Santa, Baby! (2001)

You know Rankin/Bass, it's the company behind all the classic stop-motion holiday specials. This has exactly one thing in common with those: it's loosely inspired by a holiday song.

And I do mean loosely. You might think that the song in which the singer offers to trade "Santa" implied sexual favors for material goods and marriage isn't exactly screaming to be made into a kid-friendly animated special, and you'd be right. But we can't lose that name recognition, so the song is awkwardly shoved in twice.

The plot follows a little girl named Dakota, whose father is a songwriter with writer's block. (He does not write "Santa Baby.") Also, Dakota is obsessed with animals, and the superintendent of the block (because that's a thing?) doesn't want animals in the buildings and keeps threatening to close down the local shelter.

Honestly, the shelter needs something because the assortment of animals there is utterly bizarre, including a dog and a kitten, but also a pig, a rabbit in a backwards baseball cap, a lizard, a baby deer, and a lobster. Why? Never explained. All these animals talk when people aren't there, but there isn't any real reason for that.

Anyway, Dakota rescues our narrator, a bird, from a snowdrift, only to discover that the bird is magic. Melody Songbird claims to be the partridge from the 12 Days of Christmas, yet somehow this special is not named after that song, and she is about as far from a partridge as one could be and still be a bird. She grants Dakota a wish, and she wishes for her dad to write a hit song.

Melody sets out to help him, and she sends him on a series of odd Christmas-related tasks. These are apparently to get him involved in the community and out of his own head, but that has to be explained; it's not clear at all otherwise. After a series of random musical interludes, (one of which is the first occurrence of the title song: Dakota's mom playfully sings it to her dad while he is dressed as a street-corner Santa) the neighborhood is feeling more Christmassy, but he still hasn't written a good song.

Overnight, the cranky superintendent somehow causes a flood at the animal shelter, and the building is closed down. Dakota asks her dad to help her find somewhere for the animals to go, but he's too stressed to listen to her. Melody yells at him until he realizes that his daughter is more important than his song, and he heads out to help. In checking out the wreck of the shelter, he ends up on the roof trying to rescue a kitten, and the entire neighborhood comes out on the street to watch.

The superintendent feels bad now that a cute animal is in danger and helps them get down, then the neighbors all come together to fix up the shelter and give the animals a warm place to sleep. This inspires the song he was waiting for, and honestly, it's underwhelming. They did not have a new Christmas classic tune on their hands with "Heart and Soul of Christmas," and not just because the rhymes are sloppy and the message muddy. Also, he writes it on the walls of the shelter instead of helping.

He then thanks the magic bird for her help and asks if he can do anything for her. It turns out that all the random helpful holiday tasks Melody has been setting were trial runs because she's been scouting him as a temporary Santa the whole time. (Santa's laid up with a broken leg.)

He and Dakota (and Dakota's cat Emerald, who's been tagging along the whole time and is voiced by Eartha Kitt) are magicked to the North Pole and sent on the Christmas run, set to a more upbeat version of the title song with less sexuality. During this, they gift all the shelter animals to new homes, which makes the gesture of rebuilding the shelter rather pointless.

Other than the superintendent declaring animals now welcome in the buildings (he adopts the kitten), that's about it for the main story beats.

This didn't have to be awful, and yet, it was. Some of the actors are pretty strong, but they aren't given good material. Plus the animation was terrible. The designs were okay if uninspired, but the actual animation was very clearly farmed out to a production company who was then not given enough money or time to complete the project. The movement is sometimes jerky, repeated, or awkwardly cut. One sequence will look okay and then the next is just thrown together.

The story is a mess of tangled subplots that don't follow, and finally, it commits the cardinal sin of obscure Christmas specials: it's boring. It's really, really boring. Do not watch this. Let the once-great animation company rest in peace.