Saturday, December 24, 2011

We're all misfits! Rudolph, Hermy, and the Misfit Toys!

The Grinch and The Year without a Santa Claus may be my favorite Christmas specials, but Rudolph is the one that started it all, and launched the Rankin/Bass Christmas special series.

With its charming characters and catchy tunes (Holly Jolly Christmas!) this one has always been one of my favorites. Its theme -- that it's OK (even great!) to be a misfit -- was something I certainly appreciated as a kid. I imagine it was the same for other kids too.

It's also fun to analyze how this story shows the changes in our cultural attitudes towards bullying. The lyrics to the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" were written in 1939. As the song goes, Rudolph was ostracised and bullied for being different. The song doesn't seem to indicate that there's anything a priori wrong about bullying people for being different -- it only became wrong after Rudolph's defect proved itself to be a strength.

We can see how this works in detail in the (1964) special. When the other young reindeer started laughing and calling Rudolph names, their adult supervisor not only failed to stop the kids from bullying:

He actually compounded the problem and kicked Rudolph out of the class for being different. And Santa himself wasn't much better.

However, in the special, Santa realizes he was wrong for mistreating Rudolph before Rudolph's nose saves the day, so maybe attitudes towards childhood bullying had already changed a bit between 1939 and 1964. And (as I discussed here) we can see further cultural evolution in children's media such as the album Free to Be You and Me.

And now my kids are asking me to put on a Christmas special, so I guess it's time to enjoy it again! Or perhaps one of my other favorites:

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (and the invented origins of the Santa Claus legend)
"The Polar Express" takes belief for belief's sake in whole new directions!
"Nestor the Long-eared Donkey" saves the Christmas™ brand
Mr. White Christmas: The fabulous world of Heat Miser and Snow Miser!!!
The Grinch and the True Meaning of Christmas

Merry Christmas!!

4 comments: said...

Merry Christmas! Love the Rankin Bass specials! We have a few fun Mormon related cartoons that you might like here.

Sabayon said...

I love these specials. I remember as a kid feeling like Santa was a huge jerk in this movie. I always felt like the real moral center was the isle of misfit toys. I haven't watched it in years though, and now I want to re-watch it to look at the bullying angle.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey OffMyPorch!!!

Very cute -- I'll subscribe and add you to Outer Blogness.

Hey Sabayon!!!

It's really quite interesting from that angle, especially the scene where Rudolph's nose is revealed in the middle of the reindeer games. Some of the other kids immediately start calling him names and they all laugh (just like in the song), but their coach is standing right there in the middle of the kids while they're doing this! And he doesn't seem to see the slightest thing wrong with them tormenting another kid for being different -- indeed it's the coach himself who announces that they shouldn't let Rudolph join in any reindeer games. And Santa is standing there watching, too, and his reaction is to tell Rudolph's dad that he should be ashamed. (Apparently, instead of trying to pass him off as normal, they were supposed to send him to a leper colony or something...)

I'm sure the writers wanted to portray Rudolph's initial situation as especially bad (in order to make it more wonderful when his fortunes change), but from a modern viewpoint, it's kind of shocking to see that it doesn't even seem to occur to the adults that bullying is bad. To them, the fact that Rudolph is a freak is the problem, and the kids are just taking cues from the adults.

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. I love the misfit toys too!!

We were watching this last night, and my son Nico said "Maybe they're prototypes..."