During my last Rankin/Bass review week (ignoring that random Easter week I did), I discussed two Christmas specials based on the works of Charles Dickens, Cricket on the Hearth (1967) and The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) AKA A Christmas Carol. This week has a theme of its own, and that is…Rudolph rip-offs, for lack of a better term. With Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) being their most well-known work, Rankin/Bass seemed determined to cash in on their earlier success once more. The results were…interesting, to say the least. Friday’s is going to be a more blatant example of that, but today, we’re focusing on the stop-motion Rudolph’s Shiny New Year from 1976.
Created 12 years after Rudolph’s original Rankin/Bass debut, this particular movie focuses on Rudolph seeking out a baby who ran away from home because everyone laughed at his big ears. Despite trying to reuse a plot element from an earlier, far more popular movie, I can at least appreciate that this movie does not really copy Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer beyond having a character who is mocked for his appearance. In fact, this is where the Rankin/Bass lore, if you will, starts to get incredibly confusing.
You see, that initial plot summary only scratches the surface. The true backstory for this movie is as follows… Ahem, so each year is personified by a new Father Time, who starts off as the Baby New Year and grows into an old man over the course of his respective year. Once the year is over, he crowns the next Baby New Year and goes off to live on the Archipelago of Last Years, where there is an island representing every single year, forever frozen in time.
I don’t know why, but this concept deeply horrifies me.
I mean, are the people living on these islands doomed to repeat the exact same year, over and over again without end, in some Groundhog Day-style time loop? Or are they merely stuck with that year’s technology and the like, but the events change from year to year? Does no one ever age? If you’re a baby, will you be stuck that way for all eternity? Who even are the people on these islands? Are they replicas of the people who were alive during that year? Can duplicates of these very same people be found on all the islands spanning their respective lifespan?!
Well, fortunately, this movie was made for children, who wouldn’t likely be asking such insane questions. And I can certainly give this movie credit for creativity! So now that we understand the basics, I think it’s time we graduated to the movie’s actual plot. As I had mentioned before, the Baby New Year (named Happy) left home because people laughed at his big ears. The current Father Time asks his friend Santa Claus for help on this matter, because if Happy doesn’t return by January 1, time will be stuck on that year forever. (Stop scaring me with these nightmarish scenarios, movie!) Due to the snowstorm, Santa instead sends Rudolph out to help Father Time with this issue. (Sure, put all the pressure on a young reindeer. Real nice, Santa. It’s not as if this problem could have severe consequences or anything.) Well, not only has Happy run off to the Archipelago of Last Years, but he is in danger of being kidnapped by a giant bird named Eon the Terrible, a nasty vulture who wishes to prevent his impending death, which will occur on January 1.
Rudolph meets all kinds of characters along the way, including a bunch of time-related creatures (my favorite being Big Ben, a huge whale with a clock in his tail), along with the personifications of years found during his travels amongst the Archipelago, including a caveman named OM, short for One Million BC, a knight named Sir 1023, and a guy resembling Benjamin Franklin named Sev, short for 1776. Leading me to ask even more questions, like…are these guys earlier incarnations of Father Time or something? In the Rankin/Bass universe, was Benjamin Franklin, in fact, a mythological figure in disguise! Or am I trying to find logic in a movie that has none?
As bizarre as this movie’s premise is, I’ll admit that it was a pretty entertaining little adventure. As I had just established, over the course of his adventure, Rudolph travels to prehistoric times, medieval, and Colonial America on his search for Happy. My favorite was the medieval year, which is home to various fairytale characters, including Cinderella, Humpty Dumpty, and The Three Bears. Baby Bear was probably the funniest thing in the whole movie because of his goofy voice (courtesy of Red Skelton).
Moving on from there, Eon ends up kidnapping Happy, and Rudolph and his friends travel to the Island of No-Name in order to rescue him. Not much needs to be said here, as we all know everything’s going to turn out fine in the end. Though I still found two questionable things about this part of the movie. One, why didn’t Rudolph ever fly in this movie? Is there a reason why he didn’t…because I think it would have made their rescue attempt easier. And two, I don’t really get Rudolph’s response to Happy’s big ears.
If anyone should understand what it’s like to be mocked for your differences, it should be Rudolph, who was teased for his red nose in the original movie. So when he sees Happy’s ears, you’d think he wouldn’t laugh like everyone else did. Right? Wrong. Rudolph still laughs, but then explains it away that the baby’s huge ears make him happy. So that apparently makes it okay to laugh at the baby’s expense. Happy accepts this answer, but it just seemed like it would have made for a stronger message if Rudolph had been the only one not to laugh. But no, Rudolph was no better than anyone else. Worse, really, because he should have known better. The only difference was he was the only one to make excuses for his laughter (as if this is a good thing) instead of, you know, apologizing and admitting that he was wrong.
Overall, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year was surprisingly entertaining and cute. And though the premise is a bit wacky, I kind of like the fact that there is actually some pretty complex lore behind these seemingly unassuming children’s holiday specials. Also, after watching so many of these movies, I learned that their greatest weakness tends to be their songs, and the music in this movie was pretty average. Nothing stood out as being super memorable, but better yet, I don’t remember anything being awful, either.
Though not as good as Rankin/Bass’ most beloved works, I would actually recommend this one if you ever get the chance. With that being said, this upcoming Friday, you can all look forward to a review of another movie that, um, kind of steals from both Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer AND the topic of today’s post. That movie is none other than Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977). Oh yes, this is going to be an…interesting one.
Previous Rankin/Bass Reviews (and other similar specials)
- Cricket on the Hearth (1967)
- Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)
- The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
- The First Easter Rabbit (1976)
- The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town (1977)
- The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
- A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008)
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash
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