The other night I happened to catch the original version (1964) of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” with Burl Ives narrating and singing…you know, the one most of us grew up with. Although, most of us understood the basic message of not bullying and being nice to people that are different, this time when I watched it, I marveled at how many other important messages were woven throughout the story. I decided it would be fun to share them with you.
Rudolph is different
When Rudolph was born, his parents knew he was different. His father, Donner, was very disappointed and ashamed of him, but tried very hard to protect him and keep his shiny nose that glows a secret. Donner hoped it would go away as he grew. Donner wanted Rudolph to follow in his footsteps and be one of the eight lucky “chosen” reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh. In order to hide his nose, Donner made Rudolph cover it with mud. Rudolph didn’t like the mud because it was uncomfortable and made him talk funny. Donner insisted saying the “there are more important things than comfort, like ‘self-respect”. Although Donner encouraged Rudolph, he believed the only way he would fit-in and be accepted was to be “normal”. How many of you parents have felt disappointed or ashamed of your children because they’re different or how many of you had parents that felt that way about you? Did you have to give up your “authentic” self in order to conform and fit-in? How long have you carried shame?
Socially rejected and bullied
Rudolph shows up for the first day of training and joins in the reindeer games. Comet, the coach, makes it clear that his job is to “make bucks out of you”. How many of you men grew up hearing that something or someone was going to “make a man out of you”? Rudolph ends up flying the best out of all the other male fawns because he’s so excited he met Clarice and she thinks he’s “cute”. He runs and jumps and takes flying leaps, shouting “she thinks I’m cute, I’m cute”. He lands and is congratulated and everyone is cheering. In all of the commotion, the mud falls off his nose and his huge red glowing nose is revealed. It surprises and scares everyone. They began teasing him and calling him names, the coach kicks him off the team and sends him home, and Santa even rejects him. He walks off and Clarice runs after him. She consoles him, saying that his nose is what makes him “so grand”. She’s infatuated. Clarice was confident enough not to care what the other fawns thought. She innocently and instinctively accepts him and is attracted to him. Then her father shows up and forbids her from hanging around him. Here, we clearly see the innocence of children until our parents teach us fear and prejudice.
We can never say too much about bullying. In today’s day and age, how many children runaway or turn to drugs? In the last 10 years or more, some children have resorted to killing the people who have bullied them? How many of you were bullied? What has been the long-term effect? How did you respond when it was happening? What did it do to your self-esteem? How did you make friends? Did you trust people? Were your parents or siblings there for you to defend or encourage you? Did you feel like no one understood you?
Devastated, Rudolph runs away
Rudolph’s adventure begins when he meets an elf named “Hermey” who is aspiring to become a dentist. Hermey is also running away because he’s a misfit and has been called a “nit-wit”. Hermey’s true desire was ignored and dismissed by the Head Elf in charge. He was forced to be something and someone he was not, and he was miserable. When Rudolph and Hermey find each other they dance and sing about wanting to be “independent”. They understand each other and connect with each other’s frustration and pain. How many times do we ignore what people say they want or need and force them to conform?
Then they meet “Yukon Cornelius” a very confident, yet kind person with grandiose dreams of striking it rich on silver and gold. He thinks he’s the best at what he does even though his random attempts are futile. He never does succeed, but he keeps trying and never quits. He is very resilient and resourceful. He’s a loner.
Because Yukon is authentic and comfortable with himself, he is able to accept others for who they are. He does not judge Rudolph and Hermey for being different and immediately accepts them, inviting them to join him on his adventure. Even the dogs for his dog-sled are misfits; a dash-hound, a poodle, and a miniature Saint Bernard. They are clearly all strays and untrained. Did you end up having someone like that in your life; a teacher, or coach, or one of your friend’s parents? Did somebody help make it all right for you to be different?
Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snow Monster
He is also the “voice of reason”. He has common sense and is quick to find solutions. He does not panic. When they are running away from “Bumble”, the big “abominable” snow monster, they reach the end of the ice mass and hit water. Rudolph and Hermey feel trapped and are afraid. Yukon immediately chips away at the thick layer of ice breaking them free and they float away. He assures them they are safe because he knows the Bumble’s “one weakness”… he can’t float or swim.
