'Twas the Night Before Christmas, on CBS
Christmas Specials Wiki; IMDb; Rankin/Bass Wiki; Retro Junk; TV.com; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikipedia
A 1974 Rankin/Bass Christmas special, based on the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (which is often referred to by the poem's first line, hence the title of this special). The show begins with titular poem being recited by the main human character, Joshua Trundle, but the special's story is told to us by Father Mouse. At the start, it's 3 minutes til Christmas, and at the end he tells us it's 3 seconds til Christmas. I've always had something of a problem with that, seeing as it clearly takes more than two minutes and fifty-seven seconds to tell the story of what led to that moment, but hey... it's a minor quibble.
The crux of the plot is thus: The letters to Santa Claus from everyone in the town of Junctionville have been returned unopened. Eventually it is discovered that Santa had been offended by a letter printed in the Junctionville Register (funny no one in town seems to have been aware of this, but Santa, who lives far away, was). In any event, the letter called Santa Claus a fraudulent myth and so forth, and it was signed "all of us." What could Santa do but assume that meant the whole town? Of course, it wasn't. The letter was from Father Mouse's son, Albert, and his friends (none of whom we ever see in the special).
Albert's a really smart young mouse, putting his faith in algebra and such, rather than stories he thinks only children believe in. However, his father tells him he's wrong. The whole town, including grown-ups, are distraught by Santa's abandonment of the town this year. This includes Joshua Trundle, a clockmaker with whom Father Mouse and his family live. Trundle makes a small model clock with his children singing a song to appeal to Santa Claus, to win him back, and when he presents the model to the town council, they agree to let him build a large clock tower to play the song lound enough for Santa to hear when he flies overhead at exactly midnight on Christmas Eve. (Hmmm, makes me think the town must be kinda special that he should happen to pass over them at that moment, but again, not important, I guess.)
Well, Albert gets curious about the clock, goes inside to find out what makes it work, and ends up breaking it. So everyone in town is disappointed, and mad at Trundle, who they assume messed the job up. And thus no one wants him to work on regular clocks anymore, either. So his family falls on hard times, as does Father Mouse's family. But on Christmas Eve, Albert returns to the clock to try to fix it. Will he be able to do it? Will it work on time? Will Santa get to hear the song? Will Christmas be saved for the whole town, or... what?
So that's the story, basically. In case you were wondering, the answer to all those questions is, of course, yes. C'mon, it's Christmas, of course there's going to be a happy ending! (Although I do find it a bit amusing that when the song doesn't start at exactly midnight, we just hear carollers singing "Silent Night," and everyone's a bit depressed. I mean, gosh, with no Santa, I guess we'll have to settle for celebrating the birth of our Savior... darn the luck! Luckily, the song starts soon after.) ...Besides, if Santa didn't come down Trundle's chimney with presents, how would the special get to include the bulk of the poem, which Trundle only got a short ways into at the beginning of the show? Right? Anyway... it really is a fun and heartwarming and timeless story. And I love all the songs in it. So it's definitely among my favorite Christmas specials ever, and I would say probably my favorite Rankin-Bass special, which is certainly saying something....
And, since I can't find any soundtrack to buy, I've created some mp3s from the special, which you can download, if you like. You're welcome.
Twas the Night Before Christmas - Joel Grey
Calling Santa (Model)
Give Your Heart a Try - George Gobel
Even A Miracle Needs A Hand - Joel Grey and Tammy Grimes
Silent Night/Calling Santa - Wee Winter Singers