As bland as the lowest-end Saturday morning TV cartoons, this first animated version of the popular 60-year-old Christmas story about a reindeer who’s “different” will be palatable only to the very youngest of viewers. Boringly executed in all departments, this holiday-themed musical opened two holiday seasons early, presumably to take advantage of booking opportunities, and the number of parents who choose to give their kids an advance taste of Christmas cheer in October will assuredly be very limited. Prospects are brighter for video release, which will take place in mid-November.
At a time when the number of lavish, top-tier animated and digitally-created features is growing, the sort of perfunctory design, herky-jerky character movement and mismatched dialogue to lip movements on offer here looks even more inadequate than it did before.
Taking its cues directly from the perennial song, Michael Aschner’s script marginally fleshes out and dramatizes Rudolph’s sense of social ostracism and adds some young love, but lacks any sense of surprise or inventiveness; this, combined with the lack of any captivating qualities in the animation or music, makes for a very humdrum experience even by kidpic standards.
Rudolph is just as cute as any of the other young reindeer up at Santa’s Village, but he’s got this funny schnozz that looks like a cherry and can glow in the dark. Even his dad Blitzen is kind of embarrassed by his son’s eccentricity, to the point where Rudolph, who dreams of being a flyer, bemoans his fate to Santa Claus, who reassuringly responds that, “We’re all different on the outside, but what really counts is what’s inside our hearts.”
To introduce some drama, pic raids the Disney cupboard to serve up an outsized villainess, Stormella, who threatens to unleash some weather so foul that Santa will be prevented from making his annual rounds to the kids of the world. She also holds the depressed Rudolph prisoner for a little while before the young buck regains his spirit and is able to establish his legend by lighting Santa’s way through the storm.
Visuals are invariably bright and cheery, and the nine musical numbers are notably banal and wince-inducing in the rhyminess of the lyrics. The fine vocal cast is all but wasted, although Eric Idle, as a brash little fox, elicits a smile or two with his Jimmy Durante-like delivery.
End credits roll on and on for six minutes.