Prep & Landing, on ABC
ABC; BCDB; Christmas Specials Wiki; Disney; Disney Movies; Disney Wiki; IMDb; TV.com; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Disney+; iTunes
Well, this was made by Disney Animation Studios, but it looked to me like something Pixar would have done (the animation and the writing reminded me of The Incredibles, more than anything else). Which makes sense, because it was exec-produced by John Lasseter. Anyway, it was a fairly decent special. Pretty cool and funny and cute.
The main character is an elf named Wayne (call sign: Little Drummer Boy; voiced by Dave Foley), who has been working Prep & Landing detail for Santa Claus for 227 years. The job is actually pretty cool: two elves will enter a house and make sure everything's ready for Santa's visit. They have all these neat spy gadgets in the shapes of things like gingerbread men and Christmas ornaments. (They also have their own slang, like "tinsel" for "cool," and "frostbite" as an expletive.) After checking things out inside, they head back to the roof to set up a landing strip for Santa's sleigh ("Rosebud," it's called, that was amsuing). But after all these years, Wayne has gotten sick of the job. It's lost its magic, for him. But he's looking forward to a promotion, to Director of Naughty List Intelligence.
However, the promotion went to his partner, whom he had trained, instead of to him. And Wayne was assigned a new partner, Lanny (call sign: Treeskirt), who was very eager, fresh out of Kringle Academy. He's excited to be working with Wayne, but Wayne's heart is less in the job than ever, after being passed over for promotion. So he lets Lanny handle the job alone when they get to the house of a boy named Timmy. Wayne just sits around watching TV and trying to eat a stale Santa cookie.
But then various things go wrong, like Timmy waking up and seeing Wayne and Lanny, which delays the elves from finishing their preparations for Santa. And to make matters worse, there's a big storm outside. So, back at the North Pole Command Center, the coordinating elf, Magee (call sign: Jingle Belle; voiced by Sarah Chalke), calls off Santa's stop at Timmy's house. Which makes Wayne regain his determination to make Christmas special for Timmy, so he and Lanny set out to do whatever it takes to prep for Santa to land.
So... I don't want to say any more about what happens, but the ending is happy, of course. There are various characters in small roles who I haven't mentioned (but who I liked), lots of funny dialog and, you know, clever writing and whatnot. Definitely cool.
This first aired in 2009, and around that time there was an online short (one minute) that I didn't see, "Tiny's Big Adventure." In 2010 there was a short (seven minutes) that aired on TV, "Operation Secret Santa," but I didn't see it until 2012, on a rerun. (I don't think I was even aware of it before that.) In 2011, there was a second half-hour special, "Naughty vs. Nice," which I totally meant to watch, but somehow missed. But in 2012, I got a DVD that has both half hour specials, both shorts, and some other amusing bonus features.
Betty White voices Mrs. Claus, who sends Wayne and Lanny on a secret mission to retrieve an item from Santa's workshop, which they must access from his office, while Santa himself is sleeping in his office. That's pretty much the whole plot, but it's just as cute and funny as the original special.
In addition to the Prep & Landing DVD, this short was also released in 2015 on the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection.
It seems Santa doesn't deliver coal to naughty children himself; that's done by members of the Coal Elf Brigade. One year, a naughty kid in a sort of robotic mask (like a Darth Vader voice simulator or something), who has a remote control toy robot dog, attacks two coal elves, and acquires one of their gadgets. The next year, the Naughty and Nice List Database is hacked by the kid who stole the gadget. So Wayne and Lanny are teamed up with a coal elf named Noel to get into the kid's house and steal the gadget back before... the hacking can be completed. Or whatever. Um... there's some personal drama between Wayne and Noel, the nature of which I don't want to spoil. And the hacker turns out not to be as naughty as first suspected. I don't want to say any more about the plot, but it was a pretty good show. Probably even better than the original.