THE MISFITS WEREN'T THE NITWITS
The genesis of this week's Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day selection is found in the comments to last week's FSMOMYOTD, The Boy In The Plastic Bubble. First time commenter Marked Hoosier asked if next week's entry would be a "seasonal" choice. Jumping onto the theme in his patented style, Neighborhood regular John Royal suggested "one of those Rankin-Bass claymation things, like 'Rudolph' or 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.' I love those things."
And you know something, the conspicuous semitism of The Committee's membership notwithstanding, these claymation spectaculars are pretty well-regarded among The Elders as well. So, after rejecting John's requests for Xanadu time and again (and despite the sad fact that he's "out of town and nowhere near a computer" today), the votes are in, The Elders are unanimous in the sappy direction they chose to go this week, and today's FSMOMYOTD is none other than . . .
Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Funny thing is, as I headed home last Friday, already brainstorming about the next glorious FSMOMYOTD, I had no thoughts whatsoever that this, or any other Rankin & Bass Christmas special was making the grade. Just didn't think about it. But as I cracked a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, the first of the high ABV beers (google it) I would drain that evening, and chilled on the couch as Mrs. Mike did whatever it is women do when their husbands start drinking on Friday night, what should come on the TV? None other than Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, followed by Frosty The Snowman.
Now, as these Friday posts should indicate, I'm never one to shy away from any excuse to indulge in lugubrious strolls down the sepia-toned paths of Nostalgiaville. Least of all when I'm rapidly catching a heavy beer buzz as a terror-inducing birthday approaches. Needless to say I watched.
Both of 'em. (Lucky woman, that Mrs. Mike, huh? How's that for a Friday Night? Drunk husband and children's Christmas specials! Straight out of the happy wife handbook.)
Frosty, I'm sad to report, didn't hold up too well. I mean, we still had Hocus-Pocus doing those . . . well, rabbity things he did. And Karen was brave & cute, and Frosty was still Da best belly-whhhhoppa . . . in da woild. But you know what else? The animation sucks, the story is about as good as you'd expect from a 54 year-old half-hour cartoon based on a silly song, and whatever childhood pathos we might've felt upon seeing Frosty turned into a puddle, is hard to re-muster when you've seen the north pole wind revive him 25 times and counting.
(And while we're here, let's just get it out of the way: Snowman + Greenhouse = Stoooo-pid. Then again, Frosty never struck me as the sharpest icicle under the roof. Get it? Icicle, instead of tool, because . . . oh, never mind.)
But Rudolph? It holds up. And then some. It's good. But you know what? I knew that already, because it was always my favorite as a kid, earning the December gold to Charlie Brown's silver and I guess The Grinch for the bronze. But I dithered on the Grinch, really digging it one year, then not the next. Maybe it depended on how good the roast beast was.
Now . . . let's just get something out in the open right now, shall we? Some of you may be thinking, "Rudolph??? Are you kidding?" Some of you may even be thinking, "This is a silly movie? It isn't even a movie, it's a goddamn children's Christmas special." (And the rest of you are certainly thinking, "For crissakes, I'm already exhausted and he hasn't even started talking about the program yet"). Well tough titties to all of you. Cause this is the choice. And I've got three good reasons to make this selection. In ascending order of importance:
1. The Ultimate Outsider's Story. Misfits, rebels, independents. I was SO all-over this, even as a child (I told you I was a weird kid);And if that 3rd reason, alone, ain't good enough, then you'd better just stop reading right now and come back next week.
2. I will straight-out mess you up if I hear you dissing Rudolph. Make no mistake; and . . .
3. Yukon. Fucking. Cornelius.
(And, yes, I'm aware that you probably think I'm crazy right about now. It's cool.)
It's funny that the "Rankin & Bass" franchise is so established, because based on re-viewings of some of those specials other than Rudolph, they weren't very good. It's true that Year Without A Santa Claus has the priceless comic duo of the Snow Miser & his insane brother, The Heat Miser, so of course that's good for a lot. He's Mr. Heeeeeat Miser, he's Mr. Sun . . . Let's mince no words: those songs are great. And whatever I touch/starts to melt in my clutch/I'm too much. C'mon, we're talking musical gold here. And the little assistant Heat Misers? Fantastic.
But I promise you, if you try to watch the entire show, You Will Regret It. Trust me. Same with Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. We think Burgermeister Meisterburger will be funny because he's got a mildly amusing name and we thought he was hilarious when we were seven. But you know what, we thought Fonzie was cool when we were seven.
Ok, on to Rudolph. Another confession. I wasn't really that crazy about the character, Rudolph. I thought he was kind of a pussy, even though watching now shows him to be a pretty brave little red-nosed reindeer. And viewing as an adult, it's pretty clear that Hermie's desire to be a dentist isn't all that makes him a misfit. No sirree. Hermie doesn't like to make toys could be changed to Hermie doesn't like to "make" elf-chicks, and it'd be a hundred times more accurate.
As a kid, I would've had no idea what a gay elf was, any more than I really understood why an elf wanting to be a dentist was so strange. Elf's have teeth, right? Is elf enamel so tough they don't get cavities? Any dorky former (or present) D&Ders among the crew here who can help us out? Did elfs get +2 on Strength & +1 on Constitution for their strong choppers (yes, intentional word choice. Be patient. You don't think I'm dying to get to him?)
Oh, and another confession: I hated playing D&D. Who the hell cares what the Dungeon Master says? Some other dorky kid gets a massive power complex because he's "The DM," and he can just choose to have you run into a freakin' black dragon for no real reason 15 minutes into the game just because he's mad that you're faster than him on your bike, and . . .
