Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the story of Rudolph, the next step in Reindeer evolution who is mocked for his otherness by the conformist, supplicant society that he was born into. The head of which is the All-Powerful Santa, who lives in a castle, and reigns over his subjects who live in caves, or less castle like abodes.
Rudolph is born to Donner and Mrs. Donner, two of the Santa’s subjects who serve him and do his will. Rudolph is exceptionally intelligent at birth, and he is praised- until his glowing red mutated nose is discovered.
Mrs. Donner doesn’t mind, wants to overlook it and accept her child for who he is. But her husband disagrees, and when Santa sees it he explicitly says his nose will bar him from future employment. It is covered up against his will so that he blends in, is normal- doesn’t embarrass him. Rudolph will “…get used to it.”
Rudolph learns the ins and outs of being a reindeer from his dad, who finally approves of him- and to beware The Abominable, the monster who hates everything that he, the head of the house stands for. And every other good citizen in Christmas Town.
Meanwhile, the elves, lorded over by Head Elf, are making toys, it’s the only thing they’re good for. And Hermey, who has other aspirations and doesn’t hold the same values, is called “boy”, and mocked for wanting to be a dentist- not the simple manufacturing duties that elves are only good for. By his own people, who have fallen for a self-fulfilling prophecy of being simple and subservient.
Hermey’s attitude is contagious. When Rudolph complains that his fake nose is uncomfortable, that he cannot breathe, Donner makes an excellent point. “There are more important things than comfort, self-respect.” Which he ruins by basing this noble truth on Rudolph being unobjectionable now.
When Rudolph is inspected and tested by Santa, he is accepted. He’s normal, in fact so normal a fawn named Clarice is interested in him, his dad calls him “my little bud”, Aryan blonde Fireball welcomes him, wants to be his buddy, show off in front of the does with him, man stuff.
During this ritual of humiliation disguised and glorified as a cherished custom, Hermey is skipping Elf Practice, refusing to entertain the “Number One Citizens”, and refusing to glorify a job that he hates. Santa thinks their song needs work but Mrs. Claus, the mother figure disagrees, saves the day, chastises the patriarchy. But when she runs after “Papa”, it’s terrible again.
And what was Hermey doing while not being the tenor? He was fixing a doll’s teeth- helping, attempting to do his job, appease his boss and Santa. He thought he found a way to fit in but is promptly told that he never will. So he refuses to go to practice just can’t learn to go “hee, hee ho, ho,” “chuckle warmly”, which is “…important stuff”.
It is then that Hermey finally realizes he is alone and skips town. Preferring to face the uncertain and harsh North Pole wilderness than stay is a certain and harsh Christmas Town any longer.
While Hermey walks off into the snow to die Fireball is teaching Rudolph how to sexualize Does, which leads to Rudolph showing off for Clarice, and getting excited, becoming a buck- in fact, he gets so excited his fake normal nose falls off. If that’s not an entry into puberty, the awkwardness of early manhood, what is?
Fireball demands that Rudolph get away from him, and everyone every one mocks him. Santa says Donner should be ashamed of himself, but he had a nice takeoff, the best take off. Clarice remains his ally though and encourages him. But when Clarice’s dad sees his nose he demands that Clarice goes home immediately, and makes one thing very plain.
“No doe of mine is going to be seen with a red-nosed reindeer.” Rudolph then has his ah, hah moment, and realizes that there is nothing wrong with him. He and Hermey meet and run off together.
Along the way, they run into Yukon Cornelius, “The Greatest Prospector, in the North”, and all the land and gold is his. He also could get real sled dogs and treat them better, whip them less, than the clearly non-sled dog he has.
Which makes him a strange, fickle and slightly drunk ally, for Rudolph and Hermey, but a ride is a ride. Of course, they run into the Abominable- but Cornelius knows his weakness- he can’t walk on water, which is how they escape.
What have the Donners been doing? Donner has been realizing that he could have been better parents. And Donner does “Man’s work”, goes out to look for Rudolph, while Mrs. Donner and Clarice, rejecting their passive roles, follow.
But Rudolph is very far away now. He and his companions have landed on the island of Misfit Toys, who are all refugees. Where they are Misfits themselves, outsiders, for not being toys. Which is hypocritically ruled over by a non-toy, King Moon Raiser- the flying lion savior of Misfit Toys.
Who is based on the ancient mythological Sphinx, which began as a protector spirit, but became the wise, all-knowing, trickster, of Greek mythology in later years. Making him the perfect, misunderstood misfit.
Yukon Cornelius even says “…Even among misfits you’re a misfit.” But they are accepted as allies in their struggle, given a purpose. They are tasked with telling Santa that his imperfect toys need homes, “Because a toy is never really happy until it’s been loved by a child.”
They plan to leave together, but Rudolph sneaks away in the night, to accomplish the task by himself. This is when Rudolph grows up, and returns home a man. To find his family gone- and Donner was supposed to get Santa’s sleigh off the ground!
Rudolph returns to the wilderness to find them and is near death when his friends find him again. They rescue the women- Donner doesn’t need rescuing and subdue the Abominable. By removing his teeth, literally and metaphorically. Sadly though, Yukon Cornelius sacrifices himself. But they don’t have time to mourn because the women need to get back to Christmas Town.
Now that their skills are useful, they literally and figuratively survive the storm, they are finally accepted in Christmas Town. Who else comes back? Yukon Cornelius, with the reformed Abominable, who is now called Bumble- who puts the star on the Christmas tree.
