Thursday, February 23, 2012

Santa, Baby! (2001)


I enjoy honoring Black History Month (BHM) on my blog because there are so many excellent Christmas episodes, specials and TV movies with exceptional African-American cast members.  There are also many outstanding and touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences.  This month I'm highlighting just a few of my favorites.


Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass produced some of the most popular Christmas TV specials of all time. Of course, I'm talking about Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974), Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970), Frosty the Snowman (1969) and The Little Drummer Boy (1968) just to name just a few.  The final animated TV special made by Rankin/Bass is Santa, Baby! from 2001.

Young Dakota wants to find homes for her friends in a neighborhood animal shelter.

A young girl named Dakota helps out with her local animal rescue shelter and this year she’s working to find homes for the animals by Christmas.  Her songwriting father Noel is struggling to write more material, putting his heart into it.

Melody Songbird (voiced by Patti LaBelle) is a magical partridge in a pear tree.
A magical partridge in a pear tree named Melody Songbird encourages Noel to do charity work to help him find inspiration for his songs.  Meanwhile, Dakota helps the menagerie of animals find a home before the superintendent Mr. Sweet closes the shelter.

Father Noel (voiced by Gregory Hines) works as a song writer
The original story in this hour-long cel animated TV special is sweet but the best part is the music.  With the vocal talents of Vanessa Williams, Eartha Kitt, Patti LaBelle and Gregory Hines, the classic songs such as “Jingle Bells,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and “Santa Baby” become soulful, jazzy hits that sound new again.  And, the special's original song “Heart and Soul of Christmas” has the potential for popularity beyond the TV special.



Vanessa Williams voices Alicia, the wife of Noel, here singing the classic song "Santa Baby" to her husband, disguised as a bell-ringing Santa Claus on the street.

There are two fantastic reasons that this animated TV special stands out.  One is that it includes Eartha Kitt.  Kitt is the sexy vocalist who originally recorded the 1953 Christmas song "Santa Baby" written by Philip Spring and Joan Javits (see below).  Though this song has been covered many times by many different artists over the decades, including one popular version by Madonna for the very first Special Olympics charity recorded album A Very Special Christmas in 1987.


The audio of Eartha Kitt's 1953 recording of "Santa Baby."

Kitt, Vanessa Williams and Patti Labelle join their voices in a version of "Santa Baby" in this animated TV special as Alicia, Noel's wife, discovers her husband Noel is secretly working as charity-collecting Santa Claus.  Eartha Kitt sings another dance remix version of "Santa Baby" later in the special during the scenes where Noel and his daughter Dakota deliver Christmas presents.

Eartha Kitt voices Emerald, the cat.
Cleverly, Kitt is animated here as Emerald, the white cat owned by Dakota for whom Kitt provides the purrrr--fect voice.  Kitt is also fondly remembered as one of the actresses who portrayed the sexy villainess Catwoman on the 1960s TV series Batman.

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman
The second fantastic reason that this TV special stands out is that it celebrates themes of community and people coming together at Christmas.

The neighborhood comes together to clean up the garbage and join their voices in song.
This story takes place in the urban center of New York City's Heptune Street (think 'hep' as in 'hip' place to be!)  This neighborhood is filled with people that reflects a multi-cultural population including numerous races and ethnicities.  This attention to detail reflects an inclusive attitude by the creators to reflect a more realistic world and neighborhood for television audiences.  I noticed these details and liked them.

Mr. Sweet and Mrs. Garcia, neighbors on Heptune Street
This diverse population is also reflected in the music, especially the medley of "Jingle Bells" sung in the vacant lot as the neighbors come together to clean it up and decorate for Christmas.  With vocals that include Vanessa Williams, "Jingle Bells" begins as a hip-hop song with rap, blending into an R&B soul tune before becoming a swing jazz arrangement.

The neighbors also come together to repair a building for their friends in the animal shelter
Santa Baby! is available for viewing on DVD.  Have you seen Santa, Baby! before?  What's your favorite Rankin/Bass animated TV special?

1 comment:

  1. With all that christmas brings, these television specials are certainly an add on that make the holidays more fun. Santa baby being one of them.

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