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Top 10 Animated Christmas Movies

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp

There’s simply no beating these holiday classics. For this list, we’ll be looking at some of the greatest animated Christmas films and yes, we’ll be including TV specials. Our list includes “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), “The Polar Express” (2004), “Arthur Christmas” (2011), and more! Join WatchMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Animated Christmas Movies.

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Script written by Nathan Sharp

Top 10 Animated Christmas Movies


There’s simply no beating these holiday classics. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Animated Christmas Movies.


For this list, we’ll be looking at some of the greatest animated Christmas films and yes, we’ll be including TV specials.



#10: “The Polar Express” (2004)




“The Polar Express” is certainly an interesting experience. The film was unique in that it used motion capture to produce realistic animation. This results in the movie’s distinctive visual style, which includes an oddly realistic (and somewhat creepy) animated Tom Hanks. And it didn’t come cheap, either. The movie was made for $165 million, making it the most expensive animated movie at the time. While critics agreed that it was a gorgeous film, its uncanny valley characters were divisive. Despite this, many people consider “The Polar Express” to be a modern classic, thanks in large part to its imaginative visual wonders and inspiring story.





#9: “The Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974)




And now we go from state-of-the-art digital motion capture to primitive stop motion. This ABC special was based on Phyllis McGinley’s book and was first broadcast in December of 1974. It tells the story of a cold-ridden Santa Claus who decides to skip Christmas and the elves who venture out to find some Christmas spirit. It’s not one of the most well-known Christmas specials, and it may seem prehistoric today, but it’s still a classic that never fails to generate some much-needed Christmas cheer around the holidays.





#8: “Arthur Christmas” (2011)




Who says they don’t make good Christmas movies anymore? “Arthur Christmas” is a brilliantly heartwarming story about Arthur Claus, Santa’s clumsy son, who travels the world to deliver a forgotten present to a little girl. The movie was praised for its star-studded cast, touching story, and fresh take on the Christmas genre (which seems incredibly difficult to achieve). Its animation was also singled out for being particularly grand and beautiful. In the cluttered Christmas canon, “Arthur Christmas” is an invigorating and refreshing entry that proves that there is still plenty of creative material to be mined from the holiday.



#7: “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” (1970)




“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” is an ABC special based on the song of the same name, which seems to be a common theme in the Christmas genre. It tells the intriguing story of Kris Kringle, a boy who wishes to deliver toys to the residents of Sombertown. Yes, it’s a Santa origin story. It contains many memorable musical numbers (although many are cut from TV for commercials), and the old-timey Animagic animation has a very charming, nostalgic quality, even if it can be a little creepy. Like the song the movie is based on, the Christmas season is not complete without at least one airing of this TV classic.





#6: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)




The debate regarding this being a Halloween or Christmas movie will probably never end, but for the purposes of this list, we’re going with the latter. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” tells the story of Jack Skellington, who travels from Halloween Town to Christmas Town and becomes infatuated with its culture. While stop motion animation was on the way out in 1993, this movie made a fantastic case for its use. Even today, the movie is unbelievably gorgeous, and its imagination and visual inventiveness are still second to none. And even amidst the terrifying and wondrous visuals, it still finds time to tell a touching story about the magic and warmth of Christmas.



#5: “Frosty the Snowman” (1969)




Now who doesn’t love them some “Frosty the Snowman?” This classic first aired on CBS way back on December 7, 1969, and it quickly became a holiday favorite. It’s filled with such wonderful animation and fun character interactions that each scene can be considered a classic, and the short 25-minute runtime blows by every single time. The music is stellar and timeless, and the characters, including Frosty, Karen, and the sniveling Professor Hinkle, are some of the most memorable characters in the Christmas canon. “Frosty the Snowman” is definitely a case of quality over quantity, as every single one of its 25 minutes delights.





#4: “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (1983)


Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” may have brought Charles Dickens’ classic story to the 21st century with some incredible 3D animation, but nothing will ever beat “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” This short but wonderful adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” places Mickey and friends in the roles of Dickens’ classic characters, making it more palatable for children to digest and understand. Despite not doing anything particularly new or inventive with the story, it is still a wonderfully-animated adaptation that beautifully captures the fun and uplifting nature of the novel. It may only be 26 minutes long, but it does more with its time than most full-length animations could even dream of.





#3: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)




“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is another TV staple that has continuously aired on NBC and CBS since its premiere way back in December of 1964. “Rudolph” is the most successful Christmas TV special in terms of airtime, as its continuous run of over 50 years makes it the longest-running Christmas special in TV history. It also received a beautiful HD remaster in 2005, which made old people everywhere gasp in amazement at how far we’ve come from those primitive microwaves we used to call TVs. “Rudolph’s” classic stop motion animation, timeless characters, and charming storyline have all ensured its place in the Christmas canon.





#2: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)




Premiering on December 9, 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was watched by nearly sixteen million households and was instantly adored by both critics and the general public. And to think, those involved believed it would be a disaster. The special’s director, Bill Melendez, was embarrassed by the final result, and CBS executives hated it, calling the animation “too simple” and the pace too slow for young audiences. Despite their reservations, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has become a Christmas classic, perhaps BECAUSE OF its simplistic animation style and slow, melodic pace. Plus, Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree is just adorable. Who can’t love that? And who can’t love this special? No one, that’s who.





#1: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (1966)




Of all the classic Christmas TV specials, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” stands above the rest. The characters of The Grinch, Max, and Cindy Lou are unforgettable. The music is timeless, and the songs have become Christmas staples. Its story captures the joyous and harmonic Christmas season better than any other Christmas movie. And its unique animation still looks good several decades later. All of its strong individual components flow together to create a classic that has beautifully stood the test of time. The Grinch may be as charming as an eel, but his special is as charming as Christmas gets.
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