10 Underrated Animated Christmas Movies And Specials

Forget presents and festive cheer — for many, the real gift of Christmas is that it allows us some precious downtime to revisit a few familiar festive faves. There's just something oddly soothing about knowing that, during the period between Christmas and New Year's when time slows to a crawl and we all collectively lose track of what day it is, the only thing we're actually expected to do is chill out, get comfy, and rewatch seasonal classics that we've all seen countless times before.

That said, what if you're craving something new to add to your annual Christmas rotation? After all, December can't always be about "Home Alone" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol." Sometimes you need to mix it up with something new and unexpected. If this sounds like you, then perhaps it's time you turned your attention to a Christmas movie or special that's gone underappreciated since its debut. Animated classics like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman" are holiday season essentials, but other animated works haven't garnered as much attention as they arguably deserve.

There are plenty of hidden gems to be found, some lurking a little deeper below the surface than others. So, to help ensure you spend that valuable Christmas break time in the best way possible, we've gathered together 10 underrated animated Christmas movies and specials that are definitely worth your time this December. All you need to provide is a sofa butt groove and some snacks. Enjoy!

1. Robin Robin

Aardman Animations has a long history of producing cartoon treats that are best enjoyed during the cozy festive season. Over in the U.K., their iconic "Wallace and Gromit" adventures are a staple appearance in every Christmas TV schedule, despite their stories having little to do with Christmas itself. There's just something about the quaint and clearly hand-crafted nature of these stop-motion projects that lends itself nicely to the season. Throw in some great visual gags, smart humor, and beautiful imagery, and you've got a recipe for holiday escapism.

Back in 2021, the studio embraced Christmas with its lovely Netflix short, "Robin Robin." A musical adventure, the film marked a slight departure for the company style-wise, while still delivering all the charm, heart, and wonder that Aardman is known for. In it, we follow a robin who has been raised by a family of mice. While her long legs and wings stick out like a sore thumb compared to her cheese-loving compadres, her differences soon become invaluable tools when she's forced to embark on a heist into a human's house to retrieve a star and prove she can be a good mouse.

The end result is a brilliant short that's given a heightened festive feel thanks to its focus on felt characters. "There's something [about felt] that felt tonally right," co-director Mikey Please told Cartoon Brew. "It's a very wool-soft, squeezable material. You could hang it on a tree at Christmas." He's not wrong.

2. Klaus

With CGI and stop-motion dominating the majority of modern animated features, it can be easy to forget the joy that can come from watching a 2D animated movie. If you're looking for a story that celebrates this classic art form while delivering some Christmas spirit, then "Klaus" could be the film for you. Directed by Sergio Pablos, an animator who worked on many of Disney's renaissance projects like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," it tells the origin story of the Santa Claus mythos, explained to us through the viewpoint of a postal worker in 19th-century Norway.

Featuring the vocal talents of Jason Schwartzman, Joan Cusack, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, and the late, great Norm MacDonald, the film takes an unconventional approach to crafting an imagined backstory for many of our most popular Christmas traditions. With its richly-lit animation style and lush, deep illustrations, many people mistakenly thought that the piece was actually CGI. In fact, following the release of its first teaser, the animation industry site Cartoon Brew had to remind people that it was 2D.

This confusion was largely due to the dedication of its director trying to imagine what the animation landscape might have been like had Disney and other big animation studios not started shifting toward CGI movies. As Pablos later explained: "I'm not trying to bring traditional animation back, I'm trying to bring it forward."

3. Arthur Christmas

If there's one thing you can't escape at Christmas, it's quality family time — whether you want it or not. From those awkward conversations with your parents or that weird relative with questionable opinions on random things to the dreaded moment where the board games get dragged out and all hell breaks loose — for many, this inability to get away from your loved ones for even the briefest period is about as enjoyable as finding a lump of coal in your stocking after being really good all year.

Thankfully, in Aardman's second CGI animated feature film "Arthur Christmas," we learn this type of Christmas chaos isn't solely linked to us normies. Even the Santa Claus clan struggle with complicated family dynamics from time to time, and it comes to a head in this festive adventure following the youngest of St Nick's kids. When the clumsy Arthur (James McAvoy) notices that Santa's high-tech super-sleigh ship has missed a present delivery from its schedule, he takes it upon himself to ensure it's delivered with the help of his grandfather, Grandsanta (Bill Nighy).

