Anyway, this year's Christmas special was solid, but definitely phoned-in by Disney standards, and exemplified the problems of running events "by spreadsheet", something Disney has been doing far too much of lately.
Derek & Julianne hosted from Disney World, with Jesse Palmer anchoring from Disneyland, along with Aubrey Anderson-Emmons and Miles Brown, from ABC'S Modern Family and black-ish, respectively. Their hosting work was fine for what it was, although Julianne needs to come up with more introductions since almost everyone she introduced was "my friend".
Jesse's hosting was a bright spot, as we received four looks at the Disneyland Christmas parade, featuring floats from Frozen, Toy Story, the Princesses, and the arrival of Santa. Actually getting to see some brief looks at some of the dance routines alongside was also a refreshing change of pace from the "song - commercial - marketing" formula that these specials have turned into.
A bright spot to the marketing aspect this time was seeing each family being taken around various spots in the parks, as well as being interviewed by Aubrey, Miles, and various Disney Channel stars along the way. Mickey Mouse also made a special appearance at a local Christmas tree farm for the Jones family who was unable to travel; it was a surprisingly touching moment to see Mickey in Christmas wardrobe and the Jones' daughter dancing and decorating trees with Mickey.
While I understand Derek & Julianne are popular enough to host two specials so close together, their hosting combined with the recycled music performances only drew attention to the idea that Disney was really focused on the bottom-line and convenience, not making a memorable special.
While some featured an additional interview with their respective hosts, almost every music act was recycled in some form from the Thanksgiving or Descendants specials; Flo Rida was explicitly introduced as an encore, Sofia Carson's "Silent Night" was at the Tree of Life instead of Cinderella Castle (but still a solid, live performance), and Garth & Trisha's could've easily been one wardrobe swap and camera placement change during filming.
On the interstitial side, Aulani made a sweet Christmas video, we had cuts from various stars of Dr. Ken, Fresh Off The Boat, and Good Morning America, as well as a roughly three-minute preview of Pandora at Animal Kingdom. There was a Na'vi featured towards the end of the clip that was either the best Audio-Animatronic I've seen lately, or a well-performed live actor trying to be an AA. Creating Pandora seems like a dream for Imagineering; I'm really excited to see the technological and artistic innovations, and truly hope it marks Imagineering's return to what it does best: creating must-experience, highly immersive, story-driven areas.
To sum up, I was disappointed with most of this special. To say it was bad would be too much, but it certainly didn't live up to the Christmas specials of recent memory. That could be impacted by nostalgia for past years, and the fact that the recycled music was a major negative for the show, but Disney should be well-aware that most fans are going to watch every special, and using recycled content doesn't get anywhere close to the same leeway on TV as it does in the parks.
Overall, if you've seen the Thanksgiving special, "Jolly to the Core" and Sofia Carson's performance from the Descendants special, you were perfectly fine skipping this year's Christmas special. With Episode VIII coming out in 2017, Pandora open, and Star Wars Land's hype train at full steam, here's hoping 2017's special can return to a more prosperous trend.