This is MAN'S work!"
  • Moment of Awesome: Rudolph has clearly taken King Moonracer's advice to heart, because the next time he's confronted by all of the other reindeer, he simply ignores them and continues on his way home.
  • Nightmare Retardant: If you don't find the Bumble to be Nightmare Fuel, you'll probably see him as a big, white Muppet, complete with permanently crossed eyes. Once Bumble has been touched with the Spirit of Christmas, he becomes the cutest thing ever.
  • Older Than They Think:
    • Rudolph was a book long before it became a song, and even longer before the Rankin & Bass special aired. The original book, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" was published in 1939 as Christmas marketing for Montgomery Ward, a US-based department store. The Johnny Marks song didn't come about until a decade later, in 1949, with the Rankin & Bass special not appearing until 1964. The Rankin & Bass version has little to do with the original story, as the animators didn't have a copy of the book & only had the song lyrics to go by. That said, anyone born after 1960 probably thinks Rudolph was always part of the Santa story.
    • The Rankin & Bass special wasn't even the first animated telling of the tale. That honor belongs to Max Fleischer in 1948, even before the song was written. The Fleischer short was re-issued in 1951 with the song added to the soundtrack. On top of that, DC Comics issued multiple annuals retelling the story in the late '50s.
  • Sacred Cow: Although there's plenty to mock due to Values Dissonance, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer has been a beloved part of many people's childhoods and is the go-to Christmas Special. Its numerous fans will shred you to pieces if you dare speak ill of it.
  • Special Effects Failure: Hermey's mouth movements frequently don't match the words he's saying, which at times can be unintentionally hilarious.
    • The entire Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys movie can be seen as one big special effects failure, with really bad CGI animation throughout (not as bad as The Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa, but still pretty bad, looking more like animation from a Nintendo 64 game). Special mention goes to an iceberg collapse during the storm scene, which is VERY poorly done.
  • Ugly Cute: The Bumble! You can't deny that underneath all that stop motion fur he's kinda cute.
  • Uncanny Valley: The stop-motion animation has not aged well, and most of the character movements are unsettlingly stiff and jerky.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • There were a few sexist lines in the original that were cut in later broadcasts. Among them Donner telling his wife that finding Rudolph was "man's work" and "The best thing to do is get the women back to Christmas Town." When Donner's wife and Clarice ignore the first line and try to help find Rudolph, they only make things worse and need to be rescued.
    • The scene where Comet prohibits Rudolph from playing reindeer games has come under controversy in The New '10s for (allegedly) promoting a bullying environment.
    • The entire original special as a whole has been scrutinized in The New '10s because of Donner's treatment of Rudolph being borderline abusive and because of Rudolph being bullied over his nose.
    • The story itself. It's amazing how Easily Forgiven Santa and All of the Other Reindeer are, though this is partially a product of The Hays Code.
    • All the efforts to fatten up Santa ahead of Christmas as he's clearly slimmed down since last season; it's mostly played for laughs, but prompting a person to fatten up may not resonate at a time when obesity rates, particularly those in the United States continue to soar and has created a public health crisis.
  • Values Resonance:
    • The plot itself involves a group of misfits who band together, a concept that has become increasingly relatable since the advent of the internet, and social media especially, that allows individuals with niche interests and lifestyles to join together.
  • The Woobie:
    • Rudolph. Every interpretation of the character.
    • Hermey, and everyone on the Island of Misfit Toys in the Rankin-Bass continuity.
    • From The Island of Misfit Toys, we get the Toy Taker, because he's actually a worn-out teddy bear named Mr. Cuddles, who felt like he was abandoned, but it turns out he wasn't.

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