As an adult who grew up in the 80s, I regularly have the joy of rediscovering a barely remembered treat from my childhood that turns out to be full of darkness and horror. This year, that flower in my own personal attic was Rankin and Bass's stop motion animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
I have a 5-year-old son and seeing things anew through his eyes can be a real treasure. But in the case of Rudolph, imagining what his little eyes and ears took in dug a pit inside of me. A pit filled with existential dread ... and misfit toys.
This thing is wall-to-wall horrors. Here are a few high points I hope explain why this will not be seen in my house EVER AGAIN.
— Rudolph's dad starts out super excited about having a baby boy, gets a little shaky on it when the nose starts glowing, and then all but disowns Rudolph once Santa opens his fat mouth.
— For most of his life, Rudolph is not loved unconditionally by his father. Which sorta leads me, as a dad, to ask if he's loved at all.
— This mistreatment continues when Rudolph's nose is revealed to the other young reindeer and everyone "laughs and calls him names." Nobody is punished or admonished for this, not even in a bid for pity.
— The only reindeer who is nice to Rudolph is another yearling, Clarice. Her dad forbids her to see him. There is no comeuppance. (Note: Before anyone argues, Rudolph's mom was not nice to him because she failed to protect him from his father's douche baggery.)
— Santa declares Rudolph unfit for the sleigh team, the equivelant of reindeer purgatory.
— Santa also banishes — perhaps via intermediaries, but still, is he not the autocrat of the North Pole? — broken or "misfit" toys to a concentration camp.
— When Rudolph is welcomed back, it is not because everyone suddenly realizes they were jerks to him. It is explicitly because his "deformity" is now useful.
— There is no shame felt by anyone who mistreated him. Half-hearted apologies must suffice.
It's like Rankin and Bass thought to themselves, “We could make a show about bullying, but it will be even better if it’s about state-sanctioned bullying and how that's pretty great!” This thing isn't just a poorly made or stupidly juvenile piece of yuletide drivel; it is an actual Christmas Spirit Killer.
Except, my friends, for Hermie.
Hermie is a "misfit elf" who doesn't want to make toys. No, Hermie wants to be a dentist! Of course, because this is a film about the inherent horrors of deviating from a blessed, state-sanctioned norm, Hermie is ridiculed for his dreams of healthy teeth and gums for all elves.
Hermie and Rudolph go on the lam together and discover their deformities aren't the only things that will get you kicked out of Christmas Town by that fat fascist bastard Santa.
They go off on their own, have adventures, meet Yukon Cornelius, and run like hell from the Abominable Snow Monster. Through all this they forge a mighty and lasting friendship.
But here's where things get a more subtextual. It is abundantly clear to me — and to every other adult I mention this to — that Hermie is gay as a picnic basket and "dentistry" is a euphemism for homosexual sex.
Consider Hermie. All the other elves are uniform and, frankly, hideous little gnomes. But Hermie is absolutely fabulous! His face is cherubic, his hair perfectly coiffed, and his voice has just a hint of lilting lisp. Plus, his focus on "dentistry" borders on the pathological. Last, he demands of the universe "Why must I be a misfit?" by spontaneously bursting into song.
Let me digress long enough to point out that the first musical number was a song from Santa wherein he declared himself the "King of Ding-a-ling"? My God, the hypocrisy of the North Pole.
Red nose and dental euphemisms aside, Rudolph and Hermie are bros for life. "You don't mind my red nose?" Rudolph asks. "Not if you don't mind me being a dentist," Hermie responds. Later, Rudoph insists to Hermie, "Whatever a dentist is, I hope someday you're the greatest."
See how caring Rudolph is? He even wants good things for Hermie's boyfriend.
But just to prove that no part of this monstrosity can be entirely uplifting, Rankin and Bass horrify us with a scene between Hermie and the Abominable Snow Monster. The Bumble, as he's eventually called, is knocked out so Hermie can perpetrate dentistry on him against his will. When the Bumble wakes up from his roofie-induced brush with "dentistry," he is toothless and surrounded by blood splattered snow.
And this is for children?!
The most amazing part of all this is that none of my observations involve reaching. Even the "dentistry" angle is so thinly veiled as to be a winking joke with the audience. This is not adult eyes focused on a beloved childhood masterpiece; this is calling an awful thing awful.
So for the parents and grandparents out there who haven't seen this thing in decades and think it would be a nice night at home with the kids, you might want to reconsider. Maybe show them one of those Saw movies I've heard so much about. It might scar them less.