Rankin/Bass Wiki
Directed by: Kizo Nagashima
Larry Roemer
Written by: Robert L. May (original story)
Romeo Muller (screenplay)
Music by: Johnny Marks
Narrated by: Burl Ives (as Sam the Snowman)
Release date: December 6, 1964
Running time: 47 minutes
Original network: NBC
Related specials: Rudolph's Shiny New Year
Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July

Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer is a long-running Christmas television special produced in stop-motion animation by Rankin/Bass, and the company's first Christmas special. It originally aired on NBC on December 6, 1964, and is now the world's longest-running and highest-rated television special of all time. It is based on the song of the same name by Johnny Marks, which in turn was based on the 1939 poem of the same title, written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May, who was an advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward. Marks also wrote the music and lyrics for the songs in this special, and the background soundtrack includes two more songs he made famous - "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".


Spoiler warning!
This article contains plot details about an upcoming episode.

Sam the Snowman narrates the story of Rudolph, a reindeer who is born with a glowing red nose. His father, Santa's lead reindeer Donner, feels ashamed and uses a special cover to hide Rudolph's nose so he and his wife can send him to take-off practice a year later without him being ridiculed by the other yearlings. Meanwhile, an elf named Hermey has his own problem - he wishes to be a dentist instead of making toys. The elf foreman scolds him and tries to get him to obey, but he refuses to change his interests.

A year later, Rudolph is a yearling reindeer who is sent to take-off practice to learn how to fly, with Comet as his coach. Donner still tries to hide the nature of Rudolph's nose with the cover. This causes his voice to sound as if he had a permanent cold. Despite this, two deer befriend him. One is a little buck named Fireball and the other is a beautiful doe named Clarice. During some horseplay, Fireball inadvertently pops the cover off of Rudolph's nose. After seeing his glowing nose, the other reindeer, including Fireball, start ridiculing him, and Comet bans him from the reindeer games as a result. Clarice is the only one who still likes him and tries to comfort him. However, their musings are interrupted by her father, who forbids her from being around Rudolph. Feeling outcast, he runs away into the forest.

While in the woods, Rudolph meets up with Hermey. The two bond after they discover they each have something that makes them unique. After deciding to be "independent" together, they set out to seek "Fame and Fortune." After the song ends, The Abominable Snowmonster of the North, a carnivorous monster who hates Christmas and feeds on reindeer, chases them. They manage to escape him.

Later, they meet a prospector named Yukon Cornelius who is obsessed with finding silver and gold. The trio manages to flee to the Island of Misfit Toys, ruled by a winged lion named King Moonracer. Because they are misfits but not toys, he allows them to spend one night on his island. Rudolph leaves on his own, having realized that his nose is a danger to his friends.

A few months later, Rudolph grows into a handsome young buck. He decides to return home despite being ridiculed. When he arrives back in his cave, he finds out that his parents are not there. He learns from Santa that they left to go looking for him, and Clarice went with them. He searches the North Pole and finds them being held captive by the Abominable Snowmonster. He attempts to rescue them before Hermey and Yukon Cornelius find him and they try to help. They manage to knock out the Abominable while Hermey removes the monster's teeth, but Yukon knocks himself, his sled team, and the Abominable over a cliff when he stands up to him.

The others return home, where they tell what happened. Rudolph and Hermey stop being ridiculed, and the lead elf finally allows Hermey to open a dentist's office the week after Christmas. Yukon and the others, who survived, make a grand entrance with the Abominable, now reformed by Yukon. Everyone decides to keep him around because he can put a silver star on top of Christmas trees without a stepladder. However, a strong blizzard is too much for Santa's team to handle, so he decides to cancel the Christmas Eve flight. But Rudolph's nose inspires him, and he asks him to lead his sleigh, which he agrees to. He leads the sleigh to the Island of Misfit Toys and takes them along the flight, where they are dropped off to their respective homes. With Rudolph leading the sleigh, it turns out to be a merry Christmas after all.


