Day 8! An entire week is already in the books, and with the second week of Advent getting underway, it’s time to look at the second Rudolph special- Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. As with any successful franchise, the red-nosed reindeer spawned sequels, and this was the first one…and it was wild.
(Before you delve in, here is the link to yesterday’s piece if you missed it, which has the rest of the calendar so far linked there as well.)
Special: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
Studio/year premiered: Rankin-Bass, 1976
AniB’s thoughts: The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in animation didn’t just end with the iconic special that airs on CBS every year. No, Rankin-Bass returned to the well on a couple other occasions, and this was the first sequel- some 12 years after the first. Despite that, there are a number of odd things about it, particularly in regards to continuity that are jarring. For starters, there are precisely two characters from the original special that reprise appearances here- the titular protagonist, who is somehow magically de-aged from his appearance at the end of the first Rudolph; and Santa, who much more closely resembles his appearance from the end of 1970’s Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. The rest of the cast? Completely overhauled. That’s right- everyone from Hermey the dentist elf to affable prospector Yukon Cornelius, and even love interest Clarice are just…not here, which really makes this “sequel” far more of a stand-alone than any real pickup from before.
From there, things get stranger; the plot is actually about how Rudolph has to rescue the New Year’s baby- who is supposed to be Father Time’s successor. After traversing through a howling blizzard from the North Pole, our bright-nosed hero winds up in the literal desert of time (don’t ask me how this works) and is led to Father Time’s castle by an unusual escort (an affable camel with a large clock affixed where its hump normally would be), upon which the patriarch debriefs Rudolph on the situation, but not before Eon, a millennia-old giant condor/vulture attempts to scare off the red-nosed reindeer. If all of this sounds familiar…you’ve seen the special, but if it sounds bizarre, that also makes sense, because Rudolph’s Shiny New Year really is not a Christmas special in most ways, as you can see.
Why, you may be asking, is the baby New Year even in danger? The answer is rather silly: he has abnormally large ears that cause people to burst out laughing, ala Dumbo, which makes him so incredibly embarrassed and mistrustful that he wanders off somehow (and before you ask how a baby slipped away, that’s another question entirely.) The premise then takes an even more unusual turn in that Eon- the giant condor- needs the baby (who is named Happy) to stay alive for another millennium- which means this show is literally a race for a baby…which is really silly when you stop for a second to think about it. On top of it, it evolves into an island-hopping caper where Happy escapes several “time-locked islands”- and Rudolph and his friends, starting with Big Ben, a whale with a clock in between his flukes, go on a chase to rescue him, while Eon stays in pursuit as well.
I really don’t love summarizing that much of a plot in my thoughts frankly- but childhood nostalgia aside from watching these various Rankin-Bass specials- this Rudolph production still has that magical Rankin-Bass feeling, but premise-wise, it was really, really weird. It’s an anomaly of canonical sequels both in the stunning lack of continuity from the original, and the wildly unexpected locales and places it goes in pursuit of a simple and convoluted plot. But despite being patently silly, it’s still fun in its own right, has some surprisingly catchy original music that can and will get stuck in your head, and well…it’s Rudolph. Can’t complain too much!
While they normally air this frequently around Christmas Day up to New Year’s on ABC nowadays, it doesn’t have quite the cultural cache as the original or some of the other more iconic Rankin-Bass specials I already covered. So in a way, it’s not quite as hard to score this, despite lesser feelings of nostalgia.
Animation Quality: Stop-motion animation, Rankin-Bass’s so called “Animagic” technique. I’ve expounded a bit on this style of stop-motion technique the company used in my other Rankin-Bass reviews during the countdown, but I will say here that it continues to have a very unique, timeless feel, perhaps in part because all the R-B productions that use it have an incredibly uniform aesthetic? Whatever the reason, it makes these stories pop in a way it otherwise wouldn’t. 4/5 points.
Characters: As discussed in my thoughts, Rudolph is the only returning character from the original aside from Santa (who plays a relatively minor role here.) He’s still the same reindeer, though rather confident about his nose this time around, which may represent the greatest shred of continuity in this “sequel.”
The rest of the cast is an eclectic bunch Rudolph picks up on his unlikely adventure, mostly named after the island “eras” they came from, like “1776”- a dead ringer for Ben Franklin, and a caveman (“One Million B.C.). Eon, as previously mentioned, is a large bird of prey who serves as the special’s villain, though he’s really more squawk than substance in most cases. And then there’s Father Time himself…what an odd bunch. Points for creativity though! 2.75/5 points.
Story: See above for the plot, yet again. Basically, this is a “chase the treasure” plot, except it’s a baby, involves island hopping, and pits a magical reindeer against a giant vulture/condor. Once again, creative? Very. Convoluted? You bet. 2.25/5 points.
Themes: This is mostly pure entertainment, except for the recurring messaging of Rudolph that one should embrace what makes them unique in life. And also to have a happy New Year, I suppose. 2/5 points.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: Has that Rankin-Bass nostalgia factor going along with being Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in some form. Generally catchy music, a family friendly experience, and some degree of a legacy. Not bad. 5/5 points.
Overall: 16/25 (64%): Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is as strange a sequel you’ll find, but despite a bunch of strange twists, it’s still a fun, convoluted sort of adventure. It clearly doesn’t match the heights of the original, but it’s still a fun pick from the holiday library to check out.
Like what you see? Any thoughts on Rudolph’s Shiny New Year? Leave a comment!