Our focus this week is on Rankin/Bass’ multiple attempts to recapture the popularity of their most well-loved work, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Last Monday, we talked about Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976), where a baby is mocked for his big ears. While that movie was surprisingly entertaining, I can’t say I’m feeling as positive towards this next one, another stop-motion special by the name of Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey from 1977. You can already tell where this one is going, can’t you?
While Rudolph’s Shiny New Year recycled the idea of someone being mocked for their differences, the rest of the movie was creative and original, if not a tad confusing. Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, on the other hand, has a lot less originality, including the fact that the main character has the exact same “issue” as the baby, large ears. Though in this case, I have to admit that Nestor’s long ears are…kind of disturbing. They’re super long, and they kind of move around on their own in a jerky fashion. It’s a bit unsettling.
Nevertheless, I wanted to like this movie. I really did. There are some sweet elements to it, and I can appreciate the fact that it ties into the birth of Jesus Christ, the true meaning of Christmas. There is an adorable cherub named Tilly who guides Nestor, and Nestor ends up being chosen by Mary and Joseph to carry the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. While I really liked this part of the special, I’m not sure it makes up for the fact that the rest of the movie was just so depressing.
You see, the movie starts with Nestor living with his mother and other donkeys in a stable. Their owner, Olaf, is abusive and doesn’t feed Nestor because he is clumsy and trips over his own ears, leaving Nestor’s mother to give up some of her own food for her child. Then some Roman soldiers show up to buy some of the donkeys. They initially pick Nestor, only to realize the socks on his head are hiding his huge ears. Believing this is Olaf’s attempt to trick them into buying a less than ideal donkey, they take the other young donkeys without paying for them, leading Olaf to take out his rage on poor Nestor by banishing him outside to die in the cold. Nestor’s mother escapes and shelters Nestor with her body, freezing to death in the process. Much later, after Nestor has fulfilled his purpose by helping Mary and Joseph, he returns to Olaf. And while the little donkey is welcomed back as a hero (despite it being unclear how anyone would even know of Nestor’s deeds), it doesn’t sit right with me that he’s been returned to an abusive man who will probably return to his cruel ways.
Nestor is a sad and depressing amalgamation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, mixed with Bambi and Dumbo. If Dumbo’s mom had also died. And if Santa had physically abused Rudolph. I mean, I exaggerate. Bambi already had the death of a parent covered, yeesh. If you’re interested in a Rankin/Bass special focusing on the religious aspect of Christmas, I’d much sooner recommend The Little Drummer Boy from 1968. While not one of my favorites, it’s still better than Nestor and far less depressing.
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)
- Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)
- The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town (1977)
- The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
- A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008)