AVAHS – Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey (Rankin/Bass) (1977) Review

Plot: A little donkey named Nestor was always endlessly ridiculed for his incredibly long ears. He faced many hardships throughout his life, but one fateful night in a little town named Bethlehem would turn him into a Christmas hero.

Breakdown: Okay, look, I know what you’re going to say. We’re all thinking it. And as far as I’m concerned, yes, this is a Christian-ized Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. They’re not even remotely subtle about it. The song on which this special is derived from even makes direct references to Rudolph, and the song feels like it was originally written to be an off-shoot of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Nestor Lyrics: “Everyone knows about Rudolph
Our fleet-footed friend from the north
Who lights Santa’s way through the darkness
As he drives his sleigh back and forth
But there’s someone else we should mention
If we want the whole story told
He carried the first gift of Christmas
More precious than diamonds or gold”

Rudolph Lyrics: “You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?”

Summary: “You know these other reindeer, and they’re cool and all, but do you know of someone even cooler than they were? Here, let me tell you the story.”

Nestor: “Nestor was a donkey who seldom laughed or played
‘Cause no one even used him in the stable where he stayed
And all the camels teased him, the other donkeys too
They said, look at little Nestor, there’s nothin’ he can do.”
Rudolph: “All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.”

Summary: “A physical deformity made them the laughing stock of the town, and they were completely ostracized from the other animals.”

Nestor: “Look at little Nestor, his ears hang to his knees
When he looks at his reflection, ears are all he sees
Nestor’s heart was broken and his eyes were full of tears
If only there was somethin’ he could do about his ears.”

Rudolph: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.”

Summary: “Dude looks weird.”

Nestor: “One dark night two strangers gave Nestor a surprise
They chose him from all others for they loved his gentle eyes
A man was called by Joseph, Mary was his bride
She needed help to Bethlehem and Nestor’s back to ride

They travelled through the desert but hadn’t gone too far
When winter clouds no longer let them see their guiding star
But Nestor learned a secret as he listened to the breeze
And the angels gave directions to the ears that touched his knees

And so it was that Nestor found the manger where they stayed
Where kings and wise men bowed before the baby where he lay
Mary bore our Saviour and Nestor brought them there
A gift of love from God above for all the world to share”

Rudolph: “Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?””

Summary: “Deformity came in handy. Saved Christmas. Cool beans. Also, Nestor’s song is clearly way longer at this point.”

Nestor: “Though, Rudolph, I just love you, I know you’d want it said
Nestor’s ears are lovely as a reindeer’s nose is red
So children, if you’re happy when you trim your Christmas trees
You might thank a little donkey whose ears hung to his knees.

Look at little Nestor, his ears hang to his knees
They shouted as they praised him and his friends were all so pleased
Nestor was so happy and his eyes held no more tears
Now all the world knows Nestor for his laughter and his ears”

Rudolph: “Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
You’ll go down in history””

Summary: “Golly you’re sure swell, Rudolph/Nestor. We love you now that your physical oddity proved useful to us.”

Now, being COMPLETELY fair, the song was co-written Gene Autry, who wrote the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer song, even though it’s not mentioned anywhere in his very long Wiki page. Also, while he is given top billing in the song credit in the special, probably for the sake of name recognition, every entry I can find about this song lists Don Pfrimmer and Dave Burgess in the writing credits before Autry, so I kinda feel like he didn’t have much to do with the writing of the song and was moreso consulted about it since it was so similar to Rudolph and had references to Rudolph in the song. I don’t have any proof of that, though, so take that with a grain of salt.

Even if he wrote the song, it’s hard to defend this as not being a Christian Rudolph story, even if the bookends still take place at the North Pole and all the Santa stuff is still canon.

I hate to ding them for copying something else too, but the whole ‘huge ears made me a laughingstock’ thing was also done in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, which came out one year before Nestor.

But hey, I can give this special something. It’s more grounded than Rudolph was, and…..dear god it is depressing.

