Holiday Horrors: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys

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Perhaps the title of this post made you do a double-take. Surely he’s not referring to the beloved holiday special?! No, of course not. The original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is an unbridled triumph. (Although a friend of mine just reminded me of something disturbing in it, which I may cover in a future Holiday Horrors installment.)

What I’m referring to is a special produced for the direct-to-video market (a true mark of quality) in 2001. I don’t think the title is meant to remind people of the Christmas classic–I think it’s supposed to confuse them and make them think they’re purchasing the original.

At least that was my initial reaction. ABC Family ran it earlier this week as part of their 25 Days of Christmas spectacular, and when I saw it listed in the cable guide, for a second I assumed it was the special I grew up with. So I turned it on, hoping to introduce The Baby to its charms. Needless to say, I was not pleased.

Though it contains many of the same characters–Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, many of the Island of Misfit Toy residents–any resemblance between it and 1964’s Rudolph is purely coincidental. For one thing, it eschews the stop-motion craft of the original–you know, its major defining characteristic–for CGI. Bad CGI. Really, really bad CGI.

I know that technology proceeds at a breakneck pace nowadays. Eight years is a long time in Computer Years. Even so, this animation is unacceptable. Especially since the original was created with such care and attention to detail. Rankin-Bass made their original with stop-motion dolls, painstakingly shooting each scene frame by frame. You can see the craft in every shot.

In the 2001 retread, you can’t see anything except all the corners that were cut. I’m definitely not anti-CGI. Every time I watch a Pixar film, I’m blown away at how computers can create something so warm and full of life. Then I see garbage like this and I remember, “Oh yeah, computers can make horseshit, too.”

Remember how the original Rudolph had all of those catchy, heart-warming songs? This special doesn’t have those either. Oh, it has songs. It just doesn’t have memorable ones. The songs aren’t horrible, but they sound as forced as a Katie Holmes smile looks. I actually felt sorry for the composer, trying to squeeze blood from this stone, and hoped that at least s/he was well compensated. But if the animation is any indication, no one involved with this thing was paid too well.

What happens in this special? Some guy steals toys, and then they go to the…island…or something. The writers clearly didn’t care about a plot, so why should I? And for some reason, Rudolph still longs to have a normal nose, even though his red nose is the only reason anyone likes him. But that gets resolved when…ugh, it doesn’t matter. I’m getting mad just thinking about it. And sleepy. Is there such an emotion as sleepy-mad?

But at least this special has star power! Burl Ives’ banjo-playing snowman character is replaced by a reporter snowman called Scoop, played by Richard Dreyfuss. Rick Moranis and Jamie Lee Curtis each play villains. None of them distinguish themselves in any way, as if they hoped no one would notice their presence if they didn’t get too excited. Like everything else about this special, their performances are resolutely mediocre.

This is easily one of the worst Christmas specials I’ve ever seen. There are worse specials in terms of overall quality, but this one tried to piggyback on Rudolph, a true work of art that’s treasured by millions of people. It was obviously written by committee, rushed through production, and not given one iota of care and attention. Because whoever created it thought they could just appropriate the Rudolph characters, slap a confusing name on the DVD package, and rake in the dough.

Shame on you, sir or madam. May you get eaten by a Bumble.