Animated Christmas specials might sound childish, but don’t be afraid to sit down and actually enjoy some classic cartoons — especially if you’re looking for stories with heart. Whether you prefer a comedy or tearjerker, these five animated movies cover a broad range of tastes and interests and are worth checking out.
The Classic: Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
Inside Charles Dickens’ famous tale of charity and heart lives a theme that continuously touches both the young and old — and if there’s one character that everybody knows (and loves), it’s Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse.
Playing the overworked Bob Cratchit on Christmas Eve, Mickey is adorably sympathetic and quickly wins over the audience in his poverty-stricken plight.
Meanwhile his employer, Scrooge McDuck, a greedy curmudgeon, embarks on a midnight journey with ghosts and comes to regret his past after discovering the true meaning of Christmas spirit.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol is just a half an hour long — the perfect length for a childhood fable.
But for those more interested in a full-length feature, opt for 2009’s A Christmas Carol featuring the voice of Jim Carrey instead.
The Alternative: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Sometimes the classic Christmas stories are the ones heard too often — and Tim Burton’s Academy Award-nominated musical feature is a perfect substitute. The 76-minute movie follows Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, and his dissatisfaction with routine scares.
After stumbling upon a Christmas tree door and entering the realm of mini lights, snow and Santa Claus, he attempts to exchange bats and spiders for reindeer and a sleigh.
Along with the enchanting storyline, the animation itself is a wonder to behold — from the characters’ fluid movements to the details in the cemetery and tower. The movie is most famous for its music, which is both catchy and integral to the story.
The Comical: South Park Christmas Special (1999)
What could be better than a montage of Christmas melodies sung by the cast of South Park?
The episode “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics” from season three is a hilariously unforgettable half hour that cannot be missed, even by non-fans.
Although this animated short may not exactly have a standalone special, it is easily watchable by anyone with a well-rounded (and perhaps crass) sense of humor. Although the entire special is worth watching, some of the highlights include Eric Cartman forgetting the words to “O Holy Night” and Mr. Mackey singing his goofy chorus version of “Carol of the Bells.”
Politically incorrect, vulgar and sacrilegious — this special makes for a delightfully silly Christmas.
The Nostalgic: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Does such a title really need an introduction?
Dr. Seuss’ classic tale of transformation from grumpy to heartfelt fully captures — as with Mickey’s Christmas Carol — the entire essence of charitable holiday spirit. The Grinch is mean and green and despises the residents of Whoville — a place where Christmas is publicly adored and celebrated. But how can he stop their dreaded singing?
The tale has been told over the years and was even converted into a full-length film in 2000 (once again, starring Carrey), but the original cartoon still stands strong as the more entertaining and heartwarming version. And how can you top Boris Karloff’s narration?
The Poignant: The Snowman (1982)
Ever make a snowman when you were little? This half-hour special vies to be one of the most touching Christmas stories that might even draw a few tears.
The special follows a young boy who builds a snowman on Christmas Eve only to discover the magical power of Christmas has awakened his frosty friend. The entire animation contains not a single bit of dialogue, which might initially disengage some viewers.
But the music alone is breathtakingly beautiful and makes the dreamlike story speak directly to every viewer. The climactic song “Walking in the Air” is the only scene with words, and even then the lyrics are almost ethereal.
One of the best aspects of The Snowman is its unique, sketch-like animation: Every frame appears hand-drawn and evokes memories of coloring and doodling — a perfect way for the audience to connect to the main character.
For those craving more Snowman-like animation, Father Christmas is a decent companion piece as well.
In the mood for more recent holiday animations? The Polar Express (2004) is a wonderfully whimsical journey, while Shrek the Halls (2007) brings comic relief.
Whatever your taste, there’s a holiday special for you.