One thing you have to give Rankin/Bass credit for is their creativity. Maybe it’s partly running out of Christmas stories to tell but even their Rudolph special (that review is coming on Christmas Day if you were wondering) they were very creative having plot points like an elf that wants to be a dentist. You can certainly see such creativity on display with their short Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. I mean have you ever seen a film about a long-eared donkey? I haven’t until this one!
No doubt taking cues from Dumbo, Nestor is a donkey during the time of the Romans with abnormally large ears that go down to the ground. For some reason they decided to give this story a folksy narrator donkey named Spieltoe voiced by Roger Miller. It never quite fits with the feel of the short.
As if having long ears isn’t trial enough things go from bad to worse for poor Nestor. The opening scenes soldiers come and take all the donkeys except Nestor including his mother. Then Nestor is thrown out by the farmer and he and all the animals are really mean.
Nestor and his mother are caught in a blizzard and the next morning his mother has died. (It really is quite a grim film for a Christmas special!).
Then Nestor meets an angel who tells him to travel to Bethlehem because “your ears can do wondrous things no other ears can do”. Then he and the angel travel across desert and have quite the journey.
When they arrive near Bethlehem Nestor is seen as unneeded so the owner sells him to Mary and Joseph for cheap so she can get to Bethlehem. It is a perilous journey but “he follows the voices of the angels” and Nestor helps them find the stable to have he Christ-child.
I expected the film to end with Nestor staying at the nativity stable but in an odd turn he goes back to the original stable where they were so mean to him and he is treated like a hero. This is strange because how would they know what he had done in Bethlehem and why would he want to go back there?
I give them huge points for creativity on this one and it’s harmless enough. The animation is quite good as it is one of their later films (1977). And I’m always up for stories about characters who fight bullies and come out on top.
However, the film is so gloomy for a Christmas picture. Almost nothing but death, rejection and persecution happens to Nestor until the very end. Also the ending didn’t really make sense to me. I also found he music, while pleasant to not really fit the tone and characters very well.
So over all I’d say see this as a curiosity and to see their creativity but it is not a favorite of mine.