Much like its live-action counterpart, the story is about a human named Buddy who was raised by elves in Santa's workshop after accidentally crawling into Santa's knapsack as a baby. Upon discovering his true heritage, he embarks on a journey to New York City to reunite with his father and subsequently spread Christmas cheer to everyone he meets.
The special premiered on December 14, 2014 on NBC and borrows some of its elements from the Broadway musical, especially the songs.
This special provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation / Adaptation Expansion: This version melds elements from the film and the Broadway musical, adding new scenes not present in the original film while removing others. All the songs in the special are taken from the Broadway show (though the special's opening number is a revised version of the musical's opening "Christmastown").
- Jovie is made as a street-corner donation collector instead of a department store employee.
- Mr. Greenway also returns during the climax as the Big Bad.
- Adapted Out: Buddy's adoptive father, Papa Elf. Santa takes over his role as Buddy's adoptive father figure and the narrator.
- The Central Park Rangers in the climax are replaced with Mr. Greenway and a group of "Naughty listers".
- An Aesop: Buddy sings the lesson of this movie in the ending credits, "Maybe the point of the story is it's never too late to grow." As examples, Buddy chooses to stay with his human family instead of taking Santa's offer to go back to the North Pole. Buddy's father was on the naughty list for fifty years, but once he demonstrates Christmas spirit, Santa takes him off the list and gives him the skateboard he wanted when he was 5 years old. Jovie has become more cheerful. Even the Naughty-listers manage to reform at the very end.
- Big Ball of Violence: Buddy gets in one with the fake Santa he meets.
- Blinding Bangs: Michael has these.
- Composite Character: Miles Finch and Mr. Greenway are combined into one character.
- Drunk on Milk: Buddy acts intoxicated when he drinks a lot of syrup.
- Gender Flip: Buddy and Jovie's daughter at the end is changed to a boy named "Baby Buddy".
- Good Old Ways: Partway through the movie, several Santa actors sing a lament about how kids used to be nicer and more appreciative of Santa, but now constantly treat the concept of Santa with disrespect.
- HeelFace Turn: After Santa's sleigh is back in the air, the Naughty-listers reappear, but instead of demanding presents like they did earlier, they join hands and start singing, adding to the Christmas spirit. As a reward, Santa finally gives them presents.
- I Choose to Stay: Buddy refuses Santa's offer to take him back to the North Pole, saying he's happy in New York and Jovie's his girlfriend.
- I'll Tell You When I've Had Enough!: Buddy does this in a bar while drowning his sorrows in syrup, after Walter disowns him.
- It's Been Done: The storybook ideas Walter's writers keep coming up with include a reindeer that lights up and saves Christmas, a green reindeer who wants to ruin Christmas, and a snowman who comes to life.
- Love at First Sight: Buddy is instantly smitten with Jovie the second he sees her, complete with little hearts floating around his head.
- Made of Iron: A Running Gag of the Special is that Buddy keeps getting hit by cars and it doesn't bother him in the slightest.
- Manic Pixie Dream Guy: Buddy.
- Mean Boss: Mr. Greenway in this animated musical is even nastier than either Greenway or Finch were in the original movie; he's introduced constantly screaming "You're fired!" at the top of his lungs. Also, unlike in the original movie where Walter at least made a legitimate error by publishing books with blank pages, in this animated musical Walter hasn't personally made any mistakes that would warrant being shouted at.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: As in the original movie, Buddy ends up costing Walter an important opportunity by inadvertently insulting Mr. Greenway in this animated musical the same way he insulted Miles Finch in the original movie.
- No Indoor Voice: Mr. Greenway shouts all of his dialogue at the top of his lungs.
- Post-Kiss Catatonia: Buddy freezes up and falls over with a happy sigh after getting a kiss from Jovie.
- Spot the Imposter: Buddy immediately realizes the Santa he meets in an office is not the real Santa, as his belly didn't shake when he laughs.
- Take This Job and Shove It: Walter quits his job after he finally makes up his mind to prioritize his family over his work.
- X Days Since: A sign in the North Pole's workshop reads "Days Without a Buddy Accident".