I mean, yeah, of course it has a happy ending, but uh…Let me just go through the story real quick.

Spieltoe, Santa’s donkey, watches as Santa flies away on the night of Christmas eve, with Rudolph heading the sleigh. Spieltoe shows the audience the stables, which house him and the reindeer. In the stables is a nativity scene which, as Spieltoe points out, displays an inaccurate representation of Nestor because it doesn’t have long ears.

He starts singing the story of Nestor, and one of the elves comes over to replace the donkey figure with a more long-eared one. Cool. I mean…ya know….Jesus and Mary (why is Joseph not here? The figures behind her are the three wise men.) are still being depicted as white people, but you make sure that donkey has accurate ear length.

We flashback to Nestor as we start the opening credits and…Uh….it certainly sets the stage for the depressing aspect I mentioned. Here’s the entire credits sequence.

Nestor walks out, trips on his ears, we keep cutting back to the other animals, who just think it’s the funniest thing, Nestor legit CRIES, spends a while being sad on the ground, and then walks over to his mother, which you’d think would be the one nice spot in this entire opening, but just you wait, readers. Just you wait. Did I mention the music blaring over this is very upbeat?

A long, long time ago, somewhere in….pbbtt this area.

Under the rule of the rising Roman empire, Nestor lived on a modest little farm owned by Olaf, an almost comically designed asshole. He denies Nestor dinner because he has difficultly working on the farm due to his long ears constantly tripping him up. And, of course, one of the other farm animals has to chime in and say there’s nothing he can do (though, this is part of the song.)

Olaf feeds Nestor’s mother because she ‘earns her keep’ and she decides to share her meal with Nestor to help keep him fed.

You guys starting to see why this is Rudolph only with the depressing factor turned up? Rudolph being made fun of sucked, yeah, but at least he wasn’t starved. At least he lived in a nice place. At least his parents didn’t have to suffer to make sure he stayed alive.

But let’s take a break from that depressing scene to head to a different depressing scene. Spieltoe explains how hard Nestor has had it his whole life because his long ears made him clumsy and everyone mocked them.

The next verse of the song plays here, though there’s one difference. Instead of saying “When he looks at his reflection, ears are all he sees” they say “They whispered as they mocked him, but he heard every sound.” Yes, Nestor gets absolutely no peace. He hears every insult and comment all of these jackasses (pun intended) make about him. He can’t turn his ears off. He has to cope with the constant torment.

But don’t worry, Nestor. If Rudolph’s Shiny New Year taught me anything, it’s that no one ever laughs AT someone’s strange physical attributes. They’re just filled with so much joy when they see it that they can’t help but burst out laughing. They’re secretly just being pals and you’re misinterpreting their laughter (and terrible comments and shunning).

Honestly, though, the song is pretty nicely done.

Cut to later, during a harsh winter storm, the animals of the farm are all celebrating the winter solstice by partying and giving gifts. Nestor’s mom gives him some old stockings to wear on his ears to keep them warm. Even the farm animals are, for some reason, being very nice to Nestor today. One donkey even apologizes for making fun of him and gives him a kiss on the cheek. Uhhh….How and why? You can’t have characters established as being complete jerks to Nestor every day of his life suddenly shift to being super nice to him and giving him a kiss on the cheek just because it’s a holiday. Oh, by the way, the one who gave him a kiss on the cheek, I’m pretty sure that’s the same donkey who made the “He can’t do anything.” comment earlier.

It’s not unheard of for bad guys to suddenly turn good-ish in holiday specials or anything, but this situation is such a drastic and quick turnaround for no reason that it feels pretty lazy. (Unless they ARE playing off of the “Laughing at people for their physical differences isn’t a bad thing – they’re just really happy and stuff” thing from Shiny New Year, in which case I think I need to be thankful I stocked up on aspirin.)

Especially considering we get an all too familiar foreboding line;

Nestor: “This is the best day ever! I’ll never forget it!”

