The year 2000 brought another adaptation of Baum's Santa Claus mythos. This time, it was fully animated with traditional animation, and released direct-to-video, though Cartoon Network showed it on television for a few years.
The movie is narrated by Ak, who introduces the Forest of Burzee, the Immortal people (ryls, knooks, wood nymphs), and then we go to the celebration of Spring in Burzee, where Necile presents Ak with the first nectar. Ak's tasting predicts that the year will be very significant, and there will be a new source of joy.
That night, Ak tells the wood nymphs of the sufferings of humanity, and tells them of how he found a baby outside of Burzee. Realizing it had a strange life force, he left it in the keeping of Shiegra the lioness, and ordered that the baby should not be harmed. Necile takes interest and goes to see the baby. Taking it with her, Shiegra warns Necile that she should not try to hide the baby from Ak and tell him. While Ak seems to be upset that one of his laws was broken, he allows Necile to keep the baby.
As Necile and the wood nymphs care for the baby, they are joined by the pixie Wisk, who has just escaped from some Awgawas. (No, not a typo, there's an extra "a" here.) Noticing the baby, he asks of the name. At first, the baby is named Claus, then Neciloclaus, but Wisk, finding that hard to pronounce, suggests the name Nicholas. (This is based on a footnote in the book that explains that Claus' longer name Neclaus was often mistaken as Nicholas.)
As Nicholas grows up, he realizes he is different from the other residents of Burzee, and finally, Ak takes him on a trip to see humanity, giving him a sash that makes him invisible. Claus feels compassion for the children, and decides he will move out of Burzee so he can help humanity. His visits to befriend children are successful in making them happy.
When winter comes, Nicholas cannot make his visits. He hears a cry for help, and finds Ethan, a crippled boy he befriended, who wanted to bring him a "leaning stick," or a crutch. As Ethan recovers from the cold, Wisk notices a piece of firewood that bears a resemblance to the cat Blinkie, so Nicholas carves it into a wooden cat as a return gift for Ethan. Noticing how much Ethan likes it, Nicholas makes more wooden cats to give to children. Soon, Nicholas' range of toys expand to wooden animals, dolls based on Necile, and more. (However, an incident where a carved image of the late Shiegra scares children teaches him to only make toys of gentle animals.) When a rich girl named Natalie visits, Necile advises Nicholas that even rich children need happiness.
The happiness Nicholas brings angers the Awgawas, so they try to kidnap him and send him to a far-off jungle, but the Ryls there are able to send him home. Nicholas, in his older age, cannot travel during winter, and borrows reindeer from the Knooks and uses them to make deliveries by night. But when he returns late, he is forced to travel by foot again, but he is attacked by Awgawas who steal his toys. When an adult Natalie visits, she is attacked by Awgawas who scare her horse and almost injures her. She gives Nicholas her first toy, asking him to pass it on to another needy child.
Touched by Natalie's goodwill and angered by the attack of the Awgawas, Nicholas goes to Ak and tells him that he needs the reindeer to make deliveries. Will Knook agrees that Nicholas can use the reindeer one night a year, and Ak suggests Christmas Eve as the night. While Nicholas and Wisk go to make more toys, Ak and the Ryls and Knooks prepare to fight the Awgawas. Using their magic powers, they defeat the Awgawas and their allies, and then the wood-nymphs look for the stolen toys. They find them and bring them to Nicholas, so he can make his first Christmas Eve deliveries.
However, Nicholas grows even older, and Wisk is concerned about how much longer he will live. Going to talk with Necile, he sees the Angel of Death coming for Nicholas. However, it seems Ak foresaw Wisk's request and has the Immortals gather and they vote to make Nicholas immortal. Ak and Necile give the Mantle of Immortality to Nicholas just as the Angel of Death is about to take him. (Seemingly, this also affects Blinkie.) Feeling reinvigorated, Nicholas gets back to making toys and continues his work as usual.
This version has recieved a lot of flack since it debuted. Some compare it unfavorably with the Rankin-Bass version, though the obscurity of that adaptation seems to make it unlikely that it was in the minds of the creators of this one. Others tend to point out where it strayed from the book, especially changing Claus to Nicholas, and adding an extra "a" to the Awgwas. To be sure, there are some rather thematic changes from the book. There, Claus knows that the Immortals would prefer that mortals do not know of them, but Nicholas tells children of them quite freely. In the Rankin-Bass adaptation, Claus is aware that Ak is fighting the Awgwas, while in the book, Baum notes that he was making toys at the time, but is told the Awgwas perished. Here, Necile tells Ak that Nicholas shouldn't know, and Ak says it is best that he doesn't know of the Immortal's powers, though it is odd that he wouldn't know, since he grew up with them. Nicholas just assumes that Ak and Necile reasoned with the Awgawas. Also, many names are changed from the book: Ethan was originally Weekum, Flossie and Glossie the reindeer are now Mistletoe and Holly. In both the book and the Rankin-Bass adaptation, Claus is aware of the Mantle of Immortality, while here, Nicholas has no idea why he is living on, and he doesn't seem to care.
Like the Rankin-Bass adaptation, Nicholas has an immortal helper. Rankin-Bass created the sound imp Tingler and also made Shiegra immortal, in this, he has Wisk, who is one of Claus' helpers from the end of the book. (Neither includes all three helpers.) Also, this version has songs, but much less than Rankin-Bass' adaptation. Necile sings "In The World To Come" over a montage of Nicholas growing from baby to young man, and there is another song sequence, "Building A House," as the ryls, knooks, and wood nymphs build a house for Nicholas. Finally, Santa Claus sings a song called "Santa's First Annual Christmas Sleigh Ride" as he makes his first annual Christmas ... well, that sums it up. Most of the music is very Celtic-inspired, and works very well.
I've always been one to be open to multiple adaptations, and as we've seen, changing story elements for an adaptation isn't exactly a bad thing. (Remember Ploog's graphic novel.) I enjoy this adaptation, despite its changes.
Sadly, the movie is no longer available new. It was never released on DVD, and seeing as it was only a couple years after that format began to pick up, I thought it was surprising that a DVD was not simulataneously released with the VHS. It is not aired on television, so only video captures that people have shared online remain the only way outside of VHS for people to see this excellent adaptation of Baum's tale.
EDIT: 12/2011 - It is now on DVD!