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The best animated Christmas movies you need to watch now

‘Tis the season for animation! Christmas isn’t complete without a few beloved films from the genre that fill the weeks leading up to the holiday with festive cheer. The best animated Christmas movies are family-friendly favorites that tell heartwarming stories, often with crucial lessons and transformative character arcs that underscore the things worth celebrating.

From nostalgic classics to contemporary delights, these Christmas movies are perfect for a fun night with the entire family or even a quiet one by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa. With whimsical worlds full of clever reindeer, an extraordinary train, creative versions of Santa Claus, and more, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during the most wonderful time of the year.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past witness young Scrooge with the love of his life.
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney’s A Christmas Carol brings Charles Dickens’s classic 1843 novel to life, with the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s (Jim Carrey) transformative story portrayed like never before on the big screen. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the 2009 film depicts Scrooge’s journey aided by three spirits who help change him from being a cold-hearted and greedy man to someone capable of embracing the warmth and happiness of the holiday season.

A Christmas Carol used cutting-edge motion capture technology at the time, instantly making it the story’s greatest animated adaptation. While the visuals are nothing special today, its animated format allows the darker parts of Dickens’s moral fable to be balanced by the Disney film’s family-friendly approach to the tale. It remains a staple of the genre and is a fantastic way to introduce younger audiences to the timeless story.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

The Grinch with a toy mouse in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
CBS / CBS

With a heart “two sizes too small,” the Grinch (Boris Karloff) is a grouchy, villainous character perfectly captured in 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Based on Dr. Seuss’s eponymous 1957 children’s book, director Chuck Jones’s animated adaptation showcases the Grinch’s evil plan to ruin Christmas for the Whos of Whoville. He dresses up as Santa Claus and steals all their gifts and decorations but is shocked to see how the village reacts in the morning.

At just 25 minutes, How the Grinch Stole Christmas manages to tell a moving story about the true meaning of the annual celebration. There have been many versions of the same narrative since then, but this short film is still worth watching. Told in clever rhyming prose and complemented by a distinctive Seussian animation style, it’s easy to see how the 1996 TV movie has cemented its place alongside the genre’s rewatchable classics.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Rudolph and Hermey in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Videocraft International

An enduring Christmas tradition, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a stop-motion animated classic that has been telecast yearly since 1964, making it the longest-running special on TV. Directed by Larry Roemer, the legendary Claymation Christmas movie tells the story of Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards), whose red nose has turned him into an outcast in his community. His challenging path away from home leads him right back, though, and this time as a hero alongside Santa Claus (Stan Francis) himself.

Based on the famous song by Johnny Marks, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hasn’t lost any of its appeal. The protagonist’s road to self-discovery and acceptance is still just as inspiring and crucial today, as it reinforces the importance of celebrating uniqueness and the power of community not just during the holiday season, but all year round.

Arthur Christmas (2011)

Arthur standing in the middle of many elves in Arthur Christmas
Sony Pictures

Arthur Christmas finally answers the age-old question of how Santa Claus manages to deliver gifts to thousands of kids around the world all in one night. Apparently, at least in the 2011 animated comedy film, he uses a high-tech system run from beneath the North Pole. When it accidentally skips one child, though, the youngest Claus family member, Arthur (James McAvoy), goes on a quest to personally deliver the present before Christmas morning.

A once underrated Christmas movie on Max, Arthur Christmas has steadily gained a growing fanbase over the years thanks to its witty British humor and wholly original story. Directed by Sarah Smith and produced by renowned studio Aardman Animations, the 2011 film is a worthy addition to viewers’ annual traditions. Underneath all of its wacky moments is its message about the true spirit of giving, which can resonate with audiences of all ages.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Jack Skellington in Nightmare Before Christmas.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas combines stop-motion animation, fantasy, and music to create a delightfully dark viewing experience. It’s centered on the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), who has grown tired of his usual routine and is excited to learn of a place called Christmas Town. He plots to take over the role of Santa Claus but soon finds himself in trouble when things don’t go according to his plan.

Not just one of the best animated Christmas films but one of the greatest animated movies of all time, The Nightmare Before Christmas set itself apart from other animated Christmas movies by avoiding the traditional festive narrative and embracing a mix of macabre and whimsical elements. For Tim Burton’s fans, the strikingly animated film is undoubtedly a must-see for the holidays.

Klaus (2019)

The characters of Klaus
Netflix

A one-of-a-kind film that gives Santa Claus an origin story, Klaus follows the story of Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), whose poor grades at the academy lead to him being stationed as a postman in a remote frozen town in the Far North. There, Jesper is tasked with establishing a functioning postal service for the grumpy townspeople, one of whom is the titular Klaus (J.K. Simmons). Klaus is a reclusive toymaker whom Jesper eventually convinces to bring joy to the children of Smeerensburg, which inadvertently creates the myth of Santa Claus.

Director Sergio Pablos’s Klaus has become a modern animated classic, with the incredible Netflix original movie standing out for choosing gorgeous 2D animation in an era dominated by CGI. The delightful film uses familiar tropes while adding innovative visual and narrative flairs that have helped solidify it as a Christmas essential.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Charlie Brown and Snoopy decorating a tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Lee Mendelson Film Productions

The first TV movie to be made based on the massively popular comic strip Peanuts, A Charlie Brown Christmas paved the way for more of the titular character’s stories to be adapted as shows and films. In the 1965 animated special directed by Bill Melendez, Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) is feeling disheartened and lonely despite the joyful holiday season. Encouraged by a friend, he decides to direct a Christmas play and is forever changed by the process, his friends, and a scraggly little tree.

A timeless classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas impressed audiences with its heartwarming story and instantly lovable characters. Its jazz-infused soundtrack was also a smart deviation from the laugh tracks that were commonly used back then, emphasizing how the 1965 animation was way ahead of its time. Undoubtedly still part of many annual traditions for families worldwide, A Charlie Brown Christmas has endured for decades because it has a lot of heart, humor, and holiday spirit.

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Saab Hannah
Saab whips up SEO-optimized articles as a writer for Digital Trends and updates top-performing articles on Collider.
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