Surprisingly Christmas is rather underrepresented in the world of animation on the big screen. While many television specials have become classics, big screen animated feature films about the holiday are few and far between but when we do get the rare animated Christmas movie the filmmakers make the best of their opportunity. Over the last few decades we’ve received numerous holiday animated films that have worked their way into the zeitgeist and become holiday classics and more recent efforts that are still earning their keep have shown that the medium is still rife with inspiration to capture the spirit of the holiday. While there aren’t as many to do my normal top ten, I still wanted to honor some of my favorite animated Christmas classics of today and yesterday. So here are my picks for the Top 5 Animated Christmas Films.
So, before anyone gets angry at the exclusion of classics like “Rudolph”, “Frosty”, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and other television Christmas classics let me be clear: the movies I wanted to focus on for this list were FEATURE LENGTH animated films meant for the big screen or as notable major streaming releases. While some of the well known specials have been featured on the big screen they debuted and are primarily known as TV specials and most of them don’t even reach an hour long without commercials so I personally don’t consider them to be feature length. With all due respect to Rankin/Bass and other studios that brought us many childhood staples of the holiday, the animated features I considered for this list were completely animated films that debuted as either major big-screen or streaming released and focused on the Christmas holiday and for me and many others have become must-watch movies during the most wonderful time of the year.
What is your favorite animated Christmas movie? As always, let me know in the comments!
5. “The Polar Express”
Let’s go back to 2004 to start off the list with one of the most cherished modern Christmas classics, animated or otherwise. Based on the 1985 children’s book of the same name and directed by Robert Zemeckis, this film gained fame, and in some ways infamy, as the first animated film fully made with motion capture technology. While the uncanny valley might be disturbing to some and the film contains more than its fair share of padding to reach the run time, it’s still a charming feature that explores the magic of the holiday that seems to fade as we get older. The music is pretty good too and Tom Hanks deserves credit for playing no less than four on-screen characters. Since its debut “The Polar Express” has become a yearly tradition for many to view on Imax screens making it not only a small screen classic, but a big screen spectacle that captures the hearts of millions every year.
4. “Arthur Christmas”
Released in 2011, “Arthur Christmas” is a rare CGI animated film from Aardman Animations in partnership with Sony that explores the Santa lineage. Focusing mainly on the titular Arthur Claus, the movie follows Arthur after his older brother and heir to the Santa business Steven Claus misses a child on Christmas Eve. Determined not to let any child down on Christmas, Arthur goes on an adventure to deliver the perfect gift to the little girl. It’s a fun tale composed of a simple premise and yet it rarely feels like it’s wasting your time trying to stretch out the story. The themes explored between the members of the Claus family are classic Christmas concepts as Arthur proves to be the most dedicated person for the Santa job, even when compared to his predecessors. It’s a nice little film that packs plenty of heart and has something truly important to say: giving a gift isn’t about the obligation it’s about the smile the gift brings to a child’s face.
3. “A Christmas Carol”
This story has been done so many times on the big screen you’d think it has nothing left to offer, but somehow “A Christmas Carol” feels so timeless no matter what version you decide to watch. In 2009 we got the first fully animated theatrical version, again from “The Polar Express” director Robert Zemeckis who, again, uses his motion capture animation although this time much more polished. While I’m in a minority of people who truly enjoy this version of the tale when compared to many others, I feel it has a lot to offer including being closer to the original story than many other modern adaptations. Jim Carrey is a highlight as not only Scrooge but all three of the ghosts that visit him to help remind him of the spirit of the holiday and its blend of dark honesty and giddy Christmas spirit are perfect for capturing the morals at the heart of this classic holiday tale.
2. “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
I’ve talked to death about this movie many times already, but here it is once again this time at number two on one of my lists and the oldest film on the countdown no less. With that in mind, it’s also possibly the first animated Christmas-themed feature film made specifically for the big screen as well as the first, and possibly only, true duel-holiday classic. Many still debate whether this is a Halloween or Christmas movie. I always ask, why not both? Not only does it capture the spirit of October’s famous holiday, but it also explores the joy of Christmas as we see Jack Skellington’s mid-life crisis cause him to corrupt the happiest time of the year with his own Halloween-flavored flair. With classic songs, iconic characters and stop-motion animation that remains as brilliant as ever, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” perfectly captures two holidays for the price of one.
I only just this year got to watch this incredible film. I’m ashamed that this Oscar nominee failed to make my 2019 list of Best Animated Films of the Year because it certainly would have been a contender. Anyways, I finally got to see it this season and it’s incredible. “Klaus”, a Netflix release that was featured on big screens prior to its streaming debut, tells an original take on the origins of Santa Claus presenting him as a humble woodsman who teams with a reluctant mail carrier to help bring toys to the kids of two warring families. Colorful, unique and wonderfully animated “Klaus” packs more than enough charm to be a deserving modern Christmas classic touching on several holiday and animated story clichés while still maintaining an identity all its own. “Klaus” gives the new generation a Santa origin story to appreciate all their own, one that perfectly fits his giving nature and inspires others to put aside their differences for the greater good as well. While it might be the youngest movie on this list, “Klaus” sets a new standard and has earned my respect as the best animated Christmas feature film to date.