Adventures in Parenting: The dark side of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Our family watched the Christmas classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer the other night. We saw it on DVD, which not only gave us the flexibility to watch it on a night that was most convenient for us, but it also provided an opening so that I could tell the girls how, when mommy and daddy were kids, we only had ONE chance to watch Rudolph each year, so they have no idea how lucky they are with so many options. Because parents should never pass up an opportunity to guilt trip their kids, am I right??

Anyway, Talia was fascinated by the young Rudolph, how little he was, how his voice sounded. Alexia, though, was struck by some of the inherent meanness in this timeless holiday staple. By now, we probably all recognize that the grownups in this stop-motion animation special are astoundingly cruel. (I’m looking at YOU, Donner and Comet, and especially you, Mr. Kris Kringle).

No doubt, the first generation of Rudolph watchers has read enough think pieces on the show to get all the various subtext, from the bullying to the child abandonment. Alexia has seen it before, but now, at the age of 6, she seems suddenly aware of some of the dark underpinnings of one of the holiday’s most hallowed viewing traditions.

She couldn’t believe the other reindeer were making fun of Rudolph. “Daddy, it’s not nice to make fun of other people. Especially when you pull Santa’s sleigh,” she said as she wiped away tears.  Thankfully, Santa’s own insensitivity toward Rudolph went over her head, or that could cause problems during the holiday season.


Another point that really affected Alexia was Comet’s treatment of the young reindeer.

“Daddy, that coach is being mean to Rudolph. He’s a teacher, and teachers should always be nice to students. It’s their job.” At this point, she was inconsolably sad, crying to the point we had to remind her that things take a turn for the positive very soon.

Sometimes, kids just get it. Each year, watching Rudolph, something else sticks with me that makes me re-examine elements of it from the grown-up perspective I enjoy now. But I take a lot of parental pride in seeing my six year-old already noticing some of the, quite frankly, abhorrent behavior by some of the so-called authority figures in Christmastown. Parents ashamed of their child’s unique appearance, kids ridiculing other kid, coaches discriminating and excluding young bucks from playing in any reindeer games … goodness, where’s the spinoff Christmas special where Rudolph and Hermey team up with the ACLU to sue Christmastown??


Another note: if the Charlie-In-The-Box isn’t the saddest creature in the annals of animated Christmas specials, he’s comfortably ensconsed in the Top Two. His poor, pathetic voice is the sad-sackiest thing on the Island of Misfit Toys, and that’s really saying something. Here too, Alexia, weighed in:

“I don’t understand why no one would want that train? or that little doll [Dolly the rag doll]? I would love to have those toys.”

I often wonder if I’m doing the right job as a dad raising my girls. Am I teaching them the right way to do things, the right way to behave and how to act, how treat people? We certainly talk about doing the right thing, and being nice to other people. But you never really know if it sinks in, do you? Until a night like the other night happens.

Granted, there’s still much work to be done. She didn’t seem all that worried about the plight of the Spotted Elephant, to be honest. But all in all, I think Alexia is on the right track to being a decent enough person to understand that being different isn’t something to keep at arm’s length, but something to be embraced.






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