Theoretically, of course. But the books, the Monster Manual? Oooo, I loved that shit. And I do have 20-sided dice, but that's from Strat-O-matic, not D&D. So I was a dork, but a different kind.
Where were we? Let's see, other characters in Rudolph. Well, with one notable exception (we're getting there), among the adult humans, the adult reindeer, and the adult elfs, they were all total assholes. The coach? Total dick. The head elf? A putz. Donner, Rudolph's dad? Nightmare. And of course we know who was, by far, the worst, backstabbing, no loyalty, only-looking-out-for-himself piece of no good crap, right?
That's right. Santa Claus himself. Telling Rudolph's father he should be ashamed of himself because his son had a Red Nose! Watching Rudolph brutally banished from the reindeer games, yet complaining that it was too bad only because the kid had such a great take-off. And even as he finally discovered Rudolph's special skill, he was still bitching and moaning about how it was hurting his eyes.
Enough! I can't take it. So it's time for . . .
Yukon Cornelius. That's riiiiight, jack. He may just have been one of my favorite cartoon characters as a child. Funny, courageous, smart, warm-hearted, he was the bomb. How's this for some dialogue:
Yukon Cornelius: Fog's as thick as peanut butter.And, in 1964, as America was still in the midst of the Cold War & its civil rights struggles, this lone prospector in the great Canadian hinterlands took in a talking reindeer with red lightbulb nose & his wannabe-dentist gay elf friend without question. Now that's an enlightened dog team driver! Hell, he even carried the dogs and pulled the sled at one point when the dogs wouldn't mush. I'm telling you, Yukon was one of my heroes.
Hermey: You mean pea soup.
Yukon Cornelius: You eat what you like and I'll eat what I'll like.
And, lest we not forget his finest moment: he stood up to the Bumble. Tell me you weren't devastated the first (and second, third & fourth) time you saw him go over that cliff. Don't even try to brush that off. I was distraught. And then when he showed up at that rat bastard Santa's place at the end . . .
Ok, I think I'm getting a bit misty here. So let's get to a few random questions and observations before hitting a (relatively speaking) small cast.
I know I'm not the first to ask this, and probably won't be the last. But . . . what was up with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys? What made her a misfit toy? Was she a Ho' doll, "rescued" from a Bangkok brothel so she could service that weird, flying lion dude? A heroin addict? A she-male doll? Dyslexic? Tourette's?
Come to think of it, what was wrong with the polka-dot elephant? He's a stuffed elephant! Polka dots are ok for stuffed animals, right? Because the rest of the toys were really screwed up: trains with square wheels, water guns that shoot jelly, ostrich-riding cowboys, the freakin' Charlie in the Box that talked like Snagglepuss. Those were Misfits.
But the doll? I dunno, but I think someday the CIA needs to declassify the info and let us in on it. I need to know.
And if Rudolph has any flaws, this one's obvious: Despite the misfits/outsiders/independents theme of the show, the attitudes towards the female characters are laughably bad. Clarise has eyes bigger than a manga or anime chick, and her voice sounds like she belongs on a 900 line. And of course the famous line where Burl Ives's snowman tells us, after Yukon's fall, that though they were all "saddened by the loss of their friend," they knew that the best thing to do was to "get the women back to Christmas town." Because who needs women when you've got a talking reindeer with a red lightbulb nose and an elf?
And while we're at the Q&A portion of our discussion, forgetting about the doll for a second, what's up with King Moonracer, the Ruler of the Island of Misfit Toys? Why was a flying lion the king of the misfits? That's the best gig he could get? He's a goddamn flying lion!!! He's the King Of The Beasts and he can fly, and he's stuck on that silly island with a Charlie in the Box and his Ho' doll girlfriend? Someone get him a real agent.
And now . . . on to a short rundown of The Cast:
The voice of Hermie? Paul Soles. Which is the same last name as one of the "stars" of last week's FSMOMYOTD post, P.J. Soles. You see, no matter how much I ramble, it's the cast portion of the program that pulls it all together.
Or maybe not.
The voice of Yukon Cornelius? The extremely aptly named, Larry D. Mann. Damn straight he was. Mann, who'll turn 84 on Monday, actually had a very long career, doing both voice work and appearences in various TV shows. I don't recall the character, but apparently he played "Judge Lee Oberman" on Hill Street Blues over three seasons, totalling 15 episodes. If anyone knows about this, give us a report on what he looks like.
On second thought, don't. Finding out that Yukon Cornelius is 5'4", skinny & bald could traumatize me to the point of no return. Best to let sleeping bumbles lie.
Finally, the voice of Rudolph? A woman, Billie Mae Richards. You see, I knew something was off with that red-nosed reindeer. And it wasn't the nose. Let's be "independent" together, indeed.
But what's truly strange here, is that Richards, who was born in 1921 and did voice work in a series of increasingly sappy cartoons such as The Friggin Care Bears, appeared in 1978's Jailbait Babysitter. And no, that's not a typo. And lest you think the title is intentionally deceptive, think again. The following is the first (and only) comment on IMDB for this flick:
It's a drive-in schlock movie with some nudity and sexual situations. The woman who takes in the title babysitter is strange looking yet oddly sexy.And if you're thinking, "Wow, if Mike's seen this, it's sure to be a future FSMOMYOTD," corrrrrrrect you are. But, alas, I haven't seen it, and I can't say I'm going to. (Though I wouldn't turn it off if it came on late night cable.)
And somehow, John Goodman made it into that classic. It was his first role. Which reminds me of the one line of dialogue I'd add to Rudolph, and Yukon Cornelius would deliver it: "Forget it Santa, you're out of your element."
Come to think of it, maybe Rudolph himself delivering a terse, "Shut the fuck up, Santa" in that nasely voice would've been even better.