Sony Movies Christmas, previously known as True Christmas, and Christmas 24 deliver an annual array of big screen and made-for-television festive films from autumn onwards in the UK…and the TV equivalent of a pop-up Christmas shop arrives earlier every year. But the biggest player these days for original telly movies is Hallmark.
Dozens of new films are made each year for the television market, with Hallmark most prolific and Lifetime also packing a punch. The quality varies but the feel-good theme rarely does. Other major British and American networks have also delivered their share of festive TV movies down the years. How to Christmas has searched the archives and outlined a great selection of live action and animated made-for-television films, providing you with a soupcon of information on each one.
“The Christmas Chronicles” (2018): starring Kurt Russell, Kimberley Williams-Paisley, Judah Lewis, Darby Camp
Kurt Russell is a Santa with attitude, but he finds himself in quite the pickle when his sleigh crashes. Can the very people that caused his problems be the ones to save Christmas? The production values on this Netflix original are unsurprisingly high, Russell more than lives up to his star billing and the story is a joy for viewers young and old. There is a pleasing spin on the appearance of Santa’s elves and there’s even a sneaky appearance from Mrs Claus (who just happens to be a superstar actress and wife in real life). The film was released in November 2018 and proved a big festive hit.
“A Christmas Love Story” (2019): starring Kristin Chenoweth, Scott Wolf and Kevin Quinn.
Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth plays a youth choir director who is tasked with composing a song for the big Christmas Eve show. The choir programme this particular year has an angel theme and is entitled ‘When Angels Land’. Sounds like a good title for a song, too. The original song is annually performed by a duet. This year, it will have added poignancy as a late addition to the choir – a youngster with a wonderful voice – reveals his true identity, much to the surprise of his widowed father. It’s an instant Hallmark classic, sprinkled with marvellous Christmas carols and songs.
“A Christmas Princess” (2011): starring Katie McGrath, Sam Heugan and Roger Moore
A TV movie, also known as “A Princess for Christmas”, in which Katie McGrath’s character Jules Daly is the legal guardian of her niece and nephew following the death of their parents. The children are unexpectedly invited to spend time with their rich but bitter grandfather in Castlebury – a fictitious European principality – and Jules agrees to take them. There’s a castle and snow, a picture postcard village and a handsome prince. It’s unabashedly sentimental, but wonderfully Christmassy. The grandfather is played by 007 himself, the late and beloved Sir Roger Moore.
“Call Me Claus” (2001): starring Whoopi Goldberg and Nigel Hawthorne
Santa Claus faces mandatory retirement after 200 years. Is that really the law? Anyway, the Santa in question – played by brilliant British actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne – asks none other than Whoopi Goldberg to succeed him. Not the real Whoopi, you understand, but the grouchy television producer she plays in the film. Santa clearer sees a big heart hiding behind that Grinch-like exterior. The film premiered on Turner Network Television in the USA on December 2, 2001.
“Bernard and the Genie” (1991): starring Lenny Henry, Alan Cumming and Rowan Atkinson
This Richard Curtis creation brings together comedy, drama and fantasy, along with a calibre cast. It aired on the BBC in November 1991. On Christmas Eve, Bernard Bottle – played by the wonderful Alan Cumming – is fired from his job and is dumped by his girlfriend. All she leaves behind is an old lamp. When Bernard tries to clean the lamp he suddenly has Josephus the Genie (Lenny Henry) in his life and Christmas might not be quite so dull and melancholy after all.
“A Christmas Carol” (2004): starring Kelsey Grammer, Jesse L. Martin, Geraldine Chaplin and Jane Krakowski
This musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens novella does not include songs from the Albert Finney film “Scrooge” but rather the music and lyrics of Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens from the celebrated 1994 stage musical. “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammar plays Scrooge in this Hallmark production for American channel NBC, which premiered on November 28th, 2004. The score, adapted from the Madison Square Garden stage show, has few songs that will live as long in the memory as those in the big screen “Scrooge”. There are some dodgy Cockney accents, too.
