It might surprise you to learn that the animation genre isn’t exactly a breeding ground for classic Christmas movies. Unlike the live-action realm, which boasts such classic holiday releases as A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life, the animation world is curiously lacking in celebrated Christmas fare. There are some exceptions, however, with the following five titles your best bets for holiday-themed fun:
Though it’s primarily thought of as a Halloween classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas contains its fair share of elements revolving around the Yuletide holiday. The movie, which follows Halloweentown ruler Jack Skellington as he attempts to bring Christmas to his citizens, manages to celebrate the spirit of Christmas without resorting to the usual clichés and conventions of the genre, as filmmaker Tim Burton’s notoriously oddball sensibilities are reflected in everything from the eye-popping sets to the twisted songs to the off-kilter appearance of the various characters. (This is despite the fact that Burton didn’t actually direct the film, with that task falling instead to Coraline filmmaker Henry Selick.)
Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s award-winning children’s book, The Polar Express follows a young boy as he boards a magical train heading to the North Pole – where he eventually encounters Santa Claus himself. The Polar Express marked the first time that Robert Zemeckis tried his hand at motion-capture animation, and the movie does feature many of the problems that go hand-in-hand with performance capture (including the glassy, dead eyes that continue to plague the genre to this day). Once you overlook such concerns, however, you’re left with an entertaining family film that’s almost bursting with Christmas spirit and cheer. (And let’s face it, it’s virtually impossible to hate a movie that features Tom Hanks in six different roles.)
3. 'Tokyo Godfathers' (2003)
Among animation buffs, Tokyo Godfathers is one of those underappreciated modern classics that rarely gets the attention or praise that it surely deserves. Co-directed by the late, great Satoshi Kon, Tokyo Godfathers follows three homeless individuals, an alcoholic, a drag queen, and a young girl, as they stumble upon a crying infant on Christmas Eve. The remainder of the film details the unlikely trio’s ongoing efforts at caring for the child, as each of the characters learns a valuable lesson and is ultimately enriched by the experience. Tokyo Godfathers is certainly quite dark at times, but the movie also, says Roger Ebert, features a “sensational ending” in which “two lives are saved in a way possible only in animation.”
4. 'Christmas Carol: The Movie' (2001)
Though this is hardly the best adaptation of Charles Dickens’ legendary tale, Christmas Carol: The Movie is certainly a great deal more entertaining than Robert Zemeckis’ disastrous attempt, 2009’s Disney’s A Christmas Carol. The familiar storyline follows Ebenezer Scrooge (Simon Callow) as he’s visited by the spooky apparition of his former business partner (Nicolas Cage’s Jacob Marley) and the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, which ultimately forces the miserly Scrooge to reconsider his ways and embrace the spirit of the holidays. It’s not exactly a great film – the animation is rather shoddy – but Christmas Carol: The Movie captures the spirit of Dickens’ timeless story in a manner that’s sure to please younger viewers.
5. 'Babes in Toyland' (1997)
It’s probably for the best that Babes in Toyland has slipped into obscurity in the years since its 1997 release, as the film boasts a relatively cheap animation style that pales in comparison to the releases of Pixar and DreamWorks. But as long as you’re willing to overlook its visuals, Babes in Toyland is an innocuous piece of work that will surely hold the interest of small children. The storyline follows several characters as they attempt to save Toyland from a grumpy old miser named Barnaby (Christopher Plummer), as the character is attempting to buy (and destroy) the local toy factory – which would effectively spell the end of Christmas.