Stop Motion Animated Christmas Shows and the Problem of Gender

Hermey and Rudolph
TV: Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Hallmark Christmas movie | Raleigh News  & Observer
A Young Santa
Heat Miser & Snow Miser: The Year Without a Santa Claus - See the song and  get the lyrics! (1974) - Click Americana
Heat Miser and Snow Miser

I hope you recognize these TV stills because they represent some of the best Christmas programming ever. I’m not even joking. Stop motion animation is so very cool, and if you don’t think so I don’t think we can remain friends.

I grew up with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and it is so dear (deer? 🦌) to me. πŸ˜€ I still watch it ever year. This year I watched it twice…in a row…on December 20. I was grading, too. Christmas shows help me grade for whatever reason.

I didn’t see Santa Claus is Coming to Town until I was an adult and had cable TV. Same goes for The Year without a Santa Claus. I’m not as keen on the former, even though it has some wacky stuff in it, but I love Snow Miser and Heat Miser so much. Like, I adore them. I could do without the people (except for the Clauses, of course–are they even people?) and elves, but I guess you gotta have them in the show. πŸ˜€

On the 20th, I watched about a 1/3 of Santa Claus is Coming to Town before turning it off and moving on to some other task. I actually was multitasking while watching The Year without a Santa Claus, but as soon as my boys (Miser bros.) came on, I stopped what I was doing to enjoy the show.

After so many years of watching shows you know and love you might think there’s nothing new to see, nothing new to hear. Well, let me tell you otherwise.

Let’s start with Rudolph. While I’ve always been so confused about what is wrong with that Misfit doll, I won’t get on my high horse about it. Yeah, right. Of course I will. Wtf is wrong with that Misfit doll? She doesn’t have a nose? Her hair is the wrong color? What??!!

Oh, wait. The producer finally revealed in 2007 what was wrong with this 1964 doll: she has psychological issues. She feels abandoned and unloved. She is depressed. WHAT? So I fell down the rabbit hole with this one.

First I learned that the show is based on a 1939 story by Robert Mays. Then I learned (if this site is to be believed) that the 1964 version started out with toys only for boys, and by 1965 someone decided, oh, hey, we need a doll for a girl. They forgot about girls watching the show? While I don’t love the implication that girls can only play with dolls, and I hate that gender norm (girls have to be caretakers and mothers so let’s only give them dolls to play with), I am even more troubled by the fact that they didn’t think about this originally.

But there are a few more gender issues in the show.

Only boy reindeer get to train for Santa’s team, and the girls get to watch and look pretty. This sets up the romance with Clarice, but it’s so heteronormative.

Hermey is shown to be too feminine (which means in this world he wants to be a dentist–no seriously he is too caring and is sick of being an elf robot), while Cornelius, daddy reindeer, and even Santa are shown to be too masculine (which in 1964/5 means that they like weapons, don’t care about their kids, or are just plain old jerks at times).

Don’t get me started on the Abominable Snowman.

Abominable Snow Monster | Antagonists Wiki | Fandom

They pulled out all his damn teeth, and I feel like this must be Freudian! It’s either about repressed sexuality or castration. The monster becomes a pet who can put a star on a tree. Big whoop! I love Bumble, actually. He’s one of my favorite characters–despite the fact that he was ready to eat those reindeer. πŸ˜€

OK, enough criticism of a show I actually love! I’ve been teaching a course on monsters and a course on gender this fall, so I have so many thoughts that I didn’t have before. I hope I will forget them all so that I can enjoy the show next year. πŸ˜€

No, really. I’ll move on….I’m going to breeze over the 1970 Santa Claus discussion. There’s some weird gender stuff in this one that is all medieval knight-in-shining-armor shit. There’s the bad guy and the good guy (Santa) and of course there’s a girl. As I didn’t get that far in the show this time, I’ll stop there and move on to the 1974 Year without a Santa Claus. [Note: both of these shows were created by the dynamic duo, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., and they created more than these two, by the way.]

I’m not sure how I never noticed this before, but there’s a feminist fantasy embedded in this one–and it’s Mrs. Claus’s.

I Could Be Santa Claus | Christmas Specials Wiki | Fandom

Santa’s all oh, I am sick and can’t deliver presents this year. Mrs. C is like ok, you go rest…and I’ll do your job! She puts on his outfit and says anyone can be Santa Claus! Damn right, Mrs. C. (What’s your first name, again?) Check it out.

What did you notice? I noticed that she suggests that being Santa is playing a part. She is saying that even a woman can play Santa–sex and gender don’t matter–it’s all about the clothes. Calling Judith Butler! Santa = performative. Santa = gender. Gender = performative. “Anyone can play Santa,” Mrs. C says, “I’ve fantasized about it a lot!” Then she puts on the outfit and there’s a gender transition. Mrs. C becomes Mr. C, and, oh, shit! It’s brilliant.

But, it’s only a fantasy. When the elves show up and see her in the costume they recognize her and she takes off the garb. Then she takes charge by trying to find a way to make Santa Claus believe in Christmas again; this includes sending elves to Earth to report back how much everyone still loves him and eventually takes her, along with the elves, to see the fearsome Snow Miser and Heat Miser. (To be honest, they aren’t scary. Snow Miser is kind of funny and sweet, while Heat Miser is just a guy with a bad attitude.) This woman is smart and brave!


I did not scour the internet to see if anyone has written about gender in these three shows. Surely someone has. If not, now someone has. πŸ™‚ πŸŽ… 🀢

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