No, not the ‘64 one. This is the Rudolph version I grew up with. I used to love this movie as a kid, re-watching it traditionally every year. I even drew fanart and kept making my own interpretations of Rudolph (and the other reindeer) due to this. So, now that I haven’t seen it in a while, let’s see how it holds up. It does have some factors working against it, such as this being a Goodtimes, movie. But, hey, maybe it’ll be different. Let’s have a look.
On the North Pole in Christmas Town, where all of Santa’s reindeer and elves reside, a young reindeer is born to his mother Mitzi and his father Blitzen, one of Santa’s flying reindeer. The fawn, named Rudolph, however, turns out to have a bioluminescent red nose. While Rudolph grows up and dreams of one day following into his father’s hoofsteps as one of Santa’s crew, he is mostly just ridiculed by the Christmas Town residents. When he is finally disqualified from his opportunity to follow his dream due to his red nose, Rudolph runs away from home, and soon makes some friends in the frozen wastelands, such as an arctic fox named Slyly and a polar bear named Leonard. When an evil ice witch named Stormella captures Rudolphs friend Zoey and threatens to ruin Christmas, however, it is up to the red-nosed reindeer to save the day.
We all know the story of Rudolph, I’m sure, and this execution of it isn’t too bad if you ask me. While staying true to the story and song, it introduces it’s own unique elements, such as characters, songs and the setting of Christmas town. I still haven’t seen the Rankin Bass version, so I cannot compare the two, but I like the way it is executed here fine. Sure, some things could’ve been tweaked, but it’s a clear arc for Rudolph.
Our characters are mixed. Rudolph isn’t the most interesting character out of all of them, but it is good to see him learn to accept and love himself for who he is in the end, and of course to see him save Christmas and his friends. He doesn’t have a very defined personality, but he’s good enough for a lead. I’ve had blander leads in films, so he’ll do. Our secondary characters come in the forms of Zoey, Rudolphs love interest, Leonard the polar bear and Slyly the fox. Zoey is a bit of a generic love interest. She’s the only one who seems to have accepted Rudolph from day one, which caused him to have a major crush on her. She soon forms a bond with him, which is kinda cute, but it’s also a little bit questionable, such as how she was trying to have Rudolph kiss her below the mistletoe when she is implied to already be together with Arrow, another reindeer. Aside from that, she doesn’t have a whole lot to her. Leonard and Slyly are both just bland sidekick characters. Leonard is the soft-spoken one with a heart of gold, while Slyly is the jerk with the heart of gold. They don’t do a whole lot in the movie, and can be somewhat annoying at times (mostly Slyly), but they don’t break the movie for me, either. Other characters are Rudolph’s parents, of which I really didn’t like Blitzen at first because he seems to be ashamed of his son. Mitzi is just a non-character, really. She’s barely here and only does the generic motherly stuff you’d expect. Santa himself is implied to be this amazing do-gooder, but it’s never really addressed why he doesn’t punish anyone for harassing poor Rudolph like that, which really didn’t make him look like a good character.
Our antagonists are Arrow and Stormella. Arrow, as mentioned above, is Zoey’s buckfriend prior to their breakup. Honestly, I never saw why someone who is as (implied) good-hearted as Zoey would hang out with him, because literally all Arrow ever does is treat her like a trophy and Rudolph like trash. He also never even seems to have redeemed himself or his attitude towards the two other reindeer. Sure, he’s seen singing Rudolph’s song at the end, but he never once apologized for terrorizing said buck for years. Honestly, most of the village gets this treatment. They constantly mock Rudolph, until his abnormality is useful to them, when they suddenly turn around without ever apologizing. Ah well. As for our main villain, we’ve got Whoopi Goldberg-voiced Stormella, who I think is inspired by the Snow Queen fairy tale. She’s the ice-controlling queen of the North Pole, and even Santa has to adhere to her rules. Also, she really hates Santa, though it’s never really gone into why she does as much other than her just hating Christmas for the sake of it (she has a whole song dedicated to it, but it still doesn’t really give us much of a reason other than her being evil). Stormella is kind of a fun villain, but only kind of. I feel that if she’d been written better we could’ve had a decent one in her, but for now it’s more the idea I like rather than the execution. She also gets redeemed literally against free will by the end of the movie so that’s kinda eh. I mean I know Rudolph meant well when he wished for her to be nice, but she apparently can’t refuse a wish due to North Pole law. So yeah it’s implied she became redeemed forcibly and that’s kinda eh. Rudi maybe really just should’ve let her fall to her doom.
