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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Special & Blu-ray Disc Details

Original Air Date: December 6, 1964 / Running Time: 52 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Larry Roemer / Writers: Romeo Muller (teleplay), Robert May (story), Johnny Marks (song) / Producers: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass (co-producer) / Music and Lyrics: Johnny Marks

Voice Cast: Burl Ives (Sam the Snowman), Larry D. Mann (Yukon Cornelius), Billie Mae Richards (Rudolph), Paul Soles (Hermey), Stan Francis (Santa Claus, King Moonracer), Alfie Scopp (Charle-in-the-Box, Reindeer), Janis Orenstein (Clarice), Paul Kligman (Donner, Clarice's Father, Coach Comet), Carl Banas (Head Elf, Spotted Elephant, Toys), Corinne Conley (Doll), Peg Dixon (Mrs. Donner)

Songs: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Jingle Jingle Jingle", "We're a Couple of Misfits", "We Are Santa's Elves", "There's Always Tomorrow", "Silver and Gold", "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year", "A Holly Jolly Christmas"

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English), Dolby Mono 1.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: None; Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Blu-ray Release Date: November 4, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $17.99
Single-Sided Single-Layered Disc (BD-25) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($17.99 SRP)
Still available in The Original Christmas Classics DVD Gift Set ($29.93 SRP; July 1, 2012)
Previously released in The Original Christmas Classics Blu-ray Gift Set (October 12, 2010), The Original Christmas Classics: Limited Keepsake Edition DVD (September 4, 2007), The Original Television Christmas Classics DVD 6-Pack with Holiday Music CD (September 5, 2006), The Original Television Christmas Classics DVD (September 14, 2004), The Original Television Holiday Classics 3-DVD Gift Collection (October 1, 2002), standalone Blu-ray (July 1, 2012), and standalone DVD (September 4, 2007)

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The 1960s were a golden age for the animated holiday television special. In three successive Decembers in the middle of that decade, the world got to see Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
These weren't the first animated television specials and they certainly weren't the last. But these three programs undoubtedly rank among the most beloved of all programming in television history. Other slightly older and younger holiday cartoons, including It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Frosty the Snowman, and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol aren't far behind.

You could argue that the stature of such technically quaint programs is elevated on account of how few television channels there were. And that any broadcast widely watched by children in their formative years is bound to be embraced by a generation. It wouldn't be hard to rattle off titles of some 1970s and '80s TV specials that are highly regarded as well. Since then, viewing options expanded, original holiday specials grew scarce, and it's almost impossible now to imagine any scheduled piece of one-off entertainment being able to unify the public in captivation. All of those are fair points, but they do not take away from the charm of shows we hold up as gold standards of holiday entertainment.

As you can tell from the artwork, details, and bolded title above, I'm talking about Rudolph today. I am happy to do so on the occasion of its golden anniversary, a milestone celebrated in new 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray and DVD releases from Classic Media.

As goateed Sam the Snowman, Burl Ives is our singing storyteller. A couple of misfits, Hermey and Rudolph try being independent together.

The stop-motion, hour-long Rudolph created a mold for Rankin/Bass, a company that would produce more than two dozen animated television specials over the next twenty years.

Though now inseparable, the song of the same name came first. Popularized by Gene Autry in 1949, the tune penned by Johnny Marks was itself inspired by a 1939 poem Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May, wrote for a charitable Montgomery Ward holiday coloring book. First recorded by Harry Brannon, Marks' song would come to be covered by a wide variety of artists, including Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the California Raisins. Marks' lyrics are the foundation of the Rankin/Bass special and basically the blueprint for Romeo Muller's teleplay.

As the song says, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it (you do), you would even say it glows. The son of Santa's lead reindeer Donner, Rudolph is born with that unconventional nose and a nasal whistle that accompanies its lighting up. Ashamed of it and worried Santa won't let him join his sleigh team, Donner covers up the boy's abnormality, first with dirt and then an uncomfortable prosthetic. When exposed, Rudolph's abnormality draws ridicule and ostracizes him from the others, who won't let him join in any reindeer games. The only one appreciating him is Clarice, a girl reindeer who thinks he's cute, but her father forbids her from associating with a red-nosed reindeer.

The journey brings Rudolph and Hermey to the Island of Misfit Toys. Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, "Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Complementing and paralleling Rudolph's plight is the story of Hermey. While his fellow North Pole elves are content to make toys and sing songs, Hermey dreams of becoming a dentist.
The two outcasts cross paths and wind up visiting along with gold-seeking prospector Yukon Cornelius the Island of Misfit Toys and trying to avoid the dreaded Abominable Snow Monster, a.k.a. Bumble.

Of course, on a foggy Christmas Eve, Rudolph's glowing red nose is just the thing Santa needs to guide his sleigh through the reduced visibility.

Burl Ives is our jolly singing storyteller, personified by Sam, a snowman resembling the burly actor-singer down to his signature goatee.

I have enjoyed every one of the 15 or so Rankin/Bass specials I've seen to some degree. The bold characters, cheery songs, witty humor, and colorful visuals all up to something unlike anything else in the history of television and film. My appreciation for these works is not colored by childhood nostalgia. I don't believe I saw any of them until early adulthood and Rankin/Bass stopped making them around the time I would start watching television.

