Monday, November 30, 2009

Rudolph Restored: Don't Call It Claymation

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the longest-running, most highly acclaimed special in the history of television. It's been on every year since 1965; as such I'm only a year or two older myself, and I've seen it just about every time it's come around. I've hesitated about getting a video copy for years. Having a special available all year round makes it somehow...well, less special. But there have been years when I've only seen part of it, and sometimes missed it altogether. So last year when I saw The Original Christmas Classics (Limited Keepsake Edition) on sale I bought it, to have a fail-safe resource on hand. The set includes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, The Cricket on the Hearth, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, and Frosty Returns, along with a CD of songs from the specials.

I had seen Rudolph on TV that year, so payed little attention to the DVDs at the time. But when Thanksgiving rolled around this year I went looking for stuff on The Mouse On The Mayflower (always hoping for a DVD release), and that led me to a website dedicated to The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass. What I learned there sent me scrambling to my copy to check it out. It turns out that this is a restored version, including material that hadn't been seen since the original airing.

The original version ended with Rudolph, Santa, and the other reindeer flying off. After protests from viewers wondering about the fate of the misfit toys, a new epilogue was added with Santa picking them up and dropping them off (via umbrella) to new homes. Space had to be made for this: the original duet of Rudolph and Hermey the Elf singing "We're A Couple Of Misfits" was replaced by the much shorter "Fame and Fortune," and several lines of dialog were cut near the end.

After Santa takes off, Clarice proclaims, "He'll be a hero after this!", to which Rudolph's mother replies, "Yes, our hero!" "That's my buck!" Donner says proudly. Yukon Cornelius points out the departing team to his own mis-matched sled-dogs (who have resolutely refused to pull his sled the entire show) and says, "Now...ya see how it's done!! Waaaahooooo!"He throws his pick in elation, it falls, and he tastes it. "Peppermint!" he exclaims. "What I've been searchin' for all my life! I've struck it rich! I've got me a peppermint mine! Waaahooooo!" Hermey smacks his forehead and falls back into the snow.*

Last year many of the original "Rudolph" puppets were found. After the original production they were given to a member of the staff who took them home, who over the years had placed them under her Christmas tree. Her children and grandchildren had been allowed to play with them, and they had been stored under no special conditions in her attic. Some of the figures were in extremely poor shape (apparently Sam the Snowman and Yukon Cornelius had melted together). But over the past months the Rudolph and Santa figures have been meticulously restored, using museum preservation grade care. These figures are not "claymation," like Gumby or the California Raisins. They are special puppets with articulated metal joints that are moved in tiny increments and then filmed, giving the illusion of motion; the same process that produced the original King Kong and The Nightmare Before Christmas. These metal joints had corroded away, but now the figures are fully restored, posable, and Rudolph is even wired for nose-blinking action. The picture above shows how they appear today.

For more details on Rudolph, Rankin/Bass, and childhood wonder in general, go to Rankin-Bass-Historian at People like Rick Goldschmidt who have the time, resources, and tenacity to pursue and preserve our childhood memories deserve our thanks and praise. I know his books are now on my wishlist.

*This peppermint mine is referenced in the unfortunate Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys.


AlanDP said...

Great post.

One good reason to buy the DVD releases is because these days there are always a few minutes cut out, just because there were far fewer commercials 40 years ago than now.

Babel said...

That is interesting. BTW, I am hoping that that is the wire for Rudolph's nose coming out of his behind and not a bad case of the Hershey squirts!