Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.
December 10, 1976 (USA) / December 24, 1979 (Japan)
Produced by Rankin/Bass Productions
ABC / TV Asahi (Japan)
- Red Skelton-Father Time (Narrator), Baby Bear
- Billie Richards-Rudolph
- Morey Amsterdam-One Million BC
- Frank Gorshin-Sir 1023, Quarter Past Five
- Paul Frees-1776, Santa Claus, General Ticker, Eon the Terrible, Humpty Dumpty
- Don Messick-Papa Bear, Rumpelstiltskin, Prince Charming, Seven Dwarfs
- Harold Peary-Big Ben the Whale
- Iris Rainer-Mama Bear, Nanny Nine O’Clock
Rudolph must find a Baby New Year after he runs away in order for time to advance…I think. The logic in this special is kind of questionable even by the standards of the day.
This was one of those halfhearted yet strangely memorable attempts at a holiday special. For children it can be a treat. Adults however will note all the inconsistencies or just the general issues considering it is a direct sequel and immediately follows the original Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer special in the timeline. Let me begin.
At the beginning of this movie Santa (Paul Frees) is reading a letter (yes, he is reading a letter even though it’s demonstrated they have telephones in this universe) from Father Time (Red Skelton) about the disappearance of Baby New Year and because of the bad weather Santa sends Rudolph to Father Time to go find the child. I guess a phone call or some form of magical communication for something as important as continuing the flow of time was unnecessary and they would rather use the delayed immediacy of the Postal Service.
By the end of the original special Rudolph (Billie Richards) was clearly a young adult. His voice was deeper, and he was much bigger. His antlers were big. Rudolph had a girlfriend in Clarice (Janis Orenstein) and a best friend in Hermey (Paul Soles) or two with Yukon Cornelius (Larry Mann) that he was very close with by the end. Yet here Rudolph is much younger. I would place him at the midpoint physically between the beginning and the end of the timeline of the original special. Plus, Rudolph seems to have completely forgotten about Clarice and everyone else. You would think his love would get a mention.
That factor alone really bothers me. It even bothered me as a child when I would watch this. There was a thinking at the time I guess that children could not relate to an adult Rudolph which is foolish. This is the same thinking that gave us kid sidekicks like Robin or Bucky. The child audience does not care about the age of the hero. They just care about the hero. They want to be the hero whether it is Luke Skywalker or Moana or whoever. Age is not a factor in whether or not they can identify with the hero. Yet here we have a much younger Rudolph than we should.
In Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, they just launched into the story with General Ticker sent by Father Time and Rudolph well into his journey. Bam! Right there we are. There is no real context in which to consider much of anything. I know this is a children’s special but a little bit of set up is required. In short order we get our main cast which includes Quarter Past Five and the story’s villain Eon the Terrible who is a giant vulture headquartered on the Island of No-Name located north of the North Pole (huh?) who is trying to prevent his eon (see what they did there) from coming to a close by capturing Baby New Year. That will stop time and prevent his ultimate destruction.
They frame this as an evil plot by Eon, but the dude is freaked out over his imminent death. He knows the exact moment of his death which we be the moment the current Baby New Year becomes the current year. At that moment he will turn to ice and snow. And is it really that terrible if every day is December 31st for, well, ever? Even in a child friendly world what is so frightening about that?
Maybe they were going for educational but Baby New Year has run off to the Archipelago of Last Years where the Old Years retire to and rule over an island made to look like the year over which they presided. We get mentions of 4000 B.C.,1492,1893, and even 1965. The Island of 1023 (pronounced “10-2-3”) belongs to a bearded Scottish knight named Sir 1023 whose medieval themed island is filled with fairy tale characters because that is the exact year they all came from. Some of what happens here can be construed as sorta educational but then it takes a strong left turn into That’s-Not-Accurate-Ville
They have a pretty good voice cast for the time. Most of these people are known names if you are of a certain age. In other words, you are old if you recognize them. And I guess I am because I recognize a few of them. Morey Amsterdam who is best known for his role as comedy writer Buddy Sorrell on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Frank Gorshin who is largely remembered as the Riddler on the live-action Batman series of the 60s jump out to me as does the presence of Red Skelton. In their day these were well regarded supporting players.
I might be reading a little bit too much into this but there is a clear implication here that Father Time is aging. He makes a reference to how the hair on his head used to be all red but now it is only a small portion with the rest being gray. I could be reading too much into this but it is almost as if he is saying at some point time will end. Maybe that is the adult in me now speaking. Or it could be a reference to Skelton himself at this point.
This is one of many Rankin/Bass stop motion animation specials. Stop motion is not a common animation type today and was even less so back when this was made but it was a type that became an unintentional trademark of what Rankin/Bass did. And for the most part the work still holds up today. My favorite thing they do in their specials is the use of water. From what I understand in modern stop motion animation they accomplish water effects with computer work but back when this was made you could not use a computer to do this effect because the programs and the hardware needed to do it just did not exist. Splashing water or the ripples an object makes as it moved along the surface had to be done in the real world and for me it is still just a fantastic effect. It gets the message across and is believable.
The songs here are rather forgettable. They are not bad songs, but they are nothing memorable in comparison to its predecessor. Rankin/Bass specials tended to have a few good songs but not this one. Rudolph had quite a few. I find myself humming the majority of the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer songs at one point or another during the course of the year. “There’s Always Tomorrow” in particular is one I hum whenever I am feeling lazy about having to do something. Here however I am hard-pressed to recall anything concerning the melodies. They are not as catchy as they should or could be.
The character designs are great. In particular they do a fine job of making an animated version of their “big” star Red Skelton. He was a definite improvement over Burle Ives from the first or even Fred Astaire from Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. I am not taking a swipe at this special in that department, but he looked more like Red Skelton here than Fred Astaire looked like Fred Astaire.
What though makes this special remain in my mind though is it is just so very weird. Something about it feels odd in a way you could only find in the 70s. So many tiny things that are quirky alone were put together to make something that feels like a trippy entry into some variety show. I can think of no other way to put it and I think that is why it has stuck with me. It held my mind as a child and the oddities grab me as an adult.
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is an odd entry into the Rankin/Bass special catalog. It goes through the motions and it is in the end only just a so-so story. It is worth a watch more to see how they shoehorn Rudolph and Christmas along with some kid friendly weirdness into this New Year’s special than it is anything. It is a must watch for old-school special aficionados but for modern audiences I do not think they will find anything worth viewing. Still, I say watch it!