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I once again stand by my contention that the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is “an unbridled triumph”. The same can not be said for the cheapy CGI sequel I shall not mention by (confusing) name again. But that wasn’t the first piece of Rudolphiana that failed to make the grade. Sadly, even some of the official Rankin-Bass follow-ups were not up to the bar set by their masterwork.
Witness Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, an odd duck of a holiday special produced by Rankin-Bass in 1976. Worst holiday special ever? No, not even close. It has much of the charm and spirit that made the original Rudolph so great. I hesitate to say it’s even bad. But it is weird. Really, really weird.
It starts out simple enough. Rudolph, just back from his triumphant sleigh ride around the world, is asked by Father Time (voiced by Red Skelton) to locate Baby New Year, who ran away after constant taunting about his big ears.* Unless Baby New Year can be found in time, it will remain December 31 forever!
* The guys at Rankin-Bass really had a thing for protagonists who were teased to the breaking point. I’m betting there were a lot of club foots and lazy eyes in their development department.
Anywhoozle, if you’re already on board for talking, flying reindeer and Baby New Year, this is all pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, the special takes a sharp left turn in to Crazy Town shortly thereafter.
Rudolph embarks on his quest, not accompanied by Hermey, but by General Ticker, a clock shaped military man who only speaks in rhyme. He searches for Baby New Year in The Archipelago of Last Years, which is where each year gets its own island once it’s ended. He winds up on a caveman island, a colonial America island, and a medieval island which, inexplicably, is filled with storybook characters. At some point, Rudolph is joined by a Ben Franklin lookalike (who’s called Sev, for some reason) and Big Ben, a whale with a huge clock in his tail.
Oh, and Rudolph is being pursued by a giant buzzard named Aeon who wants to capture Baby New Year so he won’t die when the year ends, because of some sort of not-well-explained time/space technicality. How’s that make you feel about the holidays, kids?
If my descriptions seem vague and not fleshed out, it’s because the same can be said of this special. It’s like Rankin-Bass took a million different ideas, put them in a blender, poured this goop out onto a piece of paper, and called it a script. I’ve seen Rudolph’s Shiny New Year several times, and I still don’t quite understand what it’s about. Or who it’s meant for. Or where I am, really, as I’m watching it.
Although I do applaud Rankin-Bass for their aggressive darkness. You might expect to a special called Rudolph’s Shiny New Year to be more festive and cheerful. Instead, you get a stop-motion version of Fellini’s Satyricon.
If you really want to delve deep into its nuances, Progressive Boink did an almost scene-for-scene deconstruction of its weirdness a few years back, which you can peep here. But be warned: THERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU CAN’T UNSEE, MAN!