We love a good festive animated special – fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. Some of the most popular and enduring cartoons of all time are centered around the Christmas holiday, which can make picking the best ones a mammoth task. At the risk of putting ourselves on someone’s Naughty List, we’ve done exactly that.
Whether you’re looking for a classic story retold through animation or one of the most influential Christmas specials of all time, here are our picks for the best animated films to dive into this holiday season.
We couldn’t create this list without including at least one entry from Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment. The company’s Christmas specials, from Little Drummer Boy to A Year Without Santa, are still a mainstay of American TV in December almost 60 years after their first holiday special. However, their earliest is still their best, with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer becoming one of the most recognizable Christmas animated films in history. The stop-motion animation still holds up to this day and we’d be lying if said we didn’t still find the whole movie adorable.
Another incredible stop-motion film, The Nightmare Before Christmas is possibly the perfect example of Tim Burton’s unique style. With memorable songs – we defy you not to sing along to This Is Halloween – and endearingly spooky character designs, this is one of our favorite animated Christmas films because of how unique it is. Jack’s quest to understand Christmas is twisted and strange, but we come back to it every year, even if we still hide under the covers during Oogie-Boogie’s death.
No shade on the more recent version of Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic, but nothing comes close to Chuck Jones’ original work. From Boris Karloff’s unmistakable voice as the narrator to the whimsical songs that bring the wacky world of Dr. Seuss to life, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is one of the greatest animated specials of all time. If you don’t cheer when The Grinch returns the gifts to Whoville, your heart might be more than two sizes too small.
As far as origin stories for Santa Claus go, Klaus is easily the best. The animation style is gorgeous and the voice cast, led by the unmistakable J.K. Simmons as Klaus, carries the story of a town that has been held hostage by two feuding families. It is Klaus’ toys and the joy they give the children of the town that allows them to move on from their bitter feud. There are moments when the story is predictable and saccharine, but it is a joyful film that celebrates traditional animation as much as it does the holiday season.
If you grew up in the United States and had access to a TV during the holiday season, chances are you’ve seen this one. Aside from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, this is probably the most iconic Peanuts special. So much of A Charlie Brown Christmas has become ingrained in our pop culture. From the sad-looking bent-over Christmas tree to the image of everyone dancing at the end, this is the perfect message of what Christmas is all about.
While it isn’t the only anime to explore the Christmas season, Tokyo Godfathers is certainly one of the best. Satoshi Kon delivers the story of a trio of homeless people who discover an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve in Tokyo. Their adventures in trying to reunite the baby with her parents are both heartbreaking and uplifting, giving us the perfect Christmas story with an anime twist.
But who really cares about what we think? This year, we had you vote for your best movies, best comics, and best TV shows of the year too. Check the lists and mix and see if you agree with our (and your) top choices of the year!