Though entertainment abounds in the company's canon, their specials are absolutely subject to the usual diminishing returns. The stop-motion works are generally better than their traditionally animated brethren. There is no question that Rudolph is the best of all. It doesn't suffer from any of the silliness and familiarity which mark subsequent specials. The storytelling is fresh, the visuals are dynamic, and the old-fashioned charm and seasonal joy are overflowing. While A Charlie Brown Christmas forever ranks #1 in my heart among holiday specials, Rudolph may well take second place. It has the added benefit of having not yet been watched so many times as to lose luster or meaning (the biggest downside of yearly viewing traditions).

VIDEO and AUDIO

The nature of stop-motion animation (each frame is a still photograph) renders Rudolph better-preserved than a lot of television, including much newer specials produced on video in traditional animation. Rudolph looks pretty excellent at 50. The 1080p element is mostly sharp and pristine, marred only by the minor but noticeable occasional scratch. (The detailed print also reveals strings not easily spotted at the resolution and size of standard televisions until recently.)

No lossless audio is provided, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English language tracks leave little to be desired. These are not drastic remixes; you may even have to put an ear up to the rear channels to see if they're producing any sound (they are). The dialogue, music and effects are crisp, clear, and undistorted. Though the case says English SDH subtitles are included, they sadly are not.

The Bumble makes an appearance in the virtual Rudolph pop-up book. Two short sing-alongs provide lyrics, as if you don't already know them.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Rudolph didn't get any bonus features on its first Blu-ray Disc, which was released in a box set with other Rankin/Bass classics in 2010 and then on its own in 2012. This time around, Classic Media has produced a supplemental supply worthy of the moniker, though you might be disappointed to find Rudolph not joined by any other Rankin/Bass specials.

First up among the all-HD extras is a virtual pop-up book (2:47), an animated short which uses imagery from the special to (not too convincingly) create the effect of a wordless pop-up book that is read by someone doing a passable Burl Ives impression as Sam the Snowman.

Two short sing-along clips provide lyrics with bouncing ball for "Holly Jolly" (1:21) and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (0:52). The spirited presentation stylizes clips from the special and makes collages out of elements.

Dave Burgess teaches you how to draw Hermey the elf and two other Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer characters. "Rudolph Unwrapped" gives us 50 facts and figures about the special to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Next come four "Learn to Draw" shorts, starting with an intro (1:13). DreamWorks Animation head of character animation Dave Burgess demonstrates on a digital tablet how to draw Rudolph (11:13), Hermey (11:31), and the Bumble (9:24).

He takes a while and isn't the most entertaining personality. Other than that, cool!

Last but not least is "Rudolph Unwrapped" (16:41), a virtual advent calendar opening 50 doors to dispense 50 facts about the special. As much as possible, the facts are tied to the number on the door opened, giving them a statistical bend. While certainly fun and informative (it reveals a number of questionable changes made since the original broadcast), the piece is a bit long-winded. You could have gleaned the same information much more quickly paging through still screens, but some of the clips are good and you don't have to keep pressing buttons on your remote.

Finally, a Sneak Peek section holds 30-second ads for Mr. Peabody & Sherman and VeggieTales: Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas, with a full The Penguins of Madagascar trailer in between them.

Though extensive, the bonus features assembled here hardly represent everything that's been produced for Rudolph on home video. Some of the more noteworthy casualties from the various editions that have been released on a near-annual basis include a trivia game, a vintage TV promo, an 11-minute introduction by Arthur Rankin, and the deleted song "Fame and Fortune", which has replaced Rudolph and Hermey's "We're a Couple of Misfits" duet" in some broadcasts. It's unfortunate to lose this material, which there is ample room for including on this single-layered disc.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gets an appealing new animated top menu on Blu-ray.

The menu plays clips in a gift wrap design while the special's suite is looped. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray doesn't resume playback or let you set bookmarks.

The eco-friendly keepcase is snuggly topped by a flashy, extensively embossed foil slipcover. Joining the nicely-labeled disc is a booklet promoting Rudolph merch and offering rebates for purchases of Rayovac batteries and Trident holiday gum.

This release is curiously unbranded. There is no studio logo on the case's spine or playing at disc insertion. Although the trailers, print ads, and drawing tutorials emphasize the DreamWorks Animation connection (DreamWorks bought Classic Media for $155 million in 2012), they've never self-distributed and this is clearly not put out by their current distributor 20th Century Fox (who has foolishly stopped sending review product to online press). In the age of discs, Rudolph and other early Rankin/Bass specials have always been handled by otherwise obscure independent companies, while the later, less celebrated shows are distributed by Warner.

The Bumble, also known as The Abominable Snow Monster, puts a star atop Santa's Christmas tree in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of a few charming holiday specials that deserve a place in virtually every collection. The question is which of the many editions do you get? The mostly splendid feature presentation, nice collection of extras, and reasonable price all make a strong case for this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray, although it misses some extras and does seem like a release that should have been a combo pack with DVD and digital copy included alongside the still not as widely playable BD. Nonetheless, if you anticipate watching this special primarily on Blu-ray, then I highly recommend this satisfying treatment of an enduring Christmas classic.

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Reviewed November 4, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1964 Rankin/Bass Productions, Videocraft International, and 2014 Classic Media. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.