As well as the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer television special holds up after 50 years (I still adore it), there are admittedly some serious problems with the special in relation to modern day norms that I noticed while watching the special with my family last night.
1. Yukon Cornelius carries a gun and a knife throughout the episode.
While I think that the gun (and probably the knife) are poor choices for a children’s television special, the savvy viewer is also left wondering why Yukon Cornelius doesn’t simply shoot the Abominable Snow Monster that is about to devour his friends.
2. There is massive, pervasive, long-term, adult-sponsored bullying of Rudolph by Santa Claus, Comet and his many reindeer friends.
3. Rudolph’s father, Donner, at various points in the special rejects his son based upon his physical appearance and inflicts serious psychological abuse upon him.
4. Donner’s relationship to his wife is overtly misogynistic. She barely speaks throughout the special, is told by her husband to stay home rather than engaging in “man’s work” and doesn’t have a say in the naming of her son.
5. Although female and male reindeer grow equal sized antlers in real life, the female reindeer in the special are capable of only growing tiny nubs instead of full sided antlers, which strikes me as fairly sexist and consistent with the misogyny that is pervasive throughout the special.
6. The female rag doll on the Island of Misfit Toys has no discernible misfit problem, leaving the viewer to wonder why she is on the island at all.
Incidentally, the problem was revealed in 2007 (43 years after it’s original broadcast) on NPR's Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! when the producer of the special, Arthur Rankin, said Dolly's problem was psychological, caused by being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved.
Even if this were true, it doesn’t exactly fit a children’s holiday special.
7. Our hero’s solution to the Abominable Snow Monster of the North is to concuss him with a boulder and rip his teeth out of his mouth with a pair of pliers while he is unconscious, thereby eliminating his ability to eat small, woodland creatures.
In a more enlightened age, perhaps the Abominable Snow Monster could have been angry because of a aching cavity or periodontal disease, and once taken care of by Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist, he reverts to a more kind and gentle nature.
This would be more humane, more aligned to Hermey’s desire to help people through dentistry and considerably more child-friendly than yanking out the monster’s teeth while he is unconscious.