“Mrs. Miracle” (2009): starring Doris Roberts and James Van Der Beek
Widower Seth Webster is overwhelmed by his situation and mysteriously finds help in the shape of Mrs. Miracle – who he’s convinced is called Mrs. Merkel. He soon finds he can’t cope without her. She’s a great cook, wonderful nanny to his previously unruly six-year-old twin sons and, as it turns out, she’s a pretty good matchmaker too. This romance was successful enough to spawn a follow-up in 2010 that was originally entitled “Call Me Mrs. Miracle” and again stars Doris Roberts. It is now known as “Miracle in Manhattan”.
“Finding John Christmas” (2003): starring Peter Falk, Valerie Bertinelli, David Cubitt and William Russ
Peter Falk was the man to solve a mystery in his years as TV detective “Colombo”. In this festive film, he is the mystery…and not the only one. When an act of bravery is caught on camera, the search is on for the heroic stranger the town names ‘John Christmas’. Kathleen McAllister believes it could be her long-lost brother. Can Max help? And who is this magical figure? This film first aired on American network CBS on November 30, 2003. This is the middle film of an angelic trilogy. First came “A Town Without Christmas” in 2001 and then “When Angels Come to Town” in 2004.
“A Heavenly Christmas” (2016): starring Kristin Davis, Eric McCormack and Shirley MacLaine
One of our favourite Hallmark Channel festive films of recent years features two comedy icons playing it straight: Kristin Davis, for so long an integral part of “Sex and the City”, and Eric McCormack, always stellar in “Will and Grace”, are the romantic leads. Just one problem hindering their on-screen relationship: Kristin’s character is an angel. But where there’s a heavenly will, there must be a way of recreating their connection on earth. Shirley MacLaine plays the angel-in-chief with aplomb, while McCormack is a one-time singer armed with the task of raising his niece after a tragedy.
“The Christmas Train” (2017): starring Dermot Mulroney, Kimberly Wiliams-Paisely, Joan Cusack and Danny Glover
Dermot Mulroney heads a star cast in one of the glossier films to fall of the Hallmark conveyor belt. He plays a former war correspondent who is heading cross-country via train to end his relationship with his girlfriend. She, on the other hand, has marriage in mind and decides to meet him en route. To complicate matters, Mulroney’s character has the love of his life on board. They parted some years before, but are mysteriously brought together on the Christmas Train to be shown the error of their romantic ways. Could we be seeing a script within a script, a film within a film?
“Miss Christmas” (2017): starring Brooke D’Orsay, Marc Blucas and Fiona Vroom.
Nicknamed ‘Miss Christmas’, the tree expert and finder for Chicago’s renowned Radcliffe tree lighting is close to deadline time as she searches out the ideal specimen. A letter from a young boy, promising his tree is perfect for the annual event, sends her to a small town where she learns his father is not so keen on the idea. In fact, he is distinctly lacking in Christmas spirit. We know what he needs: a little sprinkle of magic from the wand of Miss Christmas. This is one of the many new movies made by the Hallmark Channel each Christmas and follows a tried and trusted formula.
“The Christmas Shoes” (2002): starring Rob Lowe and Kimberley Williams
This tear-jerking movie is based on a hit song and novel of the same name in which youngster Nathan Andrews wants to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother, Maggie. Lowe plays workaholic attorney Robert Layton, whose marriage is floundering. His mother Ellen and her neighbour Dalton figure in their own plotline – but all three stories are interwoven. Have your tissues at the ready.
“A Dog Named Christmas” (2009): starring Bruce Greenwood, Linda Edmond and Noel Fisher
A charming tale of a boy with learning difficulties who is energised by a local animal shelter’s ‘Adopt A Dog for Christmas’ scheme. Todd’s dog is named Christmas – but the youngster has to make a deal with his Dad to return it to the shelter after the holidays. Flashbacks explain the father’s reticence to take the dog permanently. But Todd proves where there’s a will there’s a way. The film debuted on American network CBS as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie.
“A Christmas Romance” (1994): starring Olivia Newton-John and Gregory Harrison
A widow is about to have her house repossessed. The bank vice-president sent to deliver the bad news crashes his car in a blizzard and is forced to spend Christmas with the woman and her two young daughters. A bond quickly develops. But can the man who wants to take away their home really secure a place in their hearts?
