Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rudolph and the Tragic Demise of the Misfit Toys

Santa's crimes against the Island of Misfit Toys have gone unnoticed for far too long.

We have ourselves to blame, it's been right in front of us this whole time. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been telecast every Christmas for the past 50 years, and still everyone thinks it's some feel-good tale about misfits finding their place in the world. But Rudolph is nothing more than a modern-day fairy tale, and the truth—as it is with most tales—is far darker than you've been led to believe.

The film opens with Santa congratulating the Donner family on their recently-birthed baby reindeer Rudolph. The poor kid, already destined to be picked last in every reindeer game for being saddled with the name "Rudolph" for the rest of his life, is discovered to have a birth defect. Somehow an unheard of genetic mutation has bestowed upon Rudolph a glowing red shnozz that makes an irritating feedback noise whenever its brightness intensifies. Santa tells the Donners to work that out, and the Donners fashion a fake nose that gives the kid a speech impediment. Idina Menzel sings a song about the dangers of rejecting diversity.

Against all odds, Rudolph actually has a pretty solid outing the first day of gym class. He shrugs off the many excuses he could've made for being socially inept and instead makes a friend with a dude named Fireball.

Fireball's parents were infinitely cooler than Rudolph's.

Rudolph flirts with the cutest girl in class, then gets a good 4 seconds of airtime on his first ever takeoff with everyone watching, impressing both the girl and the head coach.

Then, the betrayal.

Fireball "accidentally" knocks Rudolph's fake nose off, undoubtedly jealous of Rudolph's ability to fly while the rest of the class gets nothing but a pathetic face full of snow and shame. With his glowing red nose on full display, his successful flight is forgotten, as Santa himself rejects the notion that Rudolph could ever be a part of the sleigh team. He is abandoned by his only friend, practically disowned from his parents and banned from all reindeer games. Rudolph's love interest is the only character who doesn't forsake the outcast reindeer, though she is powerless to save him.

In the French version, Fireball and Clarisse get married while 
Rudolph and Yukon Cornelius spend 14 years plotting their 
escape from the abominable snowman's ice fortress. 

Unwanted by his family and unwelcome in the only home he's ever known, Rudolph sets out into the wilderness.

Rudolph meets rebel elf Hermey, whose parents must have hated him as much as the reindeer's. Hermey has refused to accept his station in life, desiring a career in dentistry over a lifetime of constructing children's toys. Boss elf won't have any of that in his workshop.

Santa and the boss elf's intolerance of any sort of diversity is, of course, necessary for the film's plot. We won't pick apart why Santa and the boss elf were wrong to act the way they did—that's the whole moral of the story anyway. You don't need a blog post to tell you the central theme of Rudolph is to celebrate our differences, you can get that just by watching the movie. But Santa's philosophical aversion to misfits, broken things, and those that are unique is critical to understanding his sinister actions later in the film.

Sinister actions that are intimately tied to the film's biggest mystery: King Moonracer and the Island of Misfit Toys.

Rudolph, Hermey and expedition leader Yukon Cornelius stumble upon the island late in the film, and what a peculiar place it is. They soon discover the island's inhabitants are toys that each have their own defect; a train with square wheels, a cowboy riding an ostrich, a red-haired doll, a polka-dotted elephant and a bird that swims to name a few.

They explain to Rudolph's company how they were brought to the island by King Moonracer, who salvages unloved toys from around the globe each night and returns them to the island. Moonracer requests that Rudolph inform Santa about the island if and when he returns to Christmastown, as Santa would be able to locate girls and boys who would love the unwanted toys.

But Moonracer was naive, blinded by a love for the misfit toys that stemmed from he himself being a misfit, a blend of Aslan the god-lion and one of the great eagles from the Lord of the Rings.

And definitely voiced by Liam Neeson in the gritty sequel, 
which we'll get to later.

Unfortunately, Moonracer is unaware that Santa sees imperfect things as a threat to society, operating in a world of absolutes where girls and boys are either "naughty" or "nice", where toys are only satisfactory or broken and unusable. It is an obsession of his. It is made clear throughout the movie that Santa hates misfits.

Especially misfits of his own creation.

Here are facts we know. All toys are created in Santa's workshop located at the North Pole—all toys. Where did the misfit toys come from if not Santa's workshop? The logical explanation for the existence of the misfit toys is they were once created by Santa's elves, and discovered to have "defects" only after they were delivered to children the world over who did not love them because of their unique attributes. Moonracer then collected the unloved toys and gave them sanctuary on his island.

