*Two versions, actually: the standard DVD release, which has been remastered in brilliant color and contains much that had been edited out over the years; and the original televised version, which I bought a few years ago from the Rankin-Bass historian, which includes the original ending (Santa's trip to pick up the Misfits isn't shown) and closing credits.
I don't know if I've written much about Rudolph in the past - wait, let me look it up. Yes, I did, right here.* The point is, the magic of Rudolph is, I think, specific to having seen it as a kid. Any adult who would watch it today does so either because he has kids of his own, or he's like me and the annual viewing brings back childhood memories. Because, to be perfectly honest, for adults Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is prime fodder for a MST3K treatment.
*And here and here as well, going back to the old Our Word days.
In my opinion, nobody points this out better than James Lileks, and so I'm simply going to defer to his analysis of Rudolph, from a few years ago. (Don't worry; nothing has changed since then.) He's going through the annual viewing with his daughter Natalie, aka Gnat:
She was curled on the floor by the tree, watching the living room TV, her stomach aching. She enjoyed the Seasonal Viewing, but we picked it apart together. Santa, as many have noted, is a jerk. The elves show up to sing a song that essentially celebrates their unquestioned servitude, and he’s checking his watch the whole time. The Reindeer Dad is overbearing; Clarisse is quite forward, and good for her, but one does question the ease with which she forges an alliance with Mother to find the errant Rudolph. Let me find him so I can take him away from you, withered sexless deer-crone! They’re gone for months, yet Rudolph shows up at the EXACT MOMENT they’re about to be eaten? Uh huh. Yukon falls over a cliff, and even though the bottom can be clearly ascertained by the naked eye, everyone assumes he’s dead? I mean, if Bumbles bounce, surely some Bumble-bouncing would have happened right away and reassured everyone. Oh! Evolution has produced a spongy subcutaneous layer that prevented damage to the Bumble’s internal organs. Let’s throw him a rope and rescue him. But no: He’s GONE! HE’S GONE! And that’s the end of it.
No one seems to mourn the dogs who went over the edge with Yukon, do they.
Of all the characters, Gnat liked Yukon the best. She thought Moonracer the Winged Lion was cool, but seriously, what the hell: is this a hereditary monarchy? How did a lion with wings end up ruling a small island of damaged playthings, instead of swooping around Manhattan shouting HEED ME MORTALS. Charley-in-the-box tells us “he’s holding court right now,” but “holding court” consists of Moonracer perched on a throne, or maybe a commode, in an empty hall. Did he spend all day sitting there, thinking, well, here I am, holding court, yes indeed. Or – more likely – was this an elaborate scheme to gather unusual toys and hold them under their collector-value soared? We’re supposed to believe that Santa didn’t know about the Island of Misfit Toys. Right. Like a guy who runs a toy-construction industry based on aerial distribution would be COMPLETELY UNAWARE of a lion who flew around picking up toys. It all stinks, I tell you. The fix was in.
Is this not true? I told you; couldn't have put it better myself. My wife, after rereading this, points out that it's becoming harder and harder each year to watch Rudolph with a straight face; if you can get by all of the above, there's still the question of jerk Santa having the gall to ask Rudolph, after everything he's done, to bail him out just because there's a little fog on Christmas Eve. Personally, I would have said something along the lines of, "Oh, so now you need my help, huh? Well, fat man, you can take that and stick it in your pipe!" I asked my wife if I'd just become a cynical adult, to which she replied, "No, I think even kids would probably say that nowadays."
Oh well. We kid because we care, right?