“Flight of the Reindeer” (2000): starring Richard Thomas and Beau Bridges
This film is also known as “The Christmas Secret” and premiered on CBS in the USA in 2000. Richard Thomas plays a scientist who is determined to prove reindeer can fly. He finds himself at close quarters with Santa Claus – but cracking trade secrets doesn’t come easily. In his new world of discovery he finds faith, the value of family and the true meaning of Christmas.
“A Christmas Carol” (1999): starring Patrick Stewart and Richard E Grant
British actor Sir Patrick Stewart found fame in the USA in the Star Trek series. He played Scrooge for the American network TNT, having performed a number of successful readings of the Dickens story on Broadway and in London. Richard E. Grant co-starred as Bob Cratchit. The ‘Silent Night’ montage, so often omitted from other versions, is included here – capturing different groups of workers and families singing and celebrating.
“Mrs. Santa Claus” (1996): starring Angela Lansbury and Charles Durning
In this breezy musical, Santa’s rebellious wife – played by Dame Angela Lansbury – takes flight with the reindeer and lands in New York in 1910. She finds herself involved in political issues of the day like child labour and women’s suffrage. Mrs. Claus leads the hardworking children in a toy factory to salvation. Jerry Herman, composer of hit Broadway musicals like “Hello Dolly!” and “La Cage aux Folles”, wrote the musical score for this CBS television movie.
“Lost Christmas” (2011): starring Eddie Izzard and Jason Flemyng
A 10-year-old orphan and a mysterious man named Anthony are at the heart of this BBC film, which is set over two Christmases in Manchester. Anthony, played by Eddie Izzard, wakes on the streets of the snowy city with no memory of the past and with a curious ability to find and help the lost. This modern day fairytale was written by David Logan and John Hay and was first shown on December 18th, 2011.
“A Christmas Visitor” (2002): starring William Devane and Meredith Baxter
The Boyajian family have not celebrated Christmas for 11 years – since son John was killed during the Gulf War on Christmas Day 1991. His parents George and Carol have a daughter facing a life-threatening illness. George decides it’s time to bring Christmas back into their home, but his wife remains reluctant. Then a mysterious stranger, a soldier named Matthew, enters their lives. He knows more about John than any man should – other than John himself.
“A Christmas Carol” (2000): starring Ross Kemp, Mina Anwar and Ray Fearon
Written by Peter Bowker, this modern day take on the Charles Dickens classic sees Ross Kemp play Eddie Scrooge, an unscrupulous loan shark living on a poor estate in England. The piece starts with the shooting of Eddie’s business partner Jacob Marley. Eddie knows why Marley was killed, but it’s only when spirits show the surviving partner his past, present and future that he can lay his own ghosts to rest and change his wicked ways. The film premiered on UK television December 20, 2000.
“The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” (1971): starring Patricia Neal, Ellen Corby and Richard Thomas
This was the pilot for long-running television series “The Waltons” and is set on Christmas Eve 1933 in rural Virginia. The Walton family anticipate the return of father, whose been working away. It aired on December 19, 1971. The first of nine series would follow in September 1972 on the American network CBS.
“Unlikely Angel” (1996): starring Dolly Parton, Brian Kerwin and Roddy McDowall
When she dies in a car crash while trying to avoid hitting a deer, Dolly Parton’s character Ruby Diamond finds herself face-to-face with St. Peter. With her somewhat checkered past, gaining entry to heaven is not straightforward. First, she must earn her wings by helping a dysfunctional family come together again after a tragic loss. Ruby has to complete her mission by the end of Christmas Eve. “Unlikely Angel” premiered on CBS in the United States on December 17th, 1996. And yes, Dolly does manage to sing a few songs within the plot.
“Silent Night” (2002): starring Linda Hamilton, Matthew Harbour and Romano Orzari
“Silent Night” is a fact-based World War II story set during the Battle of the Bulge on Christmas Eve, 1944. German mother Elisabeth Vincken, portrayed by Linda Hamilton, and her son Fritz are seeking refuge in a cabin near the war front. Three American soldiers arrive at the house followed, soon after, by three German soldiers. Elisabeth convinces them all to leave their differences outside for one night and suggests they share Christmas dinner together. But in wartime, the next drama is only just around the corner. This Canadian made-for-television movie was released in 2002.