Now, to the last ten minutes of the movie. Santa is moments away from canceling Christmas entirely due to low visibility, a problem you'd think he'd have solved by now, living at the North Pole and all. Santa's leadership is revealed to be highly suspect, failing to prepare for possible weather problems that so often accompany the Christmas season, but he suddenly sees usefulness in Rudolph's glowing nose and the previously-shunned reindeer is welcomed onto the sleigh team with open arms.

This is not character development. This is not Santa realizing the error of his ways, nor changing his mind regarding defective reindeer. Rudolph just happens to be of use to him now.

Then the turning point of the entire movie.

Rudolph, the kind-hearted individual that he is, informs Santa of the existence of an island, an island whose inhabitants are the embodiment of Santa's greatest failures, toys who were delivered in Christmases past that failed to live up to Santa's standards and had since been discarded by the "nice" kids of the world.

Santa immediately makes for the island, guided to the location by Rudolph himself, and sells the misfit toys the dream of their hearts; a home with a child who will love them.

Their longing for a child's love is consistent with everything we know about toys.

But the toys were deceived, in the ending of a movie you've all seen a dozen times before. And yet, can you recall right now, without watching the video below, how the film ends? Take a look.

That is the original 1964 ending, in which santa's chief elf takes boxes out of Santa's bag and tosses them out of the back of the sleigh. Santa, a character known throughout this film for his refusal of all things imperfect, disposes of the misfit toys once and for all, erasing them from memory.

After the original release of the Christmas special, kids expressed concern over the fate of the misfit toys—and rightfully so. The ending we know today was created in 1965, and is actually even more incriminating than the first.

That's right, the elf now hands each toy an umbrella and drops it out of the sleigh, smiling crookedly and waving goodbye to the innocent misfits.

First, this is inconsistent with everything we know about how toys are delivered. Arguing these toys will somehow float softly into a home with a child who loves them ignores physics (it's an umbrella, not a parachute), ignores all Christmas lore regarding gift delivery, and ignores Santa's promise to "find homes for all the misfit toys", seeing as how they're being dropped at random intervals.

If you need more convincing, watch that video again and check out what happens to the bird whose defect is plainly stated in the misfit toys' song. The elf considers handing it an umbrella, then flicks the poor thing out of the sleigh at 10,000 feet without an umbrella even though anyone paying attention not 20 minutes earlier knows the bird can't fly. 

Second, there probably isn't a string of homes anywhere near where Santa was dropping them—in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

How do we know this is where he dumped the toys?

The North Pole is a geographic location in the northern hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface, diametrically opposite the South Pole. It actually consists of constantly shifting sea ice a few meters thick (shown repeatedly as a means of transport throughout the movie). The landscape depicted in the film is consistent with the actual North Pole.

The constantly shifting ice drifts provides a possible explanation for 
Santa's inability to locate the Island of Misfit Toys 
without Rudolph's assistance. 

For Santa to make the most out of the one night per year he has to deliver presents to over 2 billion children, he would logically begin at the international date line and fly West, earning him an actual 48 hours to complete the task because of Earth's time zones.

Now, if Santa is traveling from the Island of Misfit Toys near the North Pole in a westward direction toward the international date line, where is he dropping the toys? See that big empty space completely surrounding the date line in the northern hemisphere? That's where.

I'm not even getting an 'A' in my Planet Earth class. What a freaking joke.

Santa Claus terminated the misfit toys because of his deep-seated fear and hatred of all things that threaten his black-and-white view of the world. The misfit toys were his greatest disappointment, a living testament that his belief in absolutes was perhaps unfounded. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is a dark tale of rejection and loss, dolled up with catchy jingles to mask its true nature. This fact has remained unnoticed, unhidden and unpunished for the past 50 years.

Until now, that is.

Suggested post-credits scene:

The quivering bird laid before his king, mere seconds from death's icy embrace. Having survived his fall from Santa's sleigh and the frigid swim that followed, the flightless toy now sputtered its final words to his only friend. 

"My king," the hapless toy managed, "Santa Claus...Santa Claus was the end of us."

"Rest now," King Moonracer said gently.

The great beast bowed his head, his once-proud crown clattering to the floor as the bird released its final breath. 

Then, silence.

The Island of Misfit Toys was no more. 

Moonracer agonized over the thought that his misplaced trust had cost his friends their lives. Now he sat in solitude, sickened while the world celebrated his murderous enemy. He could already feel the lust for vengeance poisoning his mind, yet welcomed it freely, his only distraction from the pain he now bore. 

The echo of his own voice broke the suffocating silence, though he spoke in only a whisper.

"I will find you, Santa Claus. I will find you...and I will end you."


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