To bring a winter wonderland to life sometimes a filmmaker needs to truly unfurl their imagination and there’s truly no better medium to let your creativity fly than animation. Crafting entire worlds from an empty digital landscape or a physical stop-motion set, animation has brought audiences some of the most vibrant films ever made with no limits to the boundaries of artistry.
As one of the earliest pioneers of mainstream filmmaking, the iconic Walt Disney once said, “Animation offers a medium of storytelling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world”. Bringing audiences the likes of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland, there are few individuals who know the power of animation better than Disney himself.
As the most magical time of the year, animation has long lent itself to the Christmas period, bringing wonderful winter landscapes to life in dazzling white, or painting a house with spectacular festive lights. Picking out the best festive classics, we’ve compiled our list of the top ten animated Christmas films of all time, including works from filmmakers such as Henry Selick, Satoshi Kon and Sergio Pablos.
The 10 best animated Christmas films:
10. Frosty the Snowman (Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass, 1969)
A jolly happy soul, with a corncob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal, Frosty the snowman is an iconic figure of Christmas fiction, with this short film in 1969 bridging him lovingly to life.
Displaying a charming rudimentary ‘60s animation style, Frosty the Snowman from Arthur Rankin, Jr and Jules Bass is a compelling 30 minute festive favourite following a snowman and a little girl evading a magician who’s after the titular character’s magic hat. Silly and playful, the film is no cinematic classic but it is certainly an absorbing piece of animation that still looks surprisingly great.
9. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Robert L. May, 1964)
Speaking of iconic fictional festive favourites, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was brought to loveable life in the character’s most famous on-screen outing in 1964 by director Larry Roemer and Rankin/Bass Productions.
Based on the well-known Christmas novel by Robert L. May, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer follows Santa’s most well-known sleigh-pullers as he runs away from the pack and searches for a place that will accept him. Thanks to the voice work of Billie Mae Richards, Burl Ives and Larry D. Mann the film quickly became a family favourite with its unique, simple animation style becoming the TV films most iconic feature.
8. Robin Robin (Michael Please, Dan Ojari, 2021)
The most recent film on this list of animated Christmas favourites, Robin Robin comes from the genius artists over at Aardman, the same creators behind Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and much more.
Made for Netflix, the festive short mimics the animation style of the aforementioned early short films and opts for simplicity with stop-motion sets and felt-style character models. The short itself follows a bird raised by mice who begins to question where she belongs before going off on a journey of self-discovery. Starring the voice talent of Gillian Anderson, Richard E. Grant and Adeel Akhtar, Robin Robin is destined to become a Christmas classic.
7. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Chuck Jones, Ben Washam, 1966)
From the pioneering creative mind of the author, Dr. Seuss came the very first adaptation of The Grinch before the Jim Carrey live-action adaptation and long before the Illumination animation reimagining.
Translating not only the story but also the wonderful art design from Seuss, directors Chuck Jones and Ben Washam create the finest adaptation of the children’s book to date. Following a grumpy green hermit who plans to steal Christmas from his adoring town, How The Grinch Stole Christmas remains a festive staple for so many whilst the term ‘Grinch’ has become synonymous with a holiday humbug.
6. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Bill Melendez, 1965)
A staple of the American Christmas calendar, A Charlie Brown Christmas based on the original comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz is a charming nostalgia trip into the mind of an iconic character on the most magical day of the year.
With an extraordinary ability to capture the imagination and spirit of multiple generations, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a film, at its heart, about the commercialisation of the Christmas period and the efforts of the titular character to recapture its significance. Brought to life with charming, simplistic animation and timeless voice acting, it’s no wonder the short, enthralling tale of A Charlie Brown Christmas remains such a joy to behold.
5. Arthur Christmas (Sarah Smith, 2011)
The second film from the influential film studio Aardman Animations on this list, Arthur Christmas is a widely underrated festive cracker that works as both a hilarious comedy and heartwarming drama.
Telling the story of Santa, his descendants and the flock of elves that help them carry out their festive doings, Arthur Christmas follows the son at the bottom of the pile who hopes to one day take over the reins from his father. With the voice talents of James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy and Michael Palin, Aardman’s film becomes elevated into a vibrant Christmas tale of joy, wonder and genuine creativity.
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1994)
Is it a Halloween film or is it a Christmas film? For its use of the holiday season in the title of the film itself, we’re going to opt for the latter, with this dark children’s stop motion classic showing that even the world’s bleakest characters can be filled with festive cheer.
Brought into existence by writer Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a gothic thrill ride through the frights of Halloween and the bright joys of Christmas. Featuring several compelling musical numbers including ‘Jack’s Lament’ and ‘What’s This?’, the iconic animated classic has gone on to become a cultural phenomenon, engaging a whole community of film lovers arrested by its creativity.
3. Klaus (Sergio Pablos, Carlos Martínez López, 2019)
A heartwarming modern festive favourite, Klaus is a Spanish-animated treat from Netflix that brings genuine charm and beauty to a story audiences feel like they’ve heard countless times before.
From directors Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López, the film follows a postman, Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) in a faraway, frozen land who convinces the local toymaker, Klaus (J.K. Simmons) to help him deliver toys to children living in and around the area. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2020, Klaus is a spellbinding Christmas cracker that doesn’t get the love it truly deserves.
2. The Snowman (Dianne Jackson, 1982)
An influential British animation from Dianne Jackson with the supervision of When the Wind Blows director Jimmy T. Murakami, The Snowman is a timeless short film that effortlessly captures the wonder of the festive season.
Telling the story of a magical snowman who comes to life and takes a young boy on a trip to the North Pole on Christmas eve, Jackson’s iconic tale is famous for bringing the song ‘We’re Walking in the Air’ into popular knowledge. The scene in which the orchestral song is played coincides with the snowman and the boy’s journey across the skyline of Great Britain and is a moment of great beauty in the extraordinary film.
1. Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon, 2003)
Few masters of cinema have ever forayed into the Christmas film, aside from the influential animator Satoshi Kon, known for the likes of films such as Paprika, Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue.
His 2003 film, Tokyo Godfathers, is not only the greatest animated Christmas film of all time, but it is also a captivating drama in its own right. With voice work from Tôru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki and Aya Okamoto, the film follows three homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo on Christmas Eve who take in a newborn baby found in the trash and seek to find its parents. A festive film of complicated drama and characters, Tokyo Godfathers is a holiday classic that doesn’t abide by the rules.