Rudolph started life in a poem, written in 1939 by Robert L. May. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, liked the poem and turned it into the popular song we all know. Then in 1964, it took on new life as an animated television special on NBC. It’s now the longest-running animated Christmas special, and one of only four from the 60s still on. (The others are A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman.)
The TV special’s plot is necessarily a bit more complex than the song’s. There are additional characters, including prospector Yukon Cornelius, a reindeer
babe named Clarice, a new reindeer named “Fireball,” and the arch-enemy — the Abominable Snowman. And there’s the narrator, Sam the Snowman, who just happens to resemble Burl Ives. How else would we have been able to hear “A Holly Jolly Christmas?”
The version we see now (on CBS) has been digitally remastered for enhanced clarity. The folks at Rankin/Bass created this stop-action animation classic. It looked clunky when it first appeared, and it looks positively antique in the age of Pixar. And yet, somehow, that’s part of its charm. That, and the music, and the story of Rudolph the underdog (underreindeer?) who saved Christmas. For many families, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a viewing of Rudolph.