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Movie Review

'Rudolph' Never Gets Off the Ground

October 16, 1998|CHARLES SOLOMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie" is a saccharine, simple-minded cartoon that feels like an overly long TV special. The quality of the animation (or the lack of it) suggests that the film was created for the home video market, with a nominal theatrical run added to raise its profile: Releasing a Christmas-themed film two weeks before Halloween seems more than a little incongruous.

Rudolph may be "the most famous reindeer of all," but the old song never gave him much of a personality, so director William R. Kowalchuk and screenwriter Michael Aschner try to invent one. The son of Blitzen and Mitzi Reindeer, Rudolph (voice by Eric Pospisil as a child, Kathleen Barr as an adult) is different: He has a red nose that lights up.

He gets teased by all the other fawns except the spunky Zoey (Vanessa Morley/Miriam Sirios), the "doe of his dreams." Meanwhile, two inept elves, Boone (Richard Simmons) and Doggle (Alec Willows), wreck the garden of Stormella, the evil ice queen (Whoopi Goldberg), with their sled.

She demands that Santa Claus (John Goodman, who should not try to sing) turn them over to her for punishment; he refuses. (The film gains an unplanned topical moment when she shouts, "You dare to obstruct justice?") Stormella declares that she'll imprison the next one who crosses her Ice Bridge and summon up a tempest to end all tempests.

Two years later, after being disqualified from the Junior Reindeer Games and learning that his father is ashamed of him, Rudolph runs away. Zoey goes looking for him and crosses the bridge, so Rudolph has to rescue her from Stormella and guide Santa's sleigh through the stormy Christmas Eve. All ends happily and sappily.

*

The minimal story line is padded with irrelevant side characters, including a vapid polar bear named Leonard (Bob Newhart) and Slyly the Fox (Eric Idle, doing an improbable Brooklyn accent). The four Sprites of Northern Lights explain transitions, carry messages and generally try to keep the plot moving, no easy task, given the inept storytelling in "Rudolph."

Aschner's threadbare script includes every cliche in the cartoon book: "I hate being different," "Go ahead and laugh, everybody else does," "We're all different on the outside, but what really counts is what's inside our hearts."

The superfluous and wincingly awful songs by Al Kasha and Michael Lloyd impede the story rather than advance it.

The animation is weak, even by the standards of Saturday morning kidvid. The characters' motions are uniformly stiff and jerky; the reindeer's antlers seem to flop around because the artists can't keep them in perspective and the dialogue is so badly synchronized to the mouth movements, the film looks as if it were dubbed from another language.

In a pointless production number, Slyly sings, "So for every step forward/There's a step in reverse/Remember, it could always be worse."

Adults who make the mistake of sitting through "Rudolph" with their kids may wonder how.

* MPAA rating: G. Times guideline: nothing offensive for small children.

'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie'

Voices:

Eric Pospisil: Rudolph as a child

Kathleen Barr: Rudolph as an adult

Richard Simmons: Boone

Whoopi Goldberg: Stormella

John Goodman: Santa Claus

A GoodTimes Entertainment production. Producer-director William R. Kowalchuk. Executive producers Seth Willenson, Andy Greenberg. Animation writer Michael Aschner. Composer-songwriter Al Kasha. Composer-producer Michael Lloyd. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

* Playing in selected theaters.

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