TV

Ridiculous Rudolph: A Merry Ranking Of The 10 Craziest Rankin-Bass Holiday Specials

If you’re a person who celebrates Christmas, or simply owns a television, you’re no doubt well-acquainted with the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special. But you may be less familiar with the countless other animated specials that followed in Rudolph’s red, shiny wake. The producers and directors of Rudolph’s first adventure, Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, produced well over a dozen follow-up animated holiday specials, and most of them were brain-breakingly bizarre. The Abominable Snow Monster and the Island of Misfit Toys are just the tip of the insanity iceberg.

So, here’s the top 10 Rankin-Bass holiday specials, ranked not by quality, but by how crazy they are. Hold onto your sugarplums, because things are about to get weird…

10) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The Unembellished Plot
Rudolph is born with a red lightbulb for a nose, which results in a constant stream of abuse from his fellow reindeer. Even Santa himself cruelly casts him aside. Rudolph is all “nuts to this” and runs off with Hermey, an elf who wants to be a dentist, and encounters a wacky prospector, an island of misfit toys and the Abominable Snow Monster himself. After Rudolph defeats said Snow Monster, the other reindeer begrudgingly accept him, and Santa lets Rudolph on his sleigh team once he realizes his nose could be useful. We’re all used to this one, but when you think about it, it’s still pretty odd stuff.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
The water pistol that shoots jelly.

Moral of the Story
Respect is hard-earned if you’re born different.

9) Jack Frost (1979)

The Unembellished Plot
Jack Frost overhears the Suzanne Somers-looking peasant Elisa saying she loves winter/Jack Frost. He takes this to mean Elisa has an actual romantic attraction to him, so he asks Father Winter to turn him into a human so he can mack on her. Unfortunately, Elisa is kidnapped by Kubla Kraus, an evil Cossack who rides a steampunk mechanical horse, lives in a castle full of robot soldiers and has but one friend, a ventriloquist’s dummy named, well, Dummy. After several failed plans, including a scheme involving fooling a groundhog with a magical shadow to extend winter, Jack defeats Kubla then rushes to propose to Elisa, only to discover that she’s decided to marry the hunky Sir Ravenal instead. Jack, clearly done with this whole debacle, shrugs, gives up on being human, and silently watches on as Elisa marries the other guy.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
Kubla Kraus having an animated argument with his dummy over whether he’s worthy of Elisa’s love. That’s some psychologically complex stuff for a kid’s cartoon.

Moral of the Story
Love at first sight is a sham, so keep waiting for that prince.

8) The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold (1981)

The Unembellished Plot
Young Dinty Doyle spies a pine he thinks would make a fine Christmas tree on a seemingly deserted island, so he rows ashore and digs it up. Unfortunately, it turns out the tree was planted to imprison a vengeful banshee, Mag the Hag. Seconds after that blunder, Dinty’s luck turns around when he stumbles on leprechaun Blarney Kilakilarney’s treasure horde. Blarney gives Dinty his gold, on the condition he not give it the banshee, but Mag turns herself into a pretty girl, so Dinty immediately hands it over. Ah, but Mag needed to get the gold before Christmas, and Christmas is now here, so the good guys win on a technicality.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
Dinty gives the pretty version of Mag the treasure and she starts maniacally laugh-crying, then transforms back into her monstrous form in scene guaranteed to traumatize any unsuspecting kid (and some adults).

Moral of the Story
Don’t combine finances with somebody you just met 10 minutes ago, no matter how cute they are.

