Monday, December 31, 2012

Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)

When we last left Rudolph, Christmas had been narrowly saved from destruction, and he was returning to the North Pole along with Santa and the other reindeer. Of course, when we last left Rudolph he also had a full set of antlers and was more or less grown up. Rudolph's Shiny New Year opens on the same Christmas Eve but with a younger version of Rudolph, presumably because the producers thought kids would have an easier time associating with a talking deer closer to their age.

Well, it turns out all is not right. Christmas may be saved, but they hear Santa's old friend, Father Time, is in trouble. That's right: now New Year's Day is in trouble. For some reason I can't fathom, they care. See, I get wanting to save Christmas: it's when we get presents. But New Year's? Who gives a damn? What's next? Are they going to risk their lives to make sure Arbor Day isn't ruined?

Okay, there's some lip service about how it'll be New Year's Eve forever and every day being December 31st, which I guess would screw over the next Christmas, so maybe they do have a horse in this race. Well, there's still a hell of a storm, so Santa sends the only agent he's got who can see his way through: Rudolph. With him, he sends a crack team of his best agents armed to the teeth with... ha. Nah, I'm messing with you: he just sends the one stupid deer.

Rudolph heads for Time's castle where he learns that the baby New Year, inexplicably named Happy, has run away because he's tired of people laughing at his freakishly large ears. On the way, he meets a handful of Time's stupid subjects, all of whom have a clock inserted in their body. Also, we're introduced to this special's villain, Eon. Eon is a large buzzard, who's eon of life is at its end. If the year changes, it'll turn to ice and snow, so he's fighting for his life here. To recap, he's the only character with anything close to a comprehensible motivation, and we're supposed to want him to lose.

It's deduced that Happy has gone to visit the Archipelagos of Last Years, a group of islands where old New Years have retired. I guess it's a less depressing notion than the more logical end for the New Year's babies when the next year rolls around. Naturally, Rudolph sets out alone by raft.

Did I mention that the writers have forgotten Rudolph's supposed to be able to fly? Because, logically, he should be able to fly to the Archipelagos and search them at the same incredible speeds he used to help Santa deliver gifts to the entire world. But I guess that would be too easy.

He runs into Eon but gets an assist from Big Ben, a giant whale with a clock in his tail. Big Ben takes over as his transport, and they start hitting up islands. On the way, he picks up a couple of helpers from the years 1 million BC and 1023. These are former years (i.e.: New Year's babies who grew to old age in a year and retired to the Archipelagos for all eternity).

Happy's already made the rounds, but people keep laughing at his ears, so he keeps moving on. By the time they catch up with him, he's already met Eon. Rather than eat the kid, Eon convinces him he'll be his friend and flies him back to his nest. This is, of course, a ruse. Eon's actually going to make him his servant, which would make more sense if Happy wasn't entirely useless. This leads to Rudolph and the others planning a heist on Eon's nest to steal back Happy. Of course, by now it's New Year's Eve.

As incredible as it may sound, the resolution is even more idiotic than the rest. Rudolph uses his own back story as an example to Happy and convinces the kid his ears make people happy, so it's okay that they laugh. Then he gets Happy to take off his hat and show his ears to Eon, who falls over laughing. Rudolph then points out that nothing laughing that hard could ever turn into snow and ice, so Eon will live on, presumably as less of an asshole.

The only problem is they've only got ten seconds left to clear the distance between Eon's island and Father Time's castle. There's no way they could possibly accomplish that... until Santa shows up and gives them a lift. Why Santa didn't handle this whole endeavor from the start is an open question, but this thing hasn't exactly been an exercise in rationality.

This... is pretty screwed up. It's trying to recreate the magic of the original, but the whimsy feels forced. They clearly wanted to set up a mythology around New Year's, but it doesn't really work, largely because - let's be honest here - no one really cares. I mean, sure, we like getting drunk on the 31st and all, but no one has a sentimental attachment to New Year's Eve. Come on: it's a holiday that builds to a drunken kiss at midnight. Christmas has that covered under the mistletoe at the office party weeks in advance.

The special is inconsistent on whether Father Time was the previous year or if he stands outside it, the Archipelagos of Last Years is a cute concept but horribly executed, and Happy is just plain obnoxious. Eon might be scary to young kids, but he's never developed or used to any effect. The bumble's fall was briefly sad before being played for comedy. Eon's defeat just trivializes the character.

The music's uneven. Some of the songs are okay; others are boring. Actually, the decent songs are mostly boring, too. The stop-motion is fine, but at this point we've seen so much of Rankin/Bass, it's getting old.

On the other hand, Rudolph's Shiny New Year is surreal, much more so than I'd remembered. The island for one million BC is full of dinosaurs; 1023 is populated by fairy tales. None of that makes sense, but it's kind of fascinating to see.

I wouldn't recommend going back to this, unless you're a pretty big Rankin/Bass geek. It's a long way from their best work. There are some cool bits, but as a whole it just isn't that much fun.