While it may be missing Aardman's trademark stop-motion style, the studio manages to cram in a stocking's worth of charm and wintery visuals into this delightful animated adventure. So if you find yourself stuck in a dreaded family time trap this Christmas, maybe put this on to help replace any impending awkwardness with festive fun.

4. Shaun The Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas

Considering Shaun the Sheep is a character that doesn't speak, his worldwide popularity is hugely impressive. After making his debut in Wallace and Gromit's third adventure, "A Close Shave," in 1995, he went on to secure his own television series that has since been broadcast in 180 different countries. A few short films followed as his popularity among younger audiences increased, eventually leading to two feature film outings. However, it wasn't until 2021 that he got his very own Christmas special, first airing on BBC One in the United Kingdom.

In "The Flight Before Christmas," we find Shaun and his sheep pals getting excited at the prospect of another Christmas. However, with the big day looming, Shaun's eagerness soon turns to panic after his little pal Timmy goes missing while trying to secure some extra stockings for the rest of their flock. From there, the race is on to find Timmy before he ends up wrapped and under someone's tree on Christmas morning.

Full of big, colorful action setpieces the kids are bound to love — but balanced with enough humor for older audiences to enjoy — Shaun the Sheep's Christmas adventure is a nifty little short that's hard to not enjoy thanks to its dialogue-less format. Plus, at just 30 minutes long, it doesn't outstay its welcome either — if anything, we could've spent more time with Shaun and his friendly flock.

5. The Snowman

It's hard to separate Christmas and "The Snowman," and yet the lingering taste it leaves on the palate of viewers can be mixed. A combination of festive and heartbreaking, it often feels like a bittersweet watch that's unafraid of taking a hard look at the darker parts of life — elements that can all too easily rise to the surface during the holiday season. Released in 1982, it's an adaptation of the popular children's book by Raymond Briggs that stays true to the illustrator's ethereal style — and the end result is something that's unforgettable and oddly haunting.

Introduced by David Bowie, it takes us into an animated world where we meet a little boy who wakes up one morning to discover it has been snowing. Rushing outside to play, he soon builds a snowman, only for it to come to life later that night. Together, the boy and his new pal embark on a journey to the North Pole, where they meet more living snowmen and Father Christmas himself. However, just as their friendship is starting to bloom, the next day the boy awakens to discover the snowman has melted, leaving him bereaved at the loss of his icy friend.

The film's lack of vocal performances and fuzzy production quality only add to its nostalgia factor, giving it a dream-like quality underscored by its now-iconic musical number, "Walking in the Air." It stays with you for much longer than its 26-minute runtime.

6. The Snowman and the Snowdog

Released in 2012 to mark the 30th anniversary of its predecessor, "The Snowman and the Snowdog" serves up more of the same Christmas-themed adventures with a similar focus on the harsher realities of life that all children must encounter. In it, we meet a new little boy who's writing his Christmas list to Santa, asking for a new dog after his previous pet died. After stumbling upon a familiar hat and scarf underneath a floorboard in his new home, he decides to use these items to build his very own snowman and accompanying snowdog.

Much like the first movie, it's not long before the boy discovers the snowman and his pet have come to life, whisking him away on a new journey to the North Pole where they race with other snowmen and eventually meet Santa Claus, who makes the boy's Christmas wish a reality by turning the snowdog into an actual pooch.

However, just as in the first outing, the snow fun soon comes to a close when the boy awakens from his nighttime party to discover the snowman has melted away, leaving him sad at the loss of his friend. Realized with the same illustrative style made famous by Raymond Briggs, "The Snowman and the Snowdog" is overshadowed by its iconic first installment — but watch it and you'll find there's much to marvel at in this quaint and colorful world.

7. The Snowy Day

You may recognize the main character in "The Snowy Day." The little African American boy in a red jumpsuit with a pointy hat is the same character made famous in author Ezra Jack Keats' 1962 book of the same name. This sleek, colorful short adapts Keats' award-winning tale, bringing it to life with an energy, innocence, and quiet power similar to that found in the book.