But even the most reformed Bumble can’t stop the storm. Santa finally notices Rudolph’s “ That beautiful, wonderful nose”, and asks Rudolph to lead the team, save Christmas. While Donner swears he knew that nose would be useful someday, now that Rudolph has been, accepted, approved- good for something.
Donner looks up and says “That’s my Bud!”, from the ground, a sign of how he’s been humbled and isn’t needed anymore. Rudolph is a buck now.
But their Sept. 12th doesn’t end there, the refugee Misfit Toys are rescued and resettled, Yukon Cornelius finds a peppermint mine, and love wins!
Rudolph is Jesus
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is rife with symbolism and mythology, Rudolph is the revolutionary figurehead, bringer of a new, better Christmas Town order- and also clearly Jesus. He literally ascends to the heavens for the children and is emotionally crucified.
Born in humble conditions, he journeys into the wilderness by himself, much like Jesus did for 40 days. Rudolph contends with the Abominable, while Jesus contended with Satan. He is also willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. And where does he run into Hermey? By the water, after which Hermey starts following him.
His relationship with his mother is also better, stronger. The relationship that he has with his father is much more curt, akin to a working relationship. Who showed up at the cross, who let her son live at home until he was 30? Who got more, and positive attention?
Mary did, Mary also readily accepted Jesus while Joseph doubted Mary and the entire situation, but eventually came around- much like a certain reindeer.
Hermey and Yukon Cornelius serve as his disciples, they save and assist him on several occasions, Rudolph sacrifices himself for them Hermey is Peter, he is the head non-conformist right after Rudolph. Peter headed the church, and Hermey got his dental office.
And where does Jesus meet Peter? He meets Peter by water. Hermey also has some Luke like aspects, Luke was a doctor, Hermey is a dentist, both are healers. Hermey is also portrayed ever so slightly effeminately, like John.
Yukon Cornelius is Matthew. Why, he overcame is greed and ambition, decided to follow Jesus immediately. After quitting his job as a tax collector- working with gold, money. Matthew is also known visually by his beard in Christian iconography.
In addition, Cornelius is a direct reference to the first gentile convert to Christianity, a Roman general named Cornelius.
The Christian symbolism doesn’t end there though, the symbol of Mark is a winged lion- royalty, and power. All of which can be used to describe King Moonraiser.
Names are never random in a story, especially this one. Clarice means bright, shining, gentle clear. While Donner means loud or irascible. What does Rudolph mean? It means “fame-wolf”, which seems like random nonsense, but what is Rudolph? The metaphorical wolf without a pack, searching for a pack, who stands out.
Color is a prominent theme. White, lightness is good, looked up to. Santa is white, lives in a castle with purple walls. Purple is the color of royalty and not the color of the dark brown reindeer. Being lighter is good, Clarice is lighter and lusted after, Rudolph’s mom is lighter. Fireball is noticeably blonde and popular. Being lighter is beautiful, an advantage.
While being darker and different looking, like Rudolph is bad. So bad no one wants to be associated with him, Clarice can’t see him. He’s just too different.
Conformity and Otherness
Rudolph is also rife with the dangers of conformity and the suffering of otherness. Useful otherness is shunned in the name of conformity, they don’t need a dentist at the North Pole, it never gets dark? Otherness is not seen as the gift it can be, but a curse. If you don’t blend in, go with the program, fill your gender or racial role you are out.
Unless those skills are useful, of course. Which they forcibly become for Rudolph & Hermey.
Feminine vs. Masculine
There is also a strong juxtaposition between masculine and feminine. The masculine, power, in charge elements of the story, demean Rudolph, and every misfit ever. But the feminine elements and characters are the exact opposite. Love is more important than acceptance, conformity. They also openly defy their roles, fight back- in a more subtle way.
Although this seems unnoticed, who has to get back to the North Pole? The Women, because without them there would be no more does, babies, sopranos at Elf Practice. It’s their job, place, to be supportive and motherly. Which has been, and always will be a double-edged sword.
Greed and consumerism is openly expressed in Rudolph as being bad- even by the white narrator snowman, and silly. Yukon Cornelius is bumbling around, changing his mind about what he’s after- while not noticing his dogs are clearly not sled dogs. Symbolizing the flimsy, unreliable foundations of capitalism.
The Island of Misfit Toys is another example, they are discarded, unwanted, and flawed. The children deserve better. They aren’t rejects, mistakes like those toys. Santa has to be reminded of their existence, and he created them in the first place. Doesn’t it seem like everyone who creates problems today has to be reminded to be responsible, resolve them anymore, to not forget their literal and metaphorical refugees.
Love is a powerful force, it makes you do crazy things. Just to be accepted, loved, liked- it helps you rationalize with hiding who you really are, lying, thinking you’re helping by making someone do that.
When love really is accepting someone, loving them for who they really are, like Mrs. Donner, not Donner. When Rudolph and his disciples are denied this, they are at their lowest point. But when they do eventually get it, whatever the cost- they are happy.
Even the toys realize that they need to be loved, that they are nothing without it.
The Cost of Acceptance
Not to say that all men are evil and racist, cold enforcers of the unjust and uncaring “natural order”, just in this movie. But do they have a point? Is conformity bad, or good, does having the power make you right, not having it wrong?
And what of the Abominable? Who will challenge the authority of the ruling powers now, is the Abominable happy, “cured”? Seeing him bumble around is funny, but does he miss his own personal agency and resent bumbling around, want his teeth back? Everyone needs teeth. And everyone, whether they like it or not, needs a dream and perceptions crushing, question raising, Abominable.
Life, especially in Christmas Town, is a tricky thing. A tricky thing which everyone navigates through using the metaphorical eyes of Rudolph. Fight the power.