by Makrenna Rose Sterdan
The 1964 version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is my absolute favourite Christmas movie. I played it for my kindergarten students every year around Christmastime because I think it has great moral lessons for children, as well as an engaging plot. It's practically a timeless story.
However, for some reason, I was very surprised to find people don't feel the same way I do. Rudolph has been under a bit of fire lately. Something about it being dated, or being used to promote exploitation?
As a response, I've written this article to explain why, actually, it's awesome (and you and children everywhere should totally watch it).
REASON NUMBER 1: It's about acceptance of others, even people who are different, with no strings attached.
One of the big modern critiques of Rudolph is that Rudolph is only accepted because his red nose makes him useful. The film is not about that at all. Rudolph's red nose doesn't actually gain adoration until the very end of the movie. Below are some significant time stamps:
~19:30, Clarice scolds the behaviour of their coach and says Rudolph has a "grand" nose. Clarice doesn't support bullying (good on her!)
~29:30, Donnor feels bad about the way he treated Rudolph. He goes after Rudolph, as does Mrs. Donnor and Clarice.
~41:00, the others, especially Yukon Cornelius, save the day. Rudolph gets saved here
~42:30, ALL of the misfits are accepted and have a party at Santa's. Everyone realises they were too hard on the misfits, and that they should accept them no matter what.
~42:40, Santa realises that he was wrong. To prove he's learned the error of his ways, he promises to find homes for all the misfit toys.
~45:00, RUDOLPH LEARNS HE CAN SAVE THE DAY WITH HIS RED NOSE (literally at the end of the movie when all the other character arcs are completed).
If Rudolph was about exploiting Rudolph, then why do all the characters learn the error of their ways long before Rudolph actually saves the day? Actually, long before Rudolph saves the day, he himself gets saved.
This movie is about acceptance because, useful or not, the characters treat Rudolph nicely at the end.
Rudolph saving the day was a cherry on top, not a condition of being accepted.
REASON NUMBER 2: It teaches that everyone deserves love
At the end of the movie, Santa finds homes for all the misfit toys from The Island of Misfit Toys. These toys are not useful, have no skills that can be exploited, and some of them are just totally nonsensical (a water gun that shoots jam? Really?).
But, on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus himself sends each of the toys to their new homes to find love.
Come on, if matchmaking misfit toys with children doesn't scream unconditional love, I don't know what does.
As an additional lesson, it shares that being unwanted or unloved is one of the worst things a person (or misfit toy) can undergo. Rejection is terrible. Being lonely is awful. The only remedy to this is unconditional love, acceptance, and having a community to belong to.
Is this not important messaging for children? Something that, maybe, will encourage them to be kind to their friends and classmates, even ones who might be "different"? To teach children that bullying and isolating classmates is wrong? That they should include one another while playing games? The list of lessons you can learn from this goes on and on.
REASON NUMBER 3: It has, literally, the same messaging as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
In My Little Pony, ponies get their cutie marks when they learn what makes them special. Being different, or a misfit, is celebrated. It's what makes you special, and the skill that you can contribute to your community. I don't hear anyone critiquing My Little Pony in the same way they critique Rudolph.
Having a unique skill your community needs doesn't equal exploitation, or only being loved because of that one unique quality.
Look at Hermey the elf. What makes him special is his knowledge of dentistry. Because he has found what makes him special, even though he's a misfit, he improves the quality of life for elves everywhere. What's wrong with having unique skills? Rudolph celebrates uniqueness, and doesn't exploit it.
If you think it's okay for kids to watch My Little Pony, you should add Rudolph to your list as well.
REASON NUMBER 4: The dated behaviours aren't even supported in the movie
Donnor forbids Mrs. Donnor and Clarice from going after Rudolph because "It's man's work".
Do the two ladies listen to him? Heck no! They still go and find Rudolph. Donnor's attitudes are pretty dated. But Mrs. Donnor and Clarice are pretty ahead of their time.
Further, even in the face of bullying, Clarice sticks with Rudolph because she recognises bullying is wrong.
The ladies of Rudolph are pretty strong, independent, and defy the social standards of their time.
Dated moments in the movie are presented, and later are defied by the very characters in the movie.
REASON NUMBER 5: The poor behaviour isn't intended to be emulated, but to demonstrate what poor behaviour looks like
In the beginning of the movie, the other reindeer, Santa, and virtually everyone treats Rudolph pretty badly. They make him feel bad for having a red nose. They make him try to cover it up and be more "normal". They even bully him when he goes to Reindeer school.
But by the end of the movie—again, long before Rudolph saves the day—Rudolph is accepted and everyone realises that the behaviour is wrong. Rudolph presents poor behaviour not to endorse it, but to show kids and adults everywhere that this is what bad behaviour looks like.
Rudolph is supposed to be a mirror. If you see yourself in that reflection, you should really reevaluate your life and how you treat others.
People aren't supposed to emulate the bad behaviour in Rudolph. We're supposed to learn how not to act by watching these characters acting poorly.
BONUS: Rudolph is a beautiful, selfless soul
Rudolph's number one concern is to do what's best for those around him. When he's certain the abominable snowman is following him because of his red nose, he separates from the group to keep his friends Hermes and Yukon Cornelius safe.
Rudolph just wants to be loved, the same as any other person. He demonstrates love in abundance, even putting himself in danger to protect those who are close to him.
He even thinks about other people. When he visits The Island of Misfit Toys, he promises to help the toys there find homes.
Despite getting hurt by others, he is still a selfless person. He is hurt, but beautiful.
So there you have it! You need to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Make kids watch it, too. Talk through what makes it great. Discuss what you think makes it not so great.
But one thing's for sure: watch the movie.
Makrenna Rose Sterdan
Owner, Red Lips Productions
Makrenna is a producer and writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She started Red Lips Productions in the summer of 2018, and has been producing several shorts and web series since. Her main passion is writing, but she also produces and directs when the opportunity arises.