RVOD088 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

(1948, Short/Holiday/Animation, color)


Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Rudolph, I need you tonight.

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell:

The eponymous reindeer rises from obscurity to guide Santa’s sleigh.


Why does he spend so much time showing us his backside?Anthropomorphic reindeer Rudolph would like to skate with a pillow on his butt, but his nose glows like a beet. (The previous sentence may have made sense in 1948, but I doubt it.) He heads home at the behest of his shapely reindeer mother, hanging his stocking at the foot of his bed before going to sleep.

Meanwhile, the whole world has gotten foggy, causing Santa’s sleigh to crash into trees and houses at every turn. One of the first houses on his list is Rudolph’s. Santa can’t help but notice how brightly lit his room is, despite the lack of lighting. Our hero wakes with Santa leaning over him in bed. “Rudolph,” says Santa. “I need you tonight.”

Rudolph joins Santa’s team, and the sleigh takes to the (suddenly cloudless) sky. Guided by the power of Rudolph’s beet-bright nose, they deliver presents to all the anthropomorphic children in the world. Next day, Santa summons a coliseum full of reindeer. He calls Rudolph forward and appoints him Commander-in-Chief. Of what? Who knows?


I need you tonight.1948’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has more than its share of weirdness, but for a cartoon from the forties, it looks pretty good. The anthropomorphic deer in particular are extraordinarily well-drawn, looking simultaneously deer-shaped and uncannily human. Some elements are hilariously inappropriate—Rudolph’s hot deer mom, Santa’s “seductive moment”, the semi-obscene way he moves while driving the sleigh, Rudolph’s tendency to light the jolly one’s rear end from beneath—but the vast majority of these instances can be attributed to different connotations pertaining to different eras. To audiences of the forties, this must have looked amazing, multiple references to luminescent root vegetables notwithstanding.

A few of my favorite comments: When the singers proclaim that Rudolph “had a very shiny nose,” Mike adds, “It was greasy.” After the second comparison of Rudolph’s nose to a beet, Bill wants to know, “Are beets known for their illuminating properties?” When Santa calls his reindeer away from their dinner, Kevin shouts, “And quit eating venison. It’s creepy!” The most drop-dead hilarious moment of the short comes when Santa says, “I need you tonight,” and Kevin shouts, “Whoa!” One of the weirder, better animated shorts they’ve done combines pretty well with a very quotable commentary.