It might have been because I was putting in a lot of hours to Disability Rights NC last week, but I had an interesting experience. I recently watched the old animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie this past week for the first time in several years. One thing I happened to notice is that many of the film’s elements are applicable and can be viewed through a disability lens. And since we all need a break from the news these days, and it being December, I thought it would be fun to talk about something light and Christmas related.
The first resemblance that correlates to people with special needs begins in the opening scene when Rudolph’s father, Donner bewilderingly realizes that his son oddly has a red nose. It was basically the exact reaction that many parents of children with disabilities first elicit upon hearing of their child’s newfound special needs. Upon meeting newborn Rudolph, Santa becomes instantaneously aware of his glowing red nose. Rudolph is then disallowed to participate in any Reindeer Games (like Monopoly!) or to help the other reindeer guide Santa on his annual Christmas Eve jaunt.
Rudolph’s father goes on to brainstorm and designs a method to disguise his son’s red nose, ultimately creating a prosthetic black cover. Rudolph doesn’t like wearing his recently acquired nose piece, but in the long run, he begrudgingly accepts it. Initially, he experiences a much easier life because he felt accepted amongst his peers and was included in all the Reindeer Games. This practice is so common within the disability community that we have a name for it called “passing.”
People with less visible disabilities sometimes choose to hide them, mainly for the same reason Rudolph does in the movie. They do so to avoid a social stigma around their difference. Unfortunately, during the Reindeer Games, Rudolph has trouble speaking using his normal voice due to his prosthetic creating a speech impediment. During some normal lighthearted clowning around, his nose piece fell off. Immediately, almost all the positive relationships he so diligently strove to form vanished. He was eventually ridiculed by all his peers including Santa himself. Only his reindeer crush Clarice remained faithful, even after experiencing this unfortunate incident.
Rudolph is not the only character in the film that feels he doesn’t fit in. Elf Hermey feels as if he’s not allowed to live out his self-determined life. He’s forced into Santa’s little workshop of toymaking because that’s what is expected of elves. But in reality, he really just wants to be a dentist. Rudolph, while at his lowest point of the movie, discovers Hermey hidden in a snow bank. They exchange stories and eventually befriend one another. They demonstrate the same interdependence that I have blogged about previously, all the while singing a cute song eluding to the fact that they can be interdependent together.
The two set out to get away from the commotion at home and come across a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, a peculiar individual in his own right. I could see him having a behavioral plan, due to the fact that he enjoys the taste of licking his metal pickaxe and carries an unhealthy affinity towards silver and gold. Yukon invites Rudolph and Hermey to ride along on his trip into town to gather supplies, and they oblige.
On the way to town, they encounter the Abominable Snowman. While attempting to escape, they drift away on a piece of ice and wind up lost on the mysterious Island of Misfit Toys. The island is full of toys which could be seen as having a disability or difference. Among the inhabitants, there’s a spotted elephant, a jack-in-the-box named Charlie, a locomotive with square wheels, a bird that swims, and a cowboy who rides an ostrich. The gang goes on to meet King Moonracer to ask permission to stay on the Island of Misfit Toys, but he declines their request because they are living beings. He does implore Rudolph to spread the plight of the Misfit Toys and asks to please return to the island with Santa so he could find refuge for all the homeless toys.
King Moonracer allows them to spend one night on the island. Rudolph breaks away from his friends while they sleep, fearing he would endanger their lives because his red nose attracted such beasts as the Abominable Snowman. He treks back home to be with his parents, only to find out that they were worried and set out to find him. A rather large snowstorm takes over the area and he sets out to find his parents. He correctly guessed that their whereabouts were in the cave of the Abominable Snowman, where they were captured along with Clarice. Rudolph tried to break them free, only to be held prisoner himself. Luckily, Hermey and Yukon happened to be traveling around looking for their friend Rudolph, only to come across him and his family being held captive by the Abominable Snowman. The two concoct a plan to break them free by Hermey disguising himself as a pig to lure “Bumble” out of the cave, while Yukon knocks him over the head with a rock with the two eventually plummeting off the side of the mountain.
There are many parallels with disability themes that come to light towards the end of the movie. Hermey, using his self-determined interest as a dentist, subdued the Abominable Snowman by pulling his teeth (which was probably the main reason he’s so cranky), which ultimately led to him being allowed to open his own dentist practice in Christmas Town. In the right circumstance, a disability can be a perceived as a strength. Both the Abominable Snowman and Rudolph illustrate this point. First, the Abominable Snowman is abnormally tall, so he was able to place the star on top of the Christmas tree without having to use a ladder. Secondly, Rudolph and his bright red nose became a significant help in leading Santa’s sleigh through the extremely dark and blizzard-like weather on Christmas Eve. The fact that Santa was able to see that night resulted in the Misfit Toys finding good homes with little boys and girls throughout the land. Everyone lived happily ever after because of Rudolph’s red nose, which was never a disability at all.
That’s how my sleigh rolls…..
- Posted by Bryan Dooley
- On December 20, 2016
- 0 Comments