7) The Little Drummer Boy (1968)

The Unembellished Plot
The titular drummer boy is a bitter young misanthrope named Aaron who literally hates every human being, because his parents were brutally murdered in front of him by bandits. Aaron and his dancing sheep, donkey, and camel are captured by Arab stereotype Ben Haramed, who eventually sells the camel to the Three Wise Men. Aaron follows them to Bethlehem, but his sheep is killed by an out of control Roman chariot. Thankfully, Jesus is there to bring the sheep back to life, and Aaron pays him with a quick drum solo. Aaron decides if sheep-reviving Christ babies exist, all humans might not be so bad.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
Ben Haramed literally paints a smile on Aaron’s face and forces him to perform. Midway through the performance, Aaron has a psychotic break, the rabble turning into the bandits that killed his family. The camera zoom in on Aaron’s face, the light from his family’s burning house flickering in his eyes.

Moral of the Story
All people aren’t terrible. Just, y’know, most of them.

6) The Year Without Santa Claus (1974)

The Unembellished Plot
Santa, gripped by a black depression, cancels Christmas rather than get out of bed. Mrs. Claus decides proof that kids still care about him will cheer Santa up, so she sends blundering elves Jingle and Jangle to Southtown to find said evidence. They immediately get Vixen captured by the dog catcher. With no money to pay the fine, the elves explain the situation to the jerkass mayor, who exclaims he’ll believe their crazy story the day it snows in Dixie. Because they’re idiots, the elves take this as a literal challenge, and set out with Mrs. Claus to make it snow in the south, which involves solving a family dispute between ragtime-singing demigods Heat Miser and Snow Miser. Eventually, they work things out by appealing to Mother Nature, represented as an old, tea-sipping woman who lives in a quaint house in the clouds. Oh, and while all this is going on, Santa saves Vixen on his own and decides to do Christmas anyways, because sure, whatever.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
Jingle and Jangle ask some kids what they think of Santa. The kids already know Santa isn’t coming this year, because it was reported in the paper, and frankly they don’t really care, because Santa isn’t real. So… why is he being reported on in the paper? This whole special is built on this kind of headache-inducing logic.

Moral of the Story
Just give manic-depressives like Santa some time and they’ll probably come around.

5) Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

The Unembellished Plot
We’re introduced to Spieltoe, the donkey who pulls Santa’s snowplow, who then tells the story of Nestor, the donkey present at The Nativity. Double-layered donkey stories, right here. Nestor has giant ears, and because this is a Rankin-Bass special, everybody’s really awful to him about it. Eventually, he’s thrown out in the cold and Nestor’s mother freezes to death protecting him from the elements. Nestor wanders aimlessly, awaiting his fate, until a cherub sent by God himself tells him to walk all the way from northern Europe to Bethlehem. No problem! Eventually, Nestor teams up with Mary and Joseph, and when they’re caught in a sandstorm on the way to Bethlehem, Nestor uses his prehensile ears to navigate by sound and shield Mary and The Son of God.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
Nestor’s eyes well with tears as he looks upon the mound of snow containing the body of his mother, who slowly froze to death as Nestor huddled beneath her body. Christmas cheer, folks!

Moral of the Story
Christmas would have been screwed many times over if it weren’t for animals with weird deformities.

4) Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

The Unembellished Plot
In a mind-spinning retcon, it turns out Rudolph’s red nose was given to him by The Queen of the Northern Lights to be used as a weapon against Winterbolt, the villainous sorcerer who once ruled the North Pole. Winterbolt rises again, and concocts a plan to trick Rudolph into using his nose for evil, which will extinguish its light forever. This plan involves luring Rudolph and Frosty south to perform in a circus on the Fourth of July, magic amulets and a dastardly reindeer named Scratcher, who frames Rudolph for grand larceny. Even though Rudolph is innocent, just being accused makes his nose go out. Also, Rudy has to take the rap, because clearing his name will cause Frosty to melt for reasons too convoluted and dumb to get into. In the end, Rudolph is exonerated and Winterbolt is defeated, but because his power was protecting Frosty, he and his snow family melt anyways. Thankfully a helpful whale arrives in the nick of time from South America carrying Jack Frost, who deus ex freezes Frosty and family back to life.

