Following a hit storybook, holiday standard, and stop-motion TV special that’s aired every season for more than 50 years, the next major entry in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer media empire was a traditionally animated feature film. Released in 1998, and despite the name and content recognition and goodwill that comes with Rudolph, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie,” was a disaster, commercially and critically. Hitting just 102 movie screens in North America, according to The Numbers, Rudolph earned just over $113,000 at the box office, pulled out of most multiplexes after slightly more than a week. Even with a voice cast that included Bob Newhart, Whoopi Goldberg, Debbie Reynolds, and John Goodman (as Santa), audiences weren’t interested, and critics were unmoved; for example, Alex Sandell of Juicy Cerebellum called the movie “torturous.”
Perhaps filmgoers were turned off by the fact that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie” dared rewrite the story of its titular character, entrenched in the culture from a book, song, and TV special. The film’s story (from novice screenwriter Michael Aschner) involves heretofore unmentioned Sprites of the Northern Lights and a vengeful Ice Queen named Stormella who, angry at the accidental destruction of ice statues by a couple of Santa’s elves, creates a Christmas-cancelling blizzard (which Rudolph helps the sleigh navigate).