It’s been 55 years since Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first premiered on NBC, and watching the beloved TV special is still a Christmastime tradition for many families.
You couldn’t ask for a more inspiring gang of outsiders than Rudolph, wannabe dentist/elf Hermey, and everyone’s favorite prospector, Yukon Cornelius. After being cast out by their respective tribes, the trio turns to each other for companionship.
During their travels through the North Pole, they accidentally land on the Island of Misfit Toys, where those that are broken or unwanted go to live until they can find a child who will love them.
Residents include a jack-in-the-box named Charlie, a spotted elephant, a choo-choo train with square wheels on the caboose, a water pistol that shoots jelly, a bird that doesn’t fly, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, and a boat that can’t stay afloat.
One question that has plagued the stop motion animation classic for years is why the doll, known as Dolly for Sue to some, is on the island. She never reveals what’s "wrong" with her, and nothing is physically off about her appearance. It took until 2005 for fans to finally get an answer.
Why is the doll a misfit toy in Rudolph?
We first see Dolly for Sue — "the kind that will even say 'How do you do?'" — during "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year," which introduces the audience to the island’s lonely, yet hopeful inhabitants.
Though Dolly appears joyful throughout the song, producer Arthur Rankin Jr. revealed in an interview with the Archive of American Television that she ended up on the island due to depression and low self-esteem. Yikes, that’s heavy.
"I always say, well, she has psychiatric problems. She was under the care of an analyst," Arthur admitted. He elaborated on that point in a 2007 chat with NPR’s "Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me," stating that Dolly felt unloved after being abandoned by her owner (who was presumably Sue).
Dolly’s "issues" were first hinted at on the Dolly for Sue Stuffins sold by CVS in 1998. A tag attached to her body read: "I’m a little rag doll who just wants a friend. I think that will help my broken heart mend."
Arthur also revealed that the mystery surrounding Dolly’s presence on the island stems from the fact that she was a last-minute addition to the broadcast. The producers felt they needed a misfit toy that young girls could relate to (remember, it was a different time back then).
As the special underwent revisions over the years, Dolly got more screen time and lines, making her lack of a physical defect more apparent.
Two years before his death, Arthur was asked about what makes Rudolph timeless. "I really don’t have an answer to that," he confessed. "I think because it was the first special of its kind… I think that, in looking for something to watch for Christmas, parents put their children in front of the television.
"And as the audience grew, so did the children that watched it," he added. "They grew up to become mothers. And they grew up to become grandmothers! And they also put their children and grandchildren in front of the television set… To many people, Rudolph means Christmas."
We don't know where Santa would be without him!