How the Toys Saved Christmas (1996)

I have to start this review by explaining a big, giant, caveat. I was unable to obtain a version of this holiday special in the original Italian (or even verify that a subtitled version exists). In Italian, this special is called La freccia azzurra (The blue arrow) and the story is apparently somewhat different. Hopefully, it's better in Italian.

I knew that we would be watching a kludgy anglicization, but I held out some hope. I sought out this special because I knew it featured Befana, who is a character we'd love to see more of. Befana is a witch who brings gifts to Italian children on Epiphany (Jan 6). In the English version, this character is nonsensically renamed "Granny Rose" and is demoted to being one of Santa's helpers. At least she's still a witch.

The following description is based on the English version.

For some reason, Granny Rose has a shop where children can come to drop off their wish lists. One boy (Christopher, your requisite virtuous orphan) comes to deliver a request on Christmas Eve, but he is turned away by Granny's assistant, Grimm, who declares that only rich children will receive presents this year.

Granny Rose is sick, you see, and Grimm is secretly keeping her that way. He tells her he will deliver all the toys, but he's really planning to sell them to desperate parents in the morning.

Upon hearing this, all the toys in the shop window decide that they must deliver themselves to the children of the town. These toys include a ship captain on a boat, two dolls, a teddy bear, a set of toy soldiers, a plane, a crane with builders, a Native American figurine, a fancy train called the Blue Arrow, and a toy dog named Jingles. They are... not very good at accomplishing this goal. They might be the least coordinated living toys I can remember. I couldn't help but think that a train is not the best getaway vehicle, but they're almost all determined to ride in or on it. At least they only have to lay tracks to get down the stairs.

First they escape down a trap door and through a hole into another basement. Grimm realizes that they're gone and gives chase, first on foot and then commandeering Granny's magic broomstick. The toys soon come upon a sleeping child and the teddy stays with him. The rest make it out to the street, only to almost drown in a puddle.

The leader of the soldiers keeps trying to fight off Grimm or cars or anything else with his tiny pop cannons, but when they finally go off, they fall down a grate and are lost. Heartbroken, he stands alone in the snow, but is found by a man whose child wants a toy soldier. Mostly, this is a slow slog of not much happening.

Meanwhile, a pair of teens saw that Grimm had a lot of money in Granny's shop earlier and are determined to rob the place, but they can't fit through the only unlocked window.

The toys are following Jingles' nose, hoping it will lead them to more children. The dog also had a dream about Christopher and is trying to track him down. A statue comes to life and gives them some directions. Grimm corners the group but Jingles fights him off, only to be stuffed in a garbage can. Grimm lost a book earlier, though, and the other toys find children's addresses in it. They eventually distribute themselves in ones and twos through several slow, dragging musical numbers. There's an especially awkward minute where the sailor ends up with a little girl who puts him in a dress, and he escapes back to Granny Rose to be redistributed to a boy, in case you were worried this wouldn't find time to reinforce arbitrary gender norms.

The Blue Arrow ends up near an actual train, where a child helps his father prevent an accident in the snow, and it's implied that this child wants the train set, but that whole sequence is a bit confusing.

The teens from earlier find Christopher on his way home from his part-time job and force him to climb through the window into Granny's shop, telling him to let them in. In the only logical thing to happen in the whole special, Christopher instead calls the cops. In the only realistic thing to happen, he's arrested with the older boys. Testimony from a local night watchman and Granny Rose herself clears him, and he's sent on his way. Meanwhile, Granny has discovered that her toys are missing and not delivered, so she wakes up a toymaker and rushes to get as many toys delivered by morning as she can.

Okay, I did smirk at a scene where some random parents are lying to their kids about what time it is while they stall, hoping that Granny will show up. She does.

I'm not sure where all the other toys she would have normally delivered ended up. Had Grimm already sold them? That's the only thing that makes sense, but it's very unclear. It's only this small group of toys out delivering themselves. Hardly enough to save Christmas.

We come back to Jingles in the trash can, now mysteriously transformed into a real dog. He briefly makes friends with another dog, but then he catches Christopher's scent and runs after him. The two meet and immediately know they'll be best friends. Meanwhile, Grimm is trying to escape with the stash of money, but is caught by a mob of kids and parents.

The main sin of this thing is just that it's boring. It's impossible to muster up many feelings for the large cast of random playthings, and most of the plot is repetitive. Even the slapstick is repetitive. There are also a number of scenes that are just filler or confusing. Some of the confusion is definitely from the plot revamp that happened when it was rewritten in English. According to Wikipedia, Christopher's original wish was for the train set, not "a friend." The complications involved in that, and the finale giving him what he needed instead of what he asked for, might have given the plot some needed weight.