The 5 Merriest Animated Christmas Movies

best animated christmas movies

(Welcome to Let’s Get Animated!, a column that spotlights the best of film animation. In this edition: the best animated Christmas movies.)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the time when we rank the holiday movies that were staples of our childhoods as if some sort of numerical value can be applied to joy. Well, I’m no Grinch, so I’m not ranking them. But I am picking out the best animated Christmas movies because this is my column and I can do what I want. And what I want in this case is to spread Christmas joy for all to hear and perhaps give the spotlight to a few animated holiday movies that may have flown under your radar.

So, without further ado, here are the five best animated Christmas movies.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Come on, you can’t have Christmas without the Peanuts gang. The 1965 TV special has been a staple of the winter season for 50-plus years, and it will continue to be a staple long after we’re dead. But despite being synonymous with the cheery Christmas season, A Charlie Brown Christmas works so well because of its undercurrent of melancholy. The short special follows Charlie as he falls into a depression that is only deepened by the rampant commercialism displayed by his peers — hanging up Christmas lights, exchanging presents, mocking Charlie’s pitiful drooping tree. But in classic TV special fashion, the gang learns the true spirit of Christmas and come together in a charming sing-a-long of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Tokyo Godfathers

The holiday legitimacy of Satoshi Kon‘s 2003 film may be up for debate, but the Frank Capra-esque dramedy that bursts to the seams with empathy makes it a Christmas movie in my book. Loosely based on Peter B. Kyne’s novel Three GodfathersTokyo Godfathers is a that follows three homeless people — a depressed alcoholic named Gin, a trans woman named Hana, and a runaway teen named Miyuki — who discover an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. The trio decide to find the baby’s parents, exploring the seedy underbelly of Tokyo and its homeless in a heartwarming film — and oddly sentimental one for the anime director — that is all about the miracle of Christmas.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

The live-action and CGI remakes could never live up to the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, which runs at a tight 26 minutes. And we don’t need any more minutes to tell this classic Dr. Seuss story. The 1966 animated special really has it all from the beginning: Boris Karloff as the narrator, Thurl Ravenscroft’s perfect rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and a simple, no-frills adaptation of a story about a surly monster who tries to steal Christmas.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the first Rankin/Bass holiday special that would spawn an entire cottage industry of stop-motion holiday movies including The Little Drummer Boy, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and Jack Frost. This 1964 TV special is why when you think of Christmas movies, stop-motion immediately springs to mind. But Rudolph is the original. The 55-minute film follows the classic tale of Rudolph, the outcast reindeer who ultimately saves Christmas because of his shiny, red nose. Together with its stunning animation and the iconic recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Burl Ives, Rudolph is forever cemented as a charming classic of the Christmas season.

Rise of the Guardians

Christmas is usually all about nostalgia, but every now and then, a Christmas movie comes in to shake up our usual line-up of 1960s TV specials and re-runs of It’s a Wonderful Life. And while most modern animated Christmas movies are embarrassingly schmaltzy, the 2012 CG-animated Rise of the Guardians manages to craft an epic adventure that is heavy in both sentiment and breathtaking animated sequences. Known primarily as the “Hot Jack Frost Movie” (and as voiced by Chris Pine, he’s almost an unfairly attractive animated character), Rise of the Guardians is not to be confused with the much worse Legends of the Guardians owl film. The film tells the tale of the Guardians — Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Sandman — who enlist the trickster spirit Jack Frost to stop the evil Pitch Black from engulfing the world in darkness. Directed by Peter Ramsey, who currently is making headlines as the co-director of the acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseRise of the Guardians is a surprisingly affecting, wildly imaginative film.

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