When we fear something, we often fear it in a disproportionate size, making it bigger than life, or bigger than us, or too big to tackle. As a result, we do not confront it and it persists and controls us. We often later realize that it wasn’t so bad after all? What fears have you conquered, destroyed or dis-empowered? How many still haunt you?
Later in the story, we have to deal with the monster again and this time it’s threatening Rudolph’s parents and his girlfriend Clarice, who are trapped in a cave. Yukon has an idea of how to outsmart this monster. He quickly devises a plan to lure him out of the cave so that they can “dis-empower” him by knocking him out and having Hermey pull all of his teeth. Yukon then pushes him backwards all the way to the edge of the cliff and ends up falling over the cliff with the monster and is presumed dead.
Towards the end of the story, Yukon shows up at “Christmas Town” with the monster in tow. Rudolph questions how he survived and Yukon confidently announces because “Bumbles bounce”. What a lesson in “trust”! Would you have been able to go over a cliff trusting that the bumble would indeed bounce? Just imagine the trust and courage it requires to let go of control of outcome and despite tremendous fear, still be able to trust that things will work out and that you will be okay.
Yukon then proudly announces that he “tamed the beast” and presents this snow monster who has transformed into a gentle, helpful, likeable guy. The Bumble has found a “new life purpose”; putting the star on top of the Christmas tree. Now without his power (teeth) to scare and hurt everyone, he has become approachable and tame. His size, which made him different and threatening to others, has become a positive attribute. He fits in and is appreciated. What beasts have you confronted and tamed? How has that transformed you?
The Island of Misfit Toys
When Rudolph, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius floated away and escaped the snow monster, they end up on the “Island of Misfit Toys” where they meet a spotted elephant and a Jack-in-the-Box named “Charlie”. Rudolph asks if he and Hermey can stay and live there and the Lion King “Moonracer” tells them “no” because “living beings” are not allowed. Yukon Cornelius then says, “even among misfits, you are a misfit’!
How many times have you felt like you didn’t fit in or belong? What was different about you that made you feel that way? Was it real or imagined? How is it that families and societies make people feel like they don’t fit in and shame and criticize them? We must consider the pain and damage we caused them and discover compassion and empathy. The story does a good job of making us feel sorry for those toys and creates empathy in us.
Then the Lion King tells Rudolph that he can help all of the misfit toys and save them from being lonely and homeless, if he can convince Santa to find them all homes, declaring that “a toy is never happy until it is loved by a child”. Wow…so many messages in this one, starting with “everyone deserves and needs to be loved!”
Rudolph finds his life purpose
Of course, toward the end of the movie, the blizzard is so bad that Christmas has to be cancelled and while Santa is announcing this, Rudolph’s annoying nose is shining so bright it’s practically blinding Santa while he’s trying to speak. Then it occurs to Santa the very thing that made Rudolph so different and such an outcast, is now going to be the thing that saves Christmas. Suddenly, he is honored and valued. Everyone cheers and is grateful to him. His self-esteem goes way up and now he feels proud. He’s going to lead the team of eight flying reindeer, transitioning from being the bullied rejected outcast to the “most valuable player”.
How many times have we seen this on the news or in our life? Think of some of the most famous and well respected “misfits”, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, changing technology for example, and Nelson Mandela for protesting and being imprisoned. Each were bullied, ridiculed and mocked for being different and outspoken. Each rose to the occasion, utilizing their unique talents and perspectives, significantly impacting the entire world.
Isn’t it amazing that something that has been around for so long, created 50 years ago, still carries such important messages and life lessons?! Happy Holidays!
Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW (psychotherapist) Available for appointments in person, by phone, or by skype webcam. Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mex cell: 044 (322) 138-9552 or US cell: (312) 914-5203.
This Article was originally published in the PV Mirror (Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco Mexico) as a two part series, Part 1 published Dec 16, 2013 and Part 2 published Dec 23, 2013. This article may not be republished or used in part without the prior written consent of Giselle Belanger.