Lineboil’s Top 10 Christmas Animations

Christmas animations are like relatives – they’re best when we see them only once a year. Oh, simmer down – your Aunt Gertie is charming when she’s hammered. And in her honor, we’ve concocted the definitive list of Christmas animations – complete with classic characters like the Grinch and Charlie Brown, plus some new additions like Spongebob and the gang from South Park. Culled from TV series and specials, feature films and even a few web shorts, enjoy Lineboil’s Top 10 Christmas Animations.

#10 – The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

This 51-minute TV special, which was directed by stop-motion giants Jules Bass, Jr. and Arthur Rankin, was one of the first Christmas tales to go way off the beaten path. Vixen ends up in the dog pound, and a bunch of elves go to South Town, USA – think Miami with cobblestones. We also meet the poster child for our inevitably sweaty future – the Heat Miser. He lives in a volcano and he ends up going toe-to-toe with Al Gore in the 3rd act (one of those is true). It was based on Phyllis McGinley’s 1957 book, and the special originally aired on ABC. Here’s a clip:

#9 – SpongeBob Squarepants – Christmas Who? (2000)

In this episode directed by Walt Dohrn and Paul Tibbitt, we get conclusive proof that Spongebob was invented for times like Christmas, where enthusiasm is a dish best served spastic. Plus, Squidward is cast in the role of a lifetime – the “Grinch” of Bikini Bottom. “I can’t believe anyone would celebrate a holiday where a jolly prowler breaks in and leaves gifts,” said Mr. Squidward J. Tentacles, who is voiced by Rodger Bumpass. Real name. Here’s a clip:

#8 – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Not to be confused with Max Fleischer’s 1944 animated short, this Rankin/Bass production holds the title of Longest Running Holiday Special – airing every year since 1964. Rankin/Bass didn’t direct on this one, instead letting Kizo Nagashima and Larry Roemer take the reins (get it?). The film was so popular, it got several sequels… including one in 2001 that sucked big, bouncy boughs of holly. Here’s a trailer:

#7 – The Simpsons – Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (1989)

I’m no TV exec, but it seems like you usually wait a few episodes before dropping a big ol’ holiday special on the audience. But not for The Simpsons – they took on Christmas in their very first full-length episode back in 1989 (it was the 8th produced, and aired out of order). Of course, they’d already screened 48 shorts on the The Tracey Ullman Show on FOX, but it’s still kinda odd. That said, it’s a great episode – one of the best in 19 amazing seasons and counting. It was directed by David Silverman, who went on to direct The Simpsons Movie. The episode is the first appearance of Santa’s Little Helper, this Simpson’s dog, who is voiced by Frank Welker – the voice of TV’s most famous dog: Scooby Doo.

#6 – A Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987)

When you think Christmas, you think dinosaurs. Well, if you’re Will Vinton, that’s what you do. This stop-motion maestro tapped Rex and Herb, two claymation dinos, to host this 1987 TV special. He also designed gorgeous sets, directed seamless animation and plenty of good gags. Don’t miss the world’s most famous pruned-pitchmen, The California Raisins, late in the show for a rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Interesting note, The Simpsons spoofed this TV special in their 2003 holiday episode Tis The Fifteenth Season. Here’s a short segment:

#5 – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A poignant comment on Christmas commercialism, this 1965 TV special was the very first TV adaptation of Charles Schultz’ immensely popular Peanuts comic strip. It was also the first animation to use a full cast of kids as actors, and as the production wrapped up, it wasn’t given much of a shot by TV execs. But it blew the doors off in its first airing; almost 50% of the US TV audience tuned in. This timeless classic was directed by the late Bill Meléndez, who also provided the voice of Snoopy. Enjoy a short clip:

#4 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol (2004)

This TV special directed by Burny Mattinson was based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. At the time, it was Disney’s first Mickey Mouse animation in over 30 years, and the 26-minute film is widely loved both commercially and critically, drawing an Academy Award nomination in 1983 for Best Animated Short. The crew was filled with animation rock-stars, but none bigger than animator Glen Keane (animated Aladdin in Aladdin) and Pixar’s masterful founding member John Lasseter, who hasn’t worked on a 2D project since (okay, there’s that Ratatouille short and The Princess and the Frog, if you wanna get technical). Here’s a clip:

#3 – South Park – Woodland Critter Christmas (2004)

Just because holiday animations hadn’t yet featured bloody orgies, the Antichrist, abortions and AIDS jokes didn’t stop Matt Stone and Trey Parker from exploring new territory. So let’s just say that it’s the only top 10 animation you shouldn’t share with your 8-year old nephew (but we recommend you force him to see it when he’s 16). The 22-minute episode loosely spoofs the 1979 special John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and it is viewable in its entirety over at southparkstudios.com. In the meantime, here’s a clip:

#2 – The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

While most think Tim Burton directed this classic stop-motion film, Henry Selick, the man at the helm of Coraline, did. It’s no wonder it’s a stand-out – the late, great Joe Ranft was a storyboard artist on this critically-acclaimed film before heading off to make his indelible mark at Pixar. After opening to modest box-office revenues in 1993, the film was re-released in 2006 and 2007 in magical 3D. Note that this is the only theatrically-released film on our list. Maybe we like our Christmas animations interrupted by commercials, reminding us that, after all, it’s all about the shopping. Here’s a sing-a-long:

#1 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Based on the 1957 book of the same name, this 26-minute TV special is the best holiday animation of all time. Want proof, go ask Santa. He’s watching it right now. Directed by Chuck Jones, the film premiered to an audience of 38 million people, and in 1966 there were only 37 million people living in the US. You do the math. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, it drives home the anti-commercialism message with lines like “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps … means a little bit more.” The property, which turned 50 last year, has spawned sequels, a merchandise bonanza (*cough* commercialism) and even a Broadway musical. But never, ever mentioned this great film in the same breath as the dreadful Jim Carrey live-action version. If you dare, you will be penalized 20 Who Points. Instead, focus on the mastery of this work, and know that to make a great holiday animation, it doesn’t hurt to have a writer with a Pulitzer Prize and three Academy Awards under his belt. Enjoy a moment of mastery below:

RUNNERS UP

Alvin and the Chipmunks – A Chipmunk Christmas, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, The Muppets Christmas Carol and Jack Frost. It should also be noted that the current best-selling holiday animation is Barbie in a Christmas Carol – written by my friend Elise Allen!

SPECIAL MENTION – Best Online Holiday Shorts

Happy Tree Friends – We’re Scrooged

Gordon Gecko taught us that “Greed is good.” Tell that to Lumpy. Directed by Kenn Navarro for Mondo Media.

IM IN UR MANGER KILLING UR SAVIOR

Geeks like Yule logs as much as the rest of us, as long as they can be used to cast spells. Created by Ben Levin and Matt Burnett at fortaxreason.com.

So, how’s we do? Add your own list in the comments below…

15 Comments

  1. hey what about 8 crazy nights !?

  2. Joe Corrao December 16, 2008

    Great stuff…most people (hopefully not animators) forget the unbelievably good A Christmas Carol animated by Richard Williams and his crew…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hA5T1G7rxg
    the mind staggers thinking how much work went into it…well my mind staggers.

  3. What about Nelvana’s Cosmic Christmas (and Intergalactic Thanksgiving?) They certainly didn’t age as well as the Grinch, Charlie Brown, or the Rankin Bass specials – but for trippy ’70′s nostalgia, I thought they’d get a mention. Bonus points for being unavailable in any current video format.

  4. Julia Vickeman December 16, 2008

    Great countdown! Reading about these really put me into the holiday spirit. Strangely enough, as a child I would more often watch the Flintstones Christmas Carol than Mickey’s. Probably because Wilma is so much hotter than Minnie.

  5. Rich Dickerson December 16, 2008

    What about A Scooby Doo Christmas but I am biased haha

  6. It’s my own personal favorites, but I would put CHARLIE BROWN XMAS as number one, and add UPA’s MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, directed by Abe Levitow. There’s also ZIGGY’S GIFT (1982) that Eric Goldberg and I worked on, and the Oscar winning A CHRISTMAS CAROL( 1972) of Richard Williams and Chuck Jones.

  7. Good list! :)

    May I also throw one into the ring?

    Ziggy’s Gift

    It’s really a lovely little Christmas special, and
    VERY well animated!

    It’s WAY under the radar, but definitely check it out if you can! I bet it slips into everybody’s top 10!
    ;)

  8. Joe Corrao December 16, 2008

    The original southpark thing (from 1995 at least if not earlier) captures the troo meaning of christmas…

  9. Andy Bauer December 16, 2008

    I’d like to give a shout-out to “Frosty the Snowman” (1969) produced by Rankin/Bass. Who didn’t cry when they first saw Frosty melt?

  10. Aaron H. Bynum December 16, 2008

    Woodland critter christmas is hilarious… I hope they air it again this year.

  11. Billy Roberts December 16, 2008

    I would have to agree that ‘Frosty the Snowman’ is an all-time favorite of children for decades. It’s probably a bit more befitting than one or two others on the list. I’m also a big fan of ‘A Wish for Wings That Work’ (1991) from Berkeley Breathed and starring Bill and Opus of Bloom County fame. It’s a bit quirkier than the traditional Christmas specials, but still gets the same messages across. Plus, the legendary Frank Welker plays Santa Claus. What’s not to love?

  12. Ronald Lanham Jr December 18, 2008

    You forgot the short, “Peace on Earth”, which was nominated for an Oscar. Classic MGM and Hanna and Barbera remade it in the fifties. The remake was called “Good Will To Men”.

  13. And of course there’s PAPU VS. SANTA CLAUS… my submission for holiday webtoon…

    http://www.awntv.com/videos/papu-meets-santa-claus-smashing-holiday-special

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