The Christmas Tree is a 1991 animated Christmas special that takes place in an orphanage run by the evil Mrs. Mavilda. She steals the orphanage's funds and tricks the mayor into thinking she's a good manager. The kids are so miserable they latch onto a pine tree as a mother figure. Things begin to change when a new family moves to town, and the mayor assigns the mother, Judy, to a position as Mrs. Mavilda's assistant. She and her two children live at the orphanage while their husband/father must live elsewhere for his new job. Judy takes the orphans under her wing and tries to make life better for them. When Mrs. Mavilda decides to frame Judy for a crime in order to have her removed, the children make a desperate bid to appeal to Santa Claus for help.At first, this Christmas special was obscure. It was ranked as #12 in "Familiar Faces #72: The Next 12 Forgotten Christmas Specials," which is on the website That Guy with the Glasses. The special gained attention later when, on the same website, it was reviewed in an episode of The Nostalgia Critic on December 24, 2013. He called it the absolute worst Christmas special he has ever seen.The film can be seen in its entirety here.
This animated special provides examples of:
Adults Are Useless: Played straight and averted. Judy's a decent person, if a bit dim, and genuinely cares for the children. The mayor, however, doesn't seem to have the slightest inkling that anything is amiss, and is perfectly willing to fork over large sums of cash to Mrs. Mavilda without much question.
Anachronism Stew: The time period is quite vague. They seem to be aiming for about the 1920s, but blatant anachronisms keep turning up, such as Mrs. Mavilda's henchman Mel watching a television set. Perhaps they were trying for a Retro Universe, but that's probably giving the creators too much credit.
Bears Are Bad News: One that looks like Baloo chases after the kids at one point, and presumably is thinking, "Bare necessities! Your asses are my recipes! The simple bare necessities of death!"
Easily Forgiven: Not only is Mrs. Mavilda not sentenced for child abuse in the end, she retains a job at the orphanage (albeit as Judy's assistant)! All because of her lightning-induced Heel-Face Turn.
Heroes Love Dogs: The children at the orphanage collectively take care of a black dog named Licorice.
Infant Immortality: Lily falls off a cliff. But she survives, thanks to Santa conveniently being in the area. In a slightly less blatant example, the children never seem to get sick or injured despite wearing threadbare clothing to play in the snow.
Large Ham: Mrs. Mavilda is an especially noticeable one, given that she's also pretty much the only person in the world she inhabits that shows any emotion whatsoever.
Shock and Awe: Weirdly, Santa. He decorates the tree and gives the children new clothes with a noticeable electrical crackle. In a more traditionally elemental and slightly more sinister vein, Mrs. Mavilda is conveniently struck by lightning just before he makes his appearance. You really don't want to get on this guy's naughty list.
Skewed Priorities: When the mayor finds out what Mrs. Mavilda has really been doing with the kids, he's more concerned that the inspector might see it and call him out on it. Voters don't like having their politicians connected to dead children.
Space Whale Aesop: The ending promptly shoehorns in "You always win when you are good" as the moral of the tale Mrs. Mavilda learns. Putting aside the idea that you will eventually get what you want if you're a good person, in the story's context it makes no sense because the story was resolved by a Deus ex Machina courtesy of Santa striking Mrs. Mavilda with lightning. Can she truly have been said to have learned anything when her reformation is probably due to brain damage from being electrocuted?
Storybook Opening: A textbook (storybook?) example. The storybook doesn't have words or even word-shaped scribbles, just colored Tetris blocks.
Thief Bag: The mayor pays Mrs. Mavilda in bags of money.
Thinking Out Loud: Mrs. Mavilda provides a lot of exposition this way, as we see her lying in bed talking to herself about how to deal with Judy and other issues.