They have become such a central part of the Christmas season it’s hard to believe that they first came on the scene less than 50 years ago. I’m talking about animated Christmas specials. From jolly old St. Nick to everyone’s favorite green grump, a misfit reindeer and the world’s most lovable loser we look forward to seeing them every year on TV or DVD. What follows is my top ten animated Christmas specials with the year they debuted next to each title.
The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)
Best remembered for introducing the Heat Miser and Snow Miser, this is one of the many Christmas specials from Rankin/Bass. Santa is sick and, on doctor’s orders, plans to cancel Christmas. Mrs. Claus dispatches two elves to find some Christmas cheer to revive the ailing Santa. Shirley Booth provided the voice of Mrs. Claus and Mickey Rooney voiced Santa.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970)
Another of the Rankin/Bass Christmas classics, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town stars Fred Astaire as a postman who recounts the story of Santa Claus, an orphan adopted by the Kringles. Santa (played by Mickey Rooney) must battle Burgermeister Meisterburger and an evil wizard named Winter.
A Garfield Christmas Special (1987)
Garfield, John and Odie travel to John’s family’s farm to celebrate Christmas with the family. While there Garfield starts to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Lorenzo Music provides the voice of Garfield.
Shrek The Halls (2007)
The Shrek movie franchise moves to the small screen for this Christmas special which finds Shrek attempting to provide the perfect Christmas for Fiona and the kids. But when Donkey and friends show up, Shrek’s plans are ruined. Most of the stars from the movie series reprise their roles, including Mike Meyers as Shrek and Eddie Murphy as Donkey.
A Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987)
Hosted by dinosaurs Rex and Herb, the Claymation special features a number of songs all performed by stop-action clay characters. Rex is looking for the meaning of “wassail” throughout the special. A highlight includes the California Raisins performing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” This special debuted immediately after A Garfield Christmas Special in 1987.
Frosty The Snowman (1969)
Frosty, a snowman made by a group of children, comes to life when the kids put a magic silk hat on his head. Failed magician Professor Hinkle had thrown the hat away. When he sees that the hat really does have magic powers he chases Frosty all the way to the North Pole in an attempt to get it back. Jimmy Durante narrated and sang the theme song.
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
The cast of The Muppet Show drops in unexpectedly on Fozzie’s mom for Christmas. The Sesame Street Muppets show up as carolers and Kermit finds a Fraggle Rock hole in the basement. A snowstorm strands everyone in the house for Christmas. This is the first production to feature Muppets from all of their major franchise shows. Jim Henson also made a rare cameo appearance.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Rudolph, the misfit reindeer, and his equally misfit elf friend, Hermey (who would rather be a dentist than make toys), leave the North Pole in search of a place where we’ll be accepted. They return to the North Pole just in time to save Christmas, thanks to the bright glow of Rudolph’s nose, the only thing that will cut through a blizzard that had threatened to ground Santa and his sleigh and cancel Christmas. Burl Ives, a late addition to the cast brought on to add star power, plays Sam the Snowman who narrates and performs several songs, include “Holly Jolly Christmas”. This was the first Rankin/Bass Christmas special and is the longest running Christmas special on network TV.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Based on the Dr. Seuss children’s book, the Grinch is the story of a grumpy hermit who attempts to steal Christmas from the village of Whoville. When Christmas come anyway the Grinch has a change of heart. Boris Karloff provided narration and the voice of the Grinch.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
It’s Christmastime and Charlie Brown is depressed. He just can’t seem to get in to the Christmas spirit, and the overwhelming sense of commercialism isn’t helping. A Charlie Brown Christmas defied many of the conventions of animated holiday specials; it didn’t use a laugh track, the producers used real children instead of adults to provide the dialog, and it used extensive Biblical references.
The producer, Bill Melendez, actually tried to talk Charles Schulz out of using the Biblical reference in Linus’ speech. Schulz reportedly responded, “If we don’t do it, who will?” The speech remained in tact. This is the second longest running Christmas special on network TV, behind Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, which premiered one year earlier.
Most of these specials are broadcast at least once every Christmas season. And many of them are available on DVD. When looking for them on your cable guide remember to check some of those cable networks you don’t usually watch.