Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rudolph, Frosty and (Count 'em) Eight Reindeer

Hanging out with the boy and Mrs. Blackwell last weekend we partook in several of the time-honored traditions of the holiday season, notably we watched a lot of Christmas movies and TV specials.

While the boy slept, we watched “The Family Stone” which Mrs. Blackwell enjoys because the home in that movie looks like pure Christmas and we watched “Love Actually” which she enjoys because, if she had it to do over again, she’d marry Colin Firth.

Firth’s suave good looks and debonair demeanor notwithstanding, it’s the kids programming I want to single out for particular attention.

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As we sat with the boy, we watched two shows — “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman” — I was struck by the gross disconnect between my perception of these shows and the reality.

The years — and two catchy, classic, holiday songs — have given these two shows a holiday glow. Well after re-watching them, the glow is gone.

Let’s start with Rudolph.

In the song, “all the other reindeer” reject Rudolph because of his different nose. In the TV special, it’s not just the “other reindeer” but Rudolph’s own parents and Santa Claus who scorn him too.

His mom fashions a leather nose to conceal his real nose and his dad subjects him to relentless ridicule.

When the fake nose falls off, Santa even chastises Rudolph’s dad (Donner) telling him he “should be ashamed.”

Santa also lets Rudolph know right away that no matter how skilled he might be as a reindeer, his nose means Rudolph will never measure up.

What’s this teaching kids?

Here, I’ll defer to Frasier Crane of “Cheers” fame. On this matter, Dr. Crane said the following:

“Apparently…you're unaware that the story of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ is one of the most unrealistic and therefore potentially damaging in all of children's music. It gives them a horribly distorted view of reality.”

22 years after the last episode, I'll still defer to Dr. Crane.
“First the other reindeer tease and then ostracize him. And then, only when his abnormality proves of service, they use him.”

Then, Crane asserts that the song’s conclusion differs from the more likely scenario.

“Then, do they let him join in any reindeer games? Oh, no, I know how the song goes. In fact, not only do Donner, Blitzen, et al, not love him and laugh out loud with glee, but they doubly despise the bulbous-nosed little wimp.”

Not for nothing, but Rudolph’s special also possesses a gross lack of attention to detail.

At the end of the show, the sleigh Rudolph leads includes just six reindeer plus Rudolph. Santa, as everyone knows, has eight Reindeer dammit. These are just the indiscretions that kids notice and lead them to not believe — in anything.

Let’s pick a number of reindeer and stick with it all right?

Then we’ve got Frosty. Some indiscretions in the story of Rudolph can be disregarded as byproducts of a time of less sensitivity toward those with differences.

Frosty on the other hand seems bereft of even the slightest redemption.

The story begins with a man losing his hat. But, because his hat has certain magical properties, he’s expected to surrender it.

In a society that so richly values the rights of individual property owners, it’s amazing that Frosty has resonated.

I'm not alone in this view. Here’s a couple reviews from movie mega site, Rotten Tomatoes:

“A childhood Christmas favorite about a stoned-looking Snowman who steals a hat from a Wizard.”

Frosty, Santa and four — yes four — reindeer. 
I couldn't completely enjoy this as, to me, it was rightfully the magician's hat in the first place.” 

Then there’s the fact that the main human character is a little girl who decides not to come home from school (strangely it happens to be Christmas Eve) and instead goes searching for her frozen hero.

Can you imagine what her parents were going through?

Better yet, can you imagine anyone taking any of this that seriously?

It's funny to watch your perspective change once you've had a kid. When I was little, I loved these specials and I sure didn't give much consideration to the girl's parents when she didn't come home from school. 

And that's the point. 

Maybe kids derive as little from cartoons as grown men do from watching football. For that matter, maybe kids derive as much from cartoons as moms get from watching Colin Firth write a novel on the picturesque grounds of a Spanish villa.

All these justifications notwithstanding, I have to point out that even the Frosty special got the number of Santa’s reindeer wrong too.

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