Rankin Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has long been considered a Christmas classic. It’s not truly Christmastime until you’ve gotten “We’re a Couple of Misfits“stuck in your head. But what most people don’t realize is that this Christmas singalong funtime is actually an in-depth allegory for the Second World War.
Santa and his elves represent the Nazi leadership; their sinister reign represses everyone who is different. Herbie and Rudolph are both examples of people who do not meet Santa’s criteria. Rudolph’s nose marks him as an imperfect freak. He is not fit to join in with the other reindeer and their reindeer games. He is ostracized by the others and flees.
Herbie wants to be a dentist and is also marked by the Santa and his henchman as being a “misfit.” It’s interesting to note that while Herbie’s occupational desires are singled out as the reason for why he’s a misfit, he’s also one of the few elves who looks different. The other elves are bald with pinpoint eyes, while Herbie has long, blond hair and big, blue eyes. However, Herbie is lucky to have escaped with his life. During their performance of “We Are Santa’s Elves” another elf (who is taller and wears glasses) is shoved into a burlap sack. Another elf, fatter than the others, is struck over the head and falls to the ground and doesn’t move.
But while Rudolph and Herbie are dramatic examples of Santa’s gestapo tactics to enforce uniformity, it turns out Santa’s been at this for years. During their travels, Rudolph and Herbie come across The Island of Misfit toys. These toys have been deemed “misfits” by Santa and are unfit for children. They are rounded up and sent to a distant island: alone, with no-one to play with them.
However, salvation comes from two sides: a brash and boisterous adventurer named Yukon Cornelius (obviously a stand-in for America) and the Bumble, a giant monster known for eating people and reindeers (obviously a stand-in for Soviet Russia). Yukon, Herbie and Rudolph must save everyone from the Soviet Bumble and, in the process, upending Santa’s wicked regime. The misfits are misfits no longer and Santa is properly chastised, while the Soviets have had their teeth pulled.
This telling of the Second World War has downplayed the Soviet’s role in the downfall of Nazi Germany, even casting them as the villains of the piece, but given that Rudolph was created during the height of the Cold War, this should come as a surprise to no one.
This classic is a history lesson wrapped up in a Christmas carol and it’s time we recognize it as such. There are unfound layers in this work and it remains to be seen what Rankin Bass’s other works have to tell us.