Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as everyone knows, had a very shiny nose. Okay, maybe not everyone knows that. If you’re not familiar with Rudolph, he’s the protagonist of a poem from 1939. As the story goes, Santa Claus (who, if you’re not familiar with, sorry, but you’re on your own there) has a team of eight flying reindeer that pull his sleigh around the world, allowing the jolly man in red to bring toys to good girls and boys every Christmas Eve. Rudolph, a reindeer with a glowing red nose, wants to join the other reindeer, but he’s different so they shun him. But when fog threatens to ruin Santa’s ride, Santa asks Rudolph to lead the caravan — his nose, Santa correctly figures, can help guide the way.
But you probably knew that already, because the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer poem is very well-known and popular. It was so popular, in fact, that in 1964, NBC turned it into a 55-minute stop-motion animated movie.
And then they had to redo part of it because kids got mad at Santa.
The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie expands significantly on the story behind the poem. To better fit in with the other reindeer, Rudolph dons a fake nose, covering up the red one he was born with. That gambit fails when the fake nose pops up; the other reindeer tease Rudolph as a result. He runs away, meeting up with an elf named Hermey (himself an outcast, as he’d rather be a dentist than a toymaker), and along the way, the pair ends up stranded on the Island of Misfit Toys. As the name suggests, the island is full of toys that are unwanted or unloved, likely because they (like Rudolph) are different; as Comic Book Resources explains, “some examples of Misfit Toys are a spotted elephant, a train with square wheels on his caboose, and a water pistol that squirts jelly.” You can see some of them above.
Rudolph and Hermey aren’t immediately welcomed on the island, though. The island’s king and caretaker only lets them stay if they promise to tell Santa about the toys effectively stranded on the island, without kids to call their own. Rudolph and Hermey agree, and when they inform Santa about the Island of Misfit Toys, Santa promises to find them good homes. Then, the story from the poem comes back into focus; a snowstorm hits, creating visibility problems for Santa’s midnight ride. Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer guides Santa’s sleigh safely around the world.
It’s a touching story, but when it was originally broadcast, not all children were pleased with the outcome. Yes, Rudolph got to guide the sleight. Hermey was allowed to go practice dentistry, even. But while Santa promised to help the Misfit Toys, we never actually got to see him follow through on that promise. As HuffPost reports, “viewers were not so trusting and they complained as viewers were wont to do in the pre-Internet era by sending messages to NBC.” Apparently, not everyone is willing to take Santa at his word.
So, they changed it. The next year, per HuffPo, “they added a brand-new scene to the special where Santa Claus’ first stop on Christmas Eve is to the Island of Misfit Toys where he picks the toys up and delivers them to children.” The misfit toys made their way onto Santa’s sleigh and Hermey, using umbrellas as parachutes, makes sure they get to suitable homes. All broadcasts of the Rudolph special, save for the original form 1964, now have this change.
From the Archives: The Forgotten History of Jingle Bells: It’s not a Christmas song.