“A Christmas Memory” (1966): starring Geraldine Page and Donnie Melvin
This award-winning movie is based on Truman Capote’s largely autobiographical story, first published in 1956. The tale revolves around a seven-year-old boy Buddy and his older, childlike relative in depression-era Alabama as they prepare for Christmas. Loss, loneliness but ultimately love are to the fore. Page – and indeed the screenplay – won Emmy Awards. The story was adapted by Hallmark in 1997. Patty Duke and Eric Lloyd starred.
“Becoming Santa” (2015): starring Laura Bell Bundy, Jesse Hutch and Meredith Baxter.
When Connor meets his girlfriend’s parents in a snowy wonderland, he plans to ask the father for permission to marry his daughter. But the would-be fiancee might not exactly have been honest about her Mum and Dad and the family business. Her surname is Claus, so perhaps he never was that quick on the uptake. The truth has to slap him in the face eventually. But there is more to marrying his dream woman than he could ever imagine.
“Booky and the Secret Santa” (2007): starring Rachel Marcus, Megan Follows and Stuart Hughes
A young girl tries to make a happy Christmas for herself and her family during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Directed by Peter Moss from a book adapted by Joe Wiesenfeld, this Canadian film first aired on CBC in December 2007.
“A Very Nutty Christmas” (2018): starring Melissa Joan Hart, Barry Watson and Marissa Jaret Winokur
Melissa Joan Hart – she of Sabrina the Teenage Witch fame – plays a baking workaholic Kate Holiday, who is dumped just before Christmas amid a gargantuan order of cookies. Her festive spirit is at an all-time low until a stranger gifts her a German nutcracker ornament. When the wooden figure under the Christmas tree is magically replaced by a real man named Chip, Kate is reintroduced to the true meaning of the season. It’s all a little bit cookie, to be frank, but is strangely enjoyable nonetheless.
“The Christmas Box” (1995): starring Richard Thomas and Deborah Kerr
A couple and their young daughter move in with a lonely widow and discover a special Christmas box that will lead the father, played by Richard Thomas, to answer a significant question: what is the first gift of Christmas? This is a moving story, based on the 1993 book of the same name by Richard Paul Evans.
“The Christmas Wish” (1998): starring Neil Patrick Harris and Debbie Reynolds
American network CBS premiered this film in 1998. It sees Neil Patrick Harris – who is an extreme rarity in that he’s an openly gay actor playing straight roles in Hollywood – in the role of businessman Will Martin. He returns to a small town to help his grandmother Ruth, played by the late, great Debbie Reynolds, to modernise his family’s real estate company. She tells her grandson she has found a woman’s name repeatedly mentioned in her late husband’s journal. Will’s search for the truth takes him on a journey of forgiveness and love.
“Ms. Scrooge” (1997): starring Cicely Tyson, Katherine Helmond and Michael Beach
A female take on the miser Scrooge and the classic story created by Charles Dickens: “A Christmas Carol”. This modern version of the Victorian tale sees the force of nature that is Emmy Award winning actress Cicely Tyson spread her despicable gloom as a greedy banker until a visit from ghosts past, present and future point her to path of generosity. Mind you, she takes more persuading than your average Scrooge…and that’s a particular irritation with this screenplay. Watchable, nonetheless.
“Lucky Christmas” (2011): starring Elizabeth Berkeley and Jason Gray-Stanford
A single mother who appears perennially down on her luck sees a future most bright for her and her son when she wins the lottery. But she discovers her winning ticket is in the glove compartment of her recently stolen car. A new man enters her life – but is he all he seems and what role has he played in the missing ticket? There is an unwelcome discovery, followed by a welcome one, followed by a race against the clock.
“The Man Who Saved Christmas” (2002): starring Jason Alexander and Ed Asner
This fact-based drama stars Jason Alexander – he of “Seinfeld” fame. It first aired