  • "Jingle, Jingle, Jingle"
  • "We Are Santa's Elves"
  • "There's Always Tomorrow"
  • "We're a Couple of Misfits" (original and current broadcasts)
  • "Fame and Fortune" (1965-97 broadcasts)
  • "Silver and Gold"
  • "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year"
  • "A Holly Jolly Christmas"
  • "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"


A soundtrack album was released in 1964 on Decca Records. The album was available in mono (DL 4815) and stereo (DL 74815), and featured all of the songs from the special. Because General Electric was the sponsor from 1964 through 1966, this album was issued as a premium gift with a purchase of any GE item. The album was later reissued in 1973 on MCA 15003; it remains in print on CD to this day.

Production notes

  • The original network airings of the special were sponsored by General Electric; three special GE commercials featuring the elves from the special were produced and aired alongside the show.
  • The original pre-production work for the special did not include the character of Sam the Snowman. The songs sung by Sam, such as "Silver & Gold", were originally intended for Yukon Cornelius. Larry D. Mann had even recorded all of the songs as Yukon Cornelius prior to filming. However, Ives was brought on at the last minute to give the special "full power!" that would help sell the special to the networks and so the character of Sam the narrating snowman was added to the special. Although Sam the Snowman resembles Ives, he was actually designed to look like the writer of the special, Romeo Muller. Due to the last minute addition of Sam the Snowman, several scripted scenes were abandoned and never filmed. Once such scene included Rudolph being delivered to Donner and his wife by a stork.
  • On the title card, the copyright year in Roman numerals was mismarked as MCLXIV (1164) instead of the correct MCMLXIV.


The original 1964 airing did not include the closing scene where Santa saves the misfit toys. Many complained that Santa was not shown fulfilling his promise to include them in his annual delivery. As a reaction, a new scene was produced with Santa making his first stop at the island to pick up the toys. The scene was added to the special for the 1965, and subsequent, broadcasts. However, due to time constraints, some existing material had to be trimmed to make room for the addition of these new scenes.

  • When the special was rebroadcast in 1965, the song "We're A Couple of Misfits" was replaced with a newly-produced musical sequence entitled "Fame and Fortune." The original scene was restored in 1998, bringing back "We're a Couple of Misfits" to its original place. "Fame and Fortune" was included as a bonus feature on Sony Wonder's 2002 DVD release of the special, but has not appeared on any subsequent releases. Starting sometime in the 2000s, CBS's presentation of the special instead uses animation for "Fame and Fortune" synced with a poorly-edited version of "We're a Couple of Misfits".
  • Throughout the special, Yukon Cornelius is seen throwing his pick axe into the ground, taking it out and licking it. It turns out that he is checking neither for gold nor silver; Yukon was actually searching for an elusive peppermint mine. In a scene right at the end of the special, deleted to make room for the misfits' new scene, Cornelius pulled his pick from the ground, licked it and said, "Peppermint! What I've been searching for all my life! I've struck in rich! I've got me a peppermint mine! Wahoo!" The scene was restored in 1998 and has been reinstated in all the subsequent home video release except for the 2004 DVD release. However, this scene is still cut from recent televised airings.
  • The original 1964 broadcast had a completely different sequence for the end credits, in which the elf who accompanies Santa on the sleigh ride is shown dropping off gift boxes which list all the technical credits. The following year, when the Misfit Toys' new scene was added in, the credits sequence was also redone so that the elf is shown dropping off some of the Misfit Toys.
  • At some point in the 1970s, the sequence featuring the song "We Are Santa's Elves" was removed entirely, along with Donner telling his wife not to help him search for Rudolph.
  • In the Freeform airing, the fade to blacks are omitted.

Broadcast history and availability

The special was broadcast on NBC from its premiere in 1964 until 1971. CBS acquired the rights to air this special the following year.

Rankin-Bass sold many of the pre-1973 specials and series (including The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus is Comin' To Town) to Broadway Video, headed by Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live fame. The collection was then sold several years later to Golden Books Family Entertainment, and later spun off into Classic Media, part of the Entertainment Rights group in the United Kingdom until 2009, when the company was bought by Classic Media's successor, Boomerang Media. In July 2012, Dreamworks Animation SKG purchased Classic Media, and currently holds those rights under the DreamWorks Classics banner.