So we’ve looked at our story, characters and villains. What else is there? Let’s get into the rest. First of all: the visuals. While they are a major step up from the usual Goodtimes ones, I’d say that they are still lacking, especially for something that was released in cinemas at the time.
The animation, while not horrible, is still quite meh. There’s many places where anatomy is broken, characters will be cross-eyed, movements feel unnatural, and characters don’t seem to have a style they stick to; they never feel quite on-model. There’s also many marking inconsistencies and inconsistent sizes. This is mainly what just makes it feel like a cheap movie. I feel like these things could’ve been avoided if more precision had been poured into it, or at the very least more money.
The character designs in and of themselves aren’t bad, by the way. While the reindeer look nothing like actual reindeer, they still have an eye-pleasing and expressive style to them. They also all have a unique color palette and markings. The Elves are really varied, which I can appreciate much more than movies where they just clone the (nigh-)same character design a bunch of times. Santa’s design is honestly how I always imagined Santa when I was young. I never believed in him (we have Sinterklaas for that in the Netherlands), but this was always THE Santa design for me.
The backgrounds are nice, but do lack that certain polish. There’s even a part where you can clearly see that, for a wide shot of the night sky, they just pasted the same background a few times. There’s literally overlapping areas you can see. Really lazy.
Some of the effects are also very-obviously cheaply generated in a CGI program (such as the snowflakes and Aurora borealis pixies glowing effects). They never looked like they were a part of the same world the 2D took place in.
The use of color was okay, but also generic. None of it really stood out.
For the other non-visuals aspects now, let’s look at the songs. They’re… quite bad. Okay, I really like Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time, obviously. It’s Paul fucking McCarthy. But for the original songs, they’re really not the best. They mostly just fill time (there is such little point to Slyly’s song for example). I do not care for any of them except for Show me the Light, which is arguably the best one. It’s still far from being perfect, but it’s the closest to a good original song to come out of this movie. We Can Make It is also somewhat nice on the ears. But generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the soundtrack of this film.
The pacing felt rather wonky at times. Things go pretty fast (Rudolph has his big epic “I’m so lost and alone”-song moment like a few minutes after he skipped town. Slyly’s song just put the entire pacing to a halt for really no reason? The message of his song is not to give up, but you could’ve conveyed it in another way than a minutes-long song. If they wanted to set up a bond between Slyly and Rudi in this time, they could’ve shown them dealing with some problems in the frozen wastelands maybe, but not just have this entire song moment. It’s just a bit of a mess.
There’s also no explanation given ever why Santa’s reindeer don’t just fly over the canyon that Stormella’s bridge covers. It’s supposedly a big deal she closed of her bridge, but… you know, flying reindeer. Rudolph also can just fly out of absolutely nowhere. We were never even shown or explained how this worked, he just suddenly flies while never doing so before. Is there some magic that only allows Santa’s reindeer to fly at Christmas evening? Does it require practicing? Can only Santa’s flying troops do it? It’s just confusing and never answered, and would’ve maybe even made for some interesting world building.
Something else that was annoying: the humor and the overuse of sound effects. These two kinda coincide, since I’m pretty sure that the goofy sound effects used are there to exaggerate some of the (not too well-animated) movements for comedic effect. The humor itself is also really childish and rather obnoxious, especially with said overused SFX. Also, are we not talking about how they used electric sound effects for Rudolph’s (naturally occurring) glowing red nose?
While I do by now realize that this film is by far not as good as I used to think it was, I cannot hate it. It’s a stretch to call it good if you ask me: it’s just got too sloppy visuals and songs for that, but it’s not too bad, either. It’ll always have a special place in my heart for being my no.1 Christmas movie for years and years when I was just a tiny person.
★ 2.5/5 stars!
Just, decent, is what I’ll call it. I feel like for, however bad some of the aspects of if may be, it is somewhat balanced out by the better elements (such as characters and story). I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it to anyone, but, if you’re in the need of a movie in the season, it certainly won’t do any harm to put this on. I know I’ll be watching it again in the future just for how nostalgic it is for me. Just see for yourself whether you like it or not. Chances are that you don’t, but I know plenty of people that really like this movie, and used to be one of those people myself for the longest time. Just decide for yourself if you’re so inclined!