I love cartoons--I always have; and even as an adult, I still do. One of my favorite animators is Hayao Miyazaki: he did "Spirited Away," which is an amazing movie--along with a bunch of other great movies; and he also did "Sherlock Hound," a very cute Sherlock Holmes parody with dogs as the main characters [so of course I love it!] You can find it on YouTube, by the way.
So, of course, this time of year, I watch ALL of the classic Christmas cartoons [poor John--he doesn't share my affection!], and I delight in them just as much as I always have. So, last night we watched the first one, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer;" and let me just say, it's a classic for a reason. I looked it up, and it first aired back in 1964. It's based on the song, which is itself based on an earlier poem.
For whatever reason, watching it last night--and I can't even tell you how many times I have seen it before--I was really struck by the poignant message it conveys--in quite stark terms, actually: about being different, not fitting in, and having the courage to be who you are. If you haven't seen it for awhile, you might not remember that this same message is told in three interlocking stories:
1. Rudolph, of course. Rudolph is born with with what we might call a disability--he has a shocking red nose that would seem to disqualify him from puling Santa's sleigh. His father is already a well-regarded reindeer, and so he tries to cover-up his son's nose, so as not to bring shame upon the family. Rudolph initially joins in--and excels at--the "reindeer games," until his fake nose falls off. He is bullied out of the group--even by the coach--and only his girlfriend continues to be supportive. He runs away--not once but twice--and even when he comes back, older and wiser, his friends still tease him. It's only when his nose is literally staring Santa in the face, during a terrible winter storm, that his unique gift is appreciated and he saves the day.
2. Hermey, the elf who doesn't want to make toys--he wants to be a dentist. [I find this a moment of sheer artistic genius, by the way: who came up with the dentist idea?!] He, too, is mocked and bullied by the other elves--including the head elf--until he, too, runs away. [And does anyone else think there is a possibility that Hermey is gay? Try to imagine with eyes of the 1960s....] He rescues Rudolph from the Abominable Snowman [who also turns out to be kinder than everyone thought; perhaps he, too, has been unjustifiably ostracized and misunderstood.] When they return home, everyone finally comes around, and Hermey gets to open a dentist's office after Christmas.
3. The Misfit Toys. They all live on an island where they have been brought after being rescued by Aslan--oh, sorry, King Moonracer [who seriously is a dead ringer for Aslan, although Moonracer has wings]. They, too are all different--even "defective"--in some way, and so no child will love them. It turns out they have been waiting for year after year for Santa to come find them, but every year, he passes them by. Of course, not this year, thank goodness!
When we were watching, I found myself thinking that it's actually kind of a brutal story. I wish I could remember back to my childhood mind: what did I think about this cartoon when I saw it for the first time? It's easy just to remember the happy ending--Rudolph going down in history and all that, and the toys all finding loving homes; but they all go through some pretty dark experiences to get there.
So, I know it's a cartoon, but still--it's a lot like life. It doesn't pull any punches about how hard it is to be different, and how mean others can be. Yet, that's never the whole story, either, because it also reminds us that you can find the most unlikely friends in the most unlikely places; and that being different is just another way of saying being unique, and special. And there really is a place and a purpose for everyone. Everyone is important, and all gifts are needed.
If you missed it last night, don't worry--I'm sure it will be on again. If it is, try to watch it; you won't be disappointed!