Things sure are going great for Nestor….completely out of the blue. I certainly believe things will stay good for him.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

So things go bad.

An imperial Roman soldier barges into the stables demanding donkeys for the emperor. They snatch a bunch of them, including Nestor, and pay off Olaf. Nestor tries to run back to his mother, but the soldier stops him by grabbing his ears. The stockings come off and reveal his true ears. The soldier accuses Olaf of trying to sell him ‘misfit’ donkeys. Olaf tries to just give Nestor away for free, but the soldier is so insulted that he takes back all of the money, knocks Olaf down and takes the donkeys without paying.

By the way, the foley in this special is really weird. Either the sound effects aren’t there at all, what is there sounds like it doesn’t belong or the effect is delayed. Also, I can’t be certain, but I’m 95% sure those pieces of silver are nickels.

The soldier heads off, referring to his new donkeys as ‘slaves,’ whipping them and laughing maniacally. He is a bad guy. Also, he never shows up again so…..guess those donkeys are screwed.

Olaf is so pissed about Nestor’s ears screwing him over again that he chucks Nestor across the room and kicks him off of the farm, proclaiming he doesn’t care if he freezes in the storm.

*snort* Look at Nestor’s face when he’s being held up as Olaf threatens to throw him out of the stables. He should be scared out of his mind, but his expression comes off like he gives less than zero fucks.

Nestor is literally thrown out into the snowy tundra. Meanwhile, Nestor’s mother fights her way out of the stables so she can find him. Once they reunite, she tells him that, no matter what, he has to be brave.

They find a slightly sheltered spot, and Nestor’s mother digs a spot down to the ground so Nestor won’t be lying in snow. He lays on the frozen grass, and Nestor’s mother shields his body from the snow and cold by laying on top of him.

So because this is a Christmas special and we have to get going with the happy happy joy joy, Nestor enjoys a beautiful sunrise with his mother followed by some delightful breakfast foods and they plan on going into town together to see if some other nice farmer will take them in.

Hold on, I’m getting word that I’m a sarcastic git and Nestor’s mother actually frickin’ died.

Story at 11.

Or right now. Whatever.

What the hell?! What the actual hell? What kind of Christmas special is this?

I don’t recall any part of the song including something like;

“Nestor’s dear mother froze to death out in the snow.
Covered her son’s body with her own, now, don’tcha know?
Who knows how long she survived. Four hours? Maybe five.
If her son didn’t have long ears, she’d still be alive.”

They immediately cut to Nestor crying as he looks at the makeshift grave he made for his mother, which, considering the frozen ground, is not even a grave. She’s just covered in snow. But if you think about this even more, it’s HORRIFYING. Nestor woke up to his dead mother lying on his back. He had to wiggle out of his dead mother’s frozen embrace and deal with the fact that his mother froze to death trying to save his life. And considering he couldn’t even give her a proper burial, I hope to god he never returns to this spot once spring rolls around….

Merry Christmas, by the way.

Nestor survives for a while on his own, steadily making his way south, when he meets a Cherub named Tilly who has come to lead him to the plot—I mean, who explains that she’s meant to inspire animals as angels inspire humans. He’s meant for something very important – to save a life like his mother saved him. They must go to Bethlehem, which is a long and arduous journey.

Nestor: “Aw…I don’t want to go THAT far.”

Tilly: *a light shines down from the sky on her head* “Of course you do. You know….”

Nestor: *that same light shines on Nestor’s head* “Ohhhhhh….”

Tilly: “Mmmhmm. Come on now.”

Did….did….God just brainwash a donkey?

Nestor and Tilly go on a nice friendly montage where the accompanying song talks about not laughing at others to make them cry as they pass a bunch of animals who laugh at Nestor’s ears. This is a pretty good montage, and I think it’s really cute that Tilly holds Nestor’s ears through so much of it. However, the lyrics kinda fall flat at a point. A bear laughs at Nestor’s ears, but then the bear freaks out because he saw a spider and Nestor laughs at him. Then the bear happily waved as he walked away? So….laughing at someone is okay as long as the laughing person gets humiliated too?