The Defining Moment of Insanity

After meeting with the horrifying Ice Genie and devising a plan to make an army of Frosty clones by stealing his magic hat, Winterbolt takes to the sky in his version of Santa’s sleigh, drawn by four slithering ice snakes.

Moral of the Story
If you’re a snowman, don’t go for a southern vacation in July.

3) Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)

The Unembellished Plot
A redheaded orphan, identified only by a name tag reading “Claus,” is taken in by forest animals and a family of elves called the Kringles, who teach him to make toys. They have nobody to give the toys to, though, because the pass to Sombertown is guarded by the terrifying Winter Warlock. Now grown up and going by Kris Kringle, our hero braves the pass, meeting his penguin sidekick Topper along the way. Unfortunately, Sombertown has banned all playthings because Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger once slipped on a toy duck. Kris delivers toys anyways, which catches the eye of the Christina Hendricks-esque schoolteacher, but also gets him thrown in the dungeon and sentenced to death. Thankfully, Kris manages to escape with the help of a now-friendly Winter Warlock and some magic corn, and moves to the North Pole with his entourage to live as a fugitive for the rest of his years.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
The scene in which we learn that beastmaster Kris Kringle learned his distinctive laugh by talking to a pair of seals, who happen to live on the top of a mountain. In Germany. Uh… huh.

Moral of the Story
Stay away from Santa’s lap. That “a kiss a toy is the price you’ll pay” business is weird.

2) The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)

The Unembellished Plot
The Great Ak, master of The Forest of Burzee, finds an orphaned baby in the snow and gives him to the lion Shiegra to raise. Later, Ak decides that was a dumb idea and has wood nymph Necile and a random assortment of freaky forest creatures raise him instead. This kid of course grows up to be Santa Claus, moves to the valley of Ho-Ha-Ho and accidentally invents the very concept of toys. Unfortunately, he can’t deliver the toys to the kiddies, because the Awgwas, evil trolls who influence children to do bad things, hoard them for themselves. This eventually leads to an outright war between Ak and the forest spirits and the Awgwas, which the Awgwas lose. Badly. After the Awgwa genocide, Santa is free to deliver his toys, and years later, the forest spirits bestow the Mantle of Immortality on Santa for being an all-round swell guy.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
During the climatic battle scene, The Great Ak swings his mighty silver axe, which fires an energy beam that destroys a giant, horned flying monkey, crushing the Awgwa offensive.

Moral of the Story
Don’t be afraid to go to your parents when you need help, especially if they’re omnipotent nature deities.

1) Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)

The Unembellished Plot
Happy the Baby New Year has gone missing, and if he’s not found, it will be December 31 forever. Happy ran away because he has big ears, which (stop me if you’ve heard this one) causes everybody to laugh at him. Rudolph is sent by Father Time to the Archipelago of Last Years, where every expired year gets its own island it can continue on forever. So, Rudolph travels through time on the back of a whale, visiting 1,000,000 BC, an island full of living fairy tales, and colonial America making friends with a caveman, knight, and Benjamin Franklin along the way. This entire time, Rudolph and Happy are being stalked by a giant vulture named Aeon, who kidnaps Happy and takes him to the Island of No-Name “due North of the North Pole.” Wait, what? Eventually, Rudolph catches up with Happy and convinces him to show him his ears, and even Rudolph, the one guy in the whole damn world who should know better, laughs at him. Aeon also catches a glimpse of Happy’s ears, and laughs himself right off the mountain. Happy wearily gives up and accepts the world’s mockery.

The Defining Moment of Insanity
Rudolph watches on as a distinctly Jewish-sounding caveman belts out a tune about how it’s raining sunshine, while a troupe of dinosaurs dance and sing backup in childlike voices.

Moral of the Story
They’re laughing with you, not at you. No, really, they are.

And with that, our journey through yuletide lunacy comes to an end. Which Rankin-Bass special is your favorite? Any of them strike you as particularly off as a kid? Hit the Section of Misfit Comments and let’s talk.

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