In 1976, Rankin/Bass produced a New Year's special starring Rudolph which served as a sequel, titled Rudolph's Shiny New Year. A feature-length film starring Rudolph was later made in 1979, entitled Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, which also served as a follow-up to Frosty the Snowman and its sequel, Frosty's Winter Wonderland.

In 2001, a fourth film was released by Goodtimes Entertainment, titled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys. This film, starring the same characters from the original, was produced entirely with computer animation as opposed to stop-motion animation.

In 2014, in honor of the special's fiftieth anniversary, a graphic novel titled The Island of Misfit Toys was written by Brendan Deneen. The graphic novel serves as an interquel to the special, with the bulk of the story's events taking place between Yukon and the Snowmonster going over the cliff, and their showing up at Santa's workshop. In the story, Charlie-in-the-Box accidentally drifts out to sea when the snowstorm hits, and King Moonracer goes searching for him, accompanied by Dolly, the Spotted Elephant, the Ostrich-Riding Cowboy, and the train whose caboose has square wheels. On the way, they are joined by Yukon and the Snowmonster, who have been searching for Yukon's sled dogs, as they got separated from him when they went over the cliff. The comic notably expands on the respective backstories of Dolly and the Cowboy, who become close friends during the adventure.

References in other media

  • In A Pinky and the Brain Christmas, Pinky mentions to Brain that he wants to be a dentist instead of an elf.
  • In the newspaper comic strip FoxTrot, Rudolph, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius, Sam, and the special's version of Santa Claus made cameos in a storyline that ran from December 16-21, 1996, in which Paige dreams of visiting the Land of Animated Christmas TV Specials.
    • A later FoxTrot strip, published on December 5, 2002, has Peter watching a new Christmas special featuring the Rudolph characters that was apparently written by Jason, titled Rudolph's Lord of the Rings Christmas.
  • In November 2007, the Aflac insurance company aired a commercial that featured Rudolph with a cold who does not want to miss work. All his friends say that he will not be able to pay for his expenses. Santa Claus then tells them about Aflac. Charlie-in-the Box wonders what will happen if Rudolph is not better by Christmas, but Rudolph imagines the Aflac duck can fill in for him. A week later, Rudolph recovers, but Blitzen is sick, so the Aflac duck is filling in for him.
  • A 2011 commercial for Bing.com features the Abominable Snowmonster (with his full set of teeth) failing to scare elves with a weak, high-pitched roar, which leads him to search on the service for videos of scary monsters, which he imitates to form a much more menacing presence. A follow-up commercial features the Snowmonster, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius using Bing to find the perfect vacation spot, which turns out to be the Island of Misfit Toys.
  • A 2012 commercial for Windows Phone Daily features Bumble with the Misfit Toys as he is texting for some reason, and somehow every time he smiles or does something, the misfit toys would flee from bumble, but after the commircial, it turns out The Misfit Doll understands Bumble more than the other Misfit Toys.


Voice actor Character
Burl Ives Sam the Snowman
Billie Mae Richards Rudolph
Paul Soles Hermey
Larry Mann Yukon Cornelius
Stan Francis Santa Claus
King Moonracer
Paul Kligman Donner
Comet the Coach
Janet Orenstein Clarice
Alfie Scopp Charlie-in-the-Box
Other elves
Carl Banas Boss Elf
Spotted Elephant
Other toys
Corinne Conley Dolly
Peg Dixon Mrs. Claus
Mrs. Donner
Bernard Cowan Clarice's Father
unknown Hank

External links

Rankin/Bass Holiday Specials
Christmas Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerCricket on the HearthThe Little Drummer BoyFrosty the SnowmanSanta Claus is Comin' to Town'Twas the Night Before ChristmasThe Year Without a Santa ClausThe First ChristmasFrosty's Winter WonderlandThe Little Drummer Boy, Book IIRudolph's Shiny New YearNestor, The Long-Eared Christmas DonkeyThe Stingiest Man in TownRudolph and Frosty's Christmas in JulyJack FrostPinocchio's ChristmasThe Leprechauns' Christmas GoldThe Life and Adventures of Santa ClausSanta, Baby!
Other holidays The Mouse on the MayflowerHere Comes Peter CottontailMad, Mad, Mad MonstersThe First Easter RabbitThe Easter Bunny is Comin' To Town