Archives for : December2013

The Five Best Moments From the Rankin Bass Rudolph TV Special

So many fond Christmas-related memories of mine revolve around animated TV specials. As a kid, they were just part of the total Christmas experience, but as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate them mainly for nostalgia (obviously), and for the closely related sense of history long passed. What I love about animated Christmas specials today is actually how crude they were. Today, if you want to produce animated entertainment on the cheap, you just use CGI like everything else, and the visual quality (to say nothing of the actual content) is nearly on par with theatrical releases. Animation simply doesn’t take as much time or money as it used to.

Before computers, animated TV specials had to be animated by hand. And since they would be airing for free, it seems like most of them were rushed out missing a couple layers of polish. Make no mistake – this is my favorite part about them. The lack of refinement and overlooked mistakes and awkward pacing actually make these specials seem more genuine. More sincere. They may have been cynically produced on the cheap by giant corporations looking for an easy Christmas season advertising cash in (especially true of A Charlie Brown Christmas and its Coca Cola affiliation), but the old fashioned crudeness of the animation lends the impression of having been made by children.

There’s the aforementioned A Charlie Brown Christmas – perhaps the best single example of this notion I’m circling around. There’s also the Gerblick family mainstay A Garfield Christmas, which has its own charms. But I think the one most worthy of writing a snarky blog post about has to be Rankin Bass’s 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV movie. Not only was this an early milestone of stop-motion animation, but it cemented a number of Christmas season tropes we all recognize today (several of which were referenced in the movie Elf).

Given that I wrote a much longer intro than I had intended, I’ll jump right into the thesis statement: When you watch the 1964 Rudolph TV special today, there are just so many hilariously awkward moments that we all seem to have collectively forgotten. Here are my five favorites. 

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The Battle Trolls Story

This story is one I’ve found myself telling a few different times, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s a story that my brothers and I all know and like to re-tell at family gatherings. Because Christmas is the time for giving, I would like to share this story with you.

Let me start by painting a picture of my step-grandfather, upon whom this story hinges. He was my dad’s stepfather, but to us he was just Grandpa. Our biological grandfather on that side was not really involved with the family in any way. This Oliver guy was it (as well as the source of my middle name).

He was what you would confidently call “grizzled”. A former Navy man, he had a persistent gray flat top you could set your watch to, and a mustache, because he was a man born before 1970. On his forearm was a blue, blurry tattoo of (I think) a lady. He was never seen out of his easy chair or without a beer and smoking implement. 

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On Youth

When I was lying in bed last night, my thoughts drifted towards my childhood bedroom. I’ve had many childhood bedrooms, but this was the one I remember the most – the one I still dream about. Everyone’s got that house they consider the home in which they “grew up”, even if they were in a family that moved regularly. It’s the house where you spent the most of your important formative years.

This was my bedroom from about age 13 to age 19. I guess you don’t get much more “formative years” than that. As I laid in bed thinking about that room, the details suddenly started jumping out all over the place. It was like the memory was constructing itself in my eyes – like a streaming video going from blurry and muddy to high definition. I remembered the color and the feel of the carpet – that springy 90’s dense pile carpet. I could see the rickety old hand-me-down wooden wall unit I made an entertainment center, with my 25 inch tube TV, 3 disc CD changer stereo system with dual cassette decks (for copying tapes), and pathetic row of CDs. I saw the two elementary school desks that we acquired God-knows-how, acting as both my nightstand and drawing desk, the little cubbies underneath filled with pocket folders, and writing instruments resting in the little notch that was made for just that purpose. 

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