There's something special about animated films that offer a great deal of comfort for most movie lovers. Around the Christmas season, there's fewer ways to to immediately transform audiences to a happy place than with an animated Christmas feature. From classics that have been appreciated across generations to adult-centered Japanese masterworks, there's an animated Christmas movie for everyone. Here are ten of the very best.
All Dogs Christmas Carol
Did you know All Dogs Go to Heaven is part of a trilogy ending on a Christmas movie? Angel puppies ask Annabelle to tell them the story about how Carface saved Christmas with help from his pals Charlie and Itchy. Focusing on Carface as a stand-in for Ebenezer Scrooge, this retelling of A Christmas Carol is filled with references to other films, like a great homage to The Mask as the ghost of Christmas Future. It’s a cute interpretation of a classic, but with a zesty charm only Don Bluth animated dogs can provide.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Perhaps the most beloved Christmas special in history thanks to Snoopy, the Peanuts’ A Charlie Brown Christmas fits the bill. Everyone’s favorite cartoon beagle appears all over this special, but mainly focuses on decorating and redecorating his doghouse for the neighborhood lights display competition. Snoopy is a certifiable pop culture icon, and it's a nice reminder to see where he made his television debut all those years ago. No iodine necessary.
Featured on Netflix’s top 10 for over two months before it was swiftly pulled from streaming services this December, audiences can’t get enough of this rather adorable computer-animated version of the classic story from Dr. Seuss. Benedict Cumberbatch takes voice-over duty for the titular green grump, alongside a stellar voice cast featuring Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, and the a capella darlings, Pentatonix, as the Whoville carolers. It’s the same story as it always is, punched up for today’s kids and a killer title track revamp of the theme song from Tyler the Creator. It’s cute. Your kids will love it.
Jesper Johansson (Jason Schwartzman) is the spoiled brat son of the Royal Postmaster General, and has been trying to flunk out of the postman academy. His disappointed father sends him to the distant town of Smeerensburg and notes that if Jesper fails to post 6,000 letters within a year, he will be cut off from his family’s fortune. Once Jesper arrives in the snowy town, the film transforms into a beautiful origin story of Santa Claus, with J.K. Simmons as the titular Klaus. The Academy Award nominated film is truly something to behold, and an absolute modern Christmas classic.
The Magic Snowflake
In a rare instance of a sequel surpassing its predecessor in quality, the French animated film The Magic Snowflake takes the heart of Santa's Apprentice and improves upon it in just about every way. A young Saint Nicolas agrees to do Santa's work for one year, but the stress of the job and Nicholas’ condition that makes him “grow up too fast” puts him at risk of losing Christmas cheer forever. It’s a very cute, very harmless animated adventure film that offers a change of pace from the usual fare we’ve all seen dozens of times.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas may be, in fact, a perfect film. In Henry Selick’s directorial debut, Jack the Pumpkin King is tired of doing the Halloween thing 365 and becomes fascinated with the world of Christmas. As he tries to put his own twist on the celebration, he almost destroys Christmas and puts Santa Claus at risk. The endless war of determining whether or not this is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie is a silly one, but providing the accessibility of Christmas to monster kids and goths cannot be understated.
Olive the Other Reindeer
Based based on the 1997 children's book by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold and illustrated by J. Otto Seibold, Olive the Other Reindeer is all about a terrier named Olive (Drew Barrymore) who saves Christmas. After one of Santa’s reindeer is injured and Christmas is at risk, Olive's pet flea, Fido, mishears the line “all of the other reindeer” in the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and believes the line to be "Olive the other reindeer.” Olive sees this as a message from Santa that it’s up to her to help pull the sleigh, and she makes her way to the North Pole to help save Christmas.
Catch Olive the Other Reindeer on cable syndication.
The Polar Express
Memes and humbugs aside, The Polar Express is still pretty darn magical. Based on the 1985 children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, the film holds the distinction as the first all-digital capture film ever made. It’s an enchanting film about a young boy doubting the Christmas spirit who takes a magical ride on a train to the North Pole. The journey becomes one not just of Christmas joy but of self-discovery and the importance of believing.
The Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials
Choosing just one of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials is a cruel and unfair task, so we’re putting them all together. For almost fifty years, Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass produced Christmas specials featuring both traditional animation and stop-motion that helped set the culture for Christmas specials and the future of Christmas movies as we know it. The Rankin/Bass specials have been shared and enjoyed for generations, and they don’t show any signs of stopping. All hail Yukon Cornelius.
Check out the Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials on Amazon Prime with AMC+
One of the few animated Christmas features not explicitly meant for families, Tokyo Godfather focuses on a trio of homeless people surviving on the streets of Tokyo. Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic, Miyuki, a teenage runaway, and Hana, a trans woman, are all digging through the garbage looking for a Christmas dinner when they come across a baby in the dumpster. The three spend their Christmas eve looking to find the parents of the baby, and this story of unsuspecting heroes is one of the most heartfelt animated Christmas movies ever made.
Eight Crazy Nights
Holiday films are absolutely dominated by films centered around Christmas, and it would be a great disservice not to highlight that one of the best animated holiday films of all time focuses on Hanukkah. Adam Sandler catches a lot of heat for his...well, existence, but his foray into animation with Eight Crazy Nights is one of his most impactful career moves yet. The hand drawn animation is super impressive, the voice acting is absolutely delightful, and despite its juvenile sensibilities, it’s a movie providing representation for a holiday that always gets trampled over in favor of Christmas. Sure, Eight Crazy Nights isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a hell of a lot better than most of the Christmas mess cranked out every year and deserves to be seen.
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