In it, we meet Peter, a little boy who's excited to travel to his nana's house to collect his Christmas Eve dinner. Along his snowy walk to his relative's home, Peter meets all the varied residents of his city block — from a Jewish baker to an Asian store owner — and even has an encounter with a few talking animals, like a cookie-loving mouse.

Adapted with love, this new take on Keats' book features the voices of Laurence Fishburne and Regina King and manages to combine a small-scale festive adventure with a very pertinent showcase of inner-city diversity. It's this element that helps set it apart from many of the other Christmas shorts and films on this list, making it not only a fun way for your little ones to spend some TV time over the Christmas break, but a short that also champions a very important message of neighborly love.

8. Stickman

"Stickman" is based on a rhyming children's book penned by author Julia Donaldson. If you have young ones, Donaldson's name will no doubt be familiar to you as the same writer who gave us "The Gruffalo" — one of the most popular kids' books going, which has sold over 17 million copies worldwide and been translated into 105 different languages. With those credentials under her belt, you can rest easy knowing that if you put "Stickman" on for your kids to enjoy, they're going to be in pretty good hands.

Much like "The Gruffalo," the adventures of "Stickman" are equally bright, engaging, and irresistible — especially when you're looking for Christmas content. The short follows our titular hero, who becomes separated from his loved ones and must go on a quest to find them and eventually reunite at the Family Tree. Delivered in rhyme and lovingly animated by production house Magic Light Pictures, it also features the voice talents of Martin Freeman, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, and Rob Brydon.

It's one of those great animated films that's hard not to get immersed in. Deep down, you know it's primarily aimed at very little kids. However, with most parents having surely spent many an evening reading Donaldson's work aloud to their children at bedtime, adults will soon find themselves just as engrossed as any 4-year-old.

9. Community: Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas

In Dan Harmon's cult-hit masterpiece "Community," no single episode took a conventional narrative path. As we followed the Greendale seven — a study group whose time spent at community college was more paintball fights and pillow forts than homework and good grades — audiences soon came to expect the unexpected from this expertly written, sharply funny, and very meta series.

With that in mind, when it came time for the group to celebrate Christmas, it came as little surprise Harmon would take his cast of characters on one of their most memorable adventures — one that was loaded with heart and paid tribute to the classic stop-motion Christmas specials of old à la 1964's "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer."

When the pop-culture-obsessed Abed (Danny Pudi) starts seeing his world in claymation, the rest of the study group is transformed into festive toy versions of themselves. They are forced to go on a journey to Planet Abed in order to get to the root of his psyche and fix his issue with Christmas. Seeing the show's familiar faces given a yule-tide, stop-motion makeover makes for a fun detour from the series' typical, live-action format. Combine it with some great gags and the heart that Harmon injected into all of his adventures on this show, and this episode (it's Season 2, Episode 11 if you were wondering) is a welcome addition to this list.

10. Father Christmas

Based on the Raymond Briggs book of the same name, the "Father Christmas" adaptation was released in the U.K. in 1982. Animated in a similar Briggs style, it starred British comedian Mel Smith as the jolly man in the red suit, finding him shortly after completing another successful Christmas Eve.

Returning to his home in modern-day Britain, we watch Santa recount a story about a holiday he took during the time between his Christmas duties. Throughout the short's 26 minutes, we see him travel to the likes of France, Scotland, and Las Vegas, all to varying levels of success and enjoyment — with each mini-trip bringing him closer to being identified as Father Christmas by eagle-eyed children.

In addition to featuring links to Briggs' "The Snowman," the short also provides a brief cameo and moment of happiness for two characters that appeared in one of Briggs' bleakest works — and one of the most depressing animated films in general — 1986's "When The Wind Blows," which follows an elderly couple trying to survive the fall out of a nuclear attack. It's about as far from Christmas cheer as you can possibly get, but in "Father Christmas" you can briefly see the couple enjoying a carefree drink in a cozy little pub during simpler — and less radioactive — times.