Nestor and Tilly head off on a boat with Nestor’s ears acting as a sail and Tilly smacks two dolphins who were laughing at Nestor’s ears. Okay, Tilly hasn’t hit anyone until now, and the one time she does it’s when Nestor is using his ears as a sail, which is legitimately funny? Come on.

They finally reach a village and Tilly just straight up dips back to Heaven, telling Nestor to wait in town until it’s the right time to head to Bethlehem…….So of course he immediately gets captured by a jackass merchant (Like my clever wordplay? I’m so witty.) who tosses him in a pen with other animals who promptly laugh at his ears. So, uh, Tilly, you sure you don’t want to pop back down and help him out?…No?….Okie dokles.

Second verse, same as the first – no one wants to buy Nestor, the other animals keep viciously mocking him, he cries about it a lot and it’s sad.

Merry. Christmas.

Oh yeah, this merchant dude was pointed out by another reviewer as having a ‘penis-nose’ and uh….

I feel like I need to censor this….

Also, phallic imagery aside, this guy’s design just feels racist in general….Especially when it’s right beside White Joseph and Whiter Mary.

Okay, now we’re finally getting to greener pastures. Joseph and Mary show up looking for a donkey to purchase to take them to Bethlehem. They chose Nestor because he had kind eyes. The merchant can’t believe that they want to buy him, so he decides to pull a con and claims Nestor’s super expensive because long ears are popular these days.

Mary and Joseph can’t afford it and are about to leave, but Joseph stops her because they need a donkey in order to travel considering she’s with child. Mary then glows with the same warm light that came from heaven before.

Merchant: *gazes at glowing Mary* “Ooohhh…take him. A gift. He’s yours.”

Okay, God keeps Jedi Mind Tricking people and it’s freaking me out.

And before anyone questions if this is mind control;

Mary: “Oh thank you, sir. God bless you.”

Merchant: “Oh….what made me do that?”

*waves hand* This is not the donkey you’re looking for.

They head out, but quickly run into a strong sandstorm that obscures their view of the star they were following.

Suddenly, a familiar holy light appears in the sky. Tilly tells Nestor that he has the ability to do something no one else can right now. He has to listen to the sounds only he can hear and lead Mary and Joseph out of the storm. As Tilly vanishes, Nestor tearfully sees his mother in the sky also telling him to listen to the angels and follow them.

Nestor wraps his ears around Mary, which I found to be adorable, and listens to the sound of the angels singing to guide his way through the storm.

Eventually, the sandstorm passes and the three find themselves on the outskirts of Bethlehem. All the inns were full, so Nestor, remembering the warmth of a stable when he was a baby, brought Mary and Joseph to a nearby manger for Mary to birth Jesus.

Nestor decides to leave them………….for…..some…..reason. Seriously, I have no clue why. He just up and leaves right after Jesus is born. He finally gets adopted by a kind couple who appreciate him and don’t mock him for his ears and he just leaves when their son is born. Can you imagine being Jesus’s donkey? That’s be awesome…..At least as awesome as a donkey’s life can get.

But no.

No.

Instead……

…..he returns to Olaf.

Rudolph really didn’t have a choice when it came to returning to the North Pole. He was trying to help Santa and he kinda lives there. However, it’s completely out of left field for Nestor to return to Olaf’s farm. They’re cheering him on when he returns, but how would they know he did anything worthy of praise?

And even if they somehow magically did know what he did, screw you all. Screw each and every one of you. Especially you, Olaf. If it wasn’t for you, Nestor’s mom would still be alive.

“And his friends all gathered ‘round.”

FRIENDS” Some friends you are. Now that Nestor’s a biblical hero, you suddenly treat him like royalty. I also don’t care at all about that turnaround they had before the Roman soldier came. If that was their redemption, it was entirely unearned. You can’t just have them being complete jerks to Nestor, constantly making him cry, and then immediately go “Oh but then they were nice to him on this one holiday, so they’re good guys now.” Even if you could say that about the animals, you can’t say that about Olaf because he kicked Nestor out after the party.

Remember how I mentioned that the Rankin/Bass Rudolph special fixed a problem the song had in that the special had the reindeer making amends with Rudolph before his LED nose became useful in a pinch? So it didn’t seem like they only like him now because his physical deformity had benefit?

They didn’t do that here.

Instead, Nestor’s returning to his abuser in his dilapidated farm that’s probably going to go under soon because Olaf said he was screwed without all of those young donkeys and the money from their sale – and Nestor will be living there without his mother, the one Olaf indirectly got killed.

He went there instead of staying with JESUS.

Back in the present, the song concludes as all of elves, reindeer, including Rudolph, Santa, Mrs. Claus and Spieltoe dance around the nativity scene to celebrate Nestor, who I know realize is probably long since dead, and how he saved Christmas and lived happy ever after.

The End.

——————————————–

I do vaguely remember watching this special when I was a kid once or twice, and I liked it fine. Even now I find it to be alright. Nestor is quite adorable, the animation is okay, though the voice acting and foley are a little hokey, the music is nice and catchy, and the story is….decent, although I can poke way too many holes in it.

I can forgive most of them, it is a Rankin/Bass production afterall, barring the very ending and one note I can’t keep quiet about anymore…..why did Nestor’s mother have to die?

The reason I bring this up is because they make off like Nestor’s mother had to die in order for Nestor to fulfill his purpose. They specifically say “the lord works in mysterious ways” when she dies, and I really don’t like that phrase. I get that it’s just a go-to phrase religious people have for explaining terrible things in an effort to maybe comfort people, but I just can’t get into that. I can’t leave something so terrible with a phase so flippant. Nestor could have been with his mother this whole time and nothing would have changed. She could have been Joseph’s donkey or something. Why did she need to die for him to do what he was destined to do?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful that she was willing to sacrifice herself for her son, but I’d like some actual meaning in her death in regards to the story.

Another phrase said a couple of times is that Nestor needs to do this so he can save someone as his mother saved him. Sooo….he wouldn’t have been compelled to save a life unless his mother sacrificed herself for him? I sincerely doubt that.

The only realistic way I can figure it is that the writers wanted you to feel as bad as possible for Nestor, so they killed the only character who loved him.

I mean, it worked. I felt so bad for that poor kid I wanted to reach through the screen to hug him and take him home with me. He doesn’t catch an actual break until about twenty minutes into this 24 minute long special….

It was just wave after wave of terrible things frosted in the mocking of strangers. Topped off with a cherry of Nestor leaving caring owners and baby Jesus to return to a poor abusive asshole and a farm full of animals who probably traumatized him with their ceaseless laughter and insults. In that respect, this special is fairly miserable, no matter how adorable Nestor is. In fact, Nestor being so adorable makes the miserable feeling worse.

In the end, everything is all well and good. Nestor is happy, people celebrate his role in Jesus’ birth and we all learn not to mock people unless it has some role in a cosmic plan.

It’s not like the special has bad messages or anything (except the ‘returning to your abuser’ thing, but I don’t think kids would infer that much) and it’s an alright Christmas special for both religious and secular households. I did enjoy seeing Santa, the reindeer and the elves dancing around the nativity scene. It’s not saying either Rudolph or Nestor is ‘better’ or the more important Christmas hero. They’re just humble little animals who helped save Christmas. And they’re both adorable.

Once more, though in a non-sarcastic manner this time, Merry Christmas! 🙂


If you enjoy my work and would like to help support my blog, please consider donating at my Ko-Fi page. Thank you! ♥

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com