He’s the leader of the pack, the guiding light that leads Santa on his journey every year, ensuring that all those gifts make it safely to a cozy resting place under the tree. His name is Rudolph, and for over four decades, kids have eagerly tuned in as the holidays draw near to share his adventurous journey – in the beloved, 1964 animated special, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The stop-motion gurus of Rankin/Bass productions created many beloved holiday specials over the years, but their first foray was to tell the story of Rudolph, whose literary beginnings date back to a 1939 story written by advertising executive, Robert L. May. Years later, a songwriter named Johnny Marks (who also wrote “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”) put May’s story to music. Gene Autry recorded the familiar version in 1949, which instantly ascended to the #1 position on the pop charts. And, although a cartoon version of Rudolph was created by Max Fleischer and released two decades earlier, it is the Rankin/Bass version that, as the song suggests, would go down in history.
The story, told by a snowman named Sam (Burl Ives), begins with a young Rudolph, who is constantly ridiculed by his peers, thanks to his incandescent nose. Unable to face the relentless taunting, he runs away with Hermey, a disgruntled dentist-elf, and a prospector named Yukon. Along their journey they cross paths with a sinister snow monster named Bumble. After narrowly escaping his evil grasp, they arrive at the Island of Misfit Toys. Knowing all-too-well what rejection feels like, Rudolph is sympathetic to the plight of these unwanted toys and is determined to bring them to Santa’s attention. Rudolph journeys all the way to the North Pole, only to find that Santa can’t travel anywhere due to the thick fog. It turns out that Rudolph is the only reindeer specially equipped to illuminate the skies and guide Santa’s sleigh. They head out together to find loving owners for the misfit toys, and deal with that pesky snow monster who just needs a little more love and Christmas spirit.
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with its quirky animation, charming music and wonderful voice acting, continues to sit high atop the list of “must-watch” holiday specials aired every year. If you’ve tuned in faithfully every year to watch this enchanting classic, possibly even passed it down to your own kids, share your memories with us in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Rankin/Bass for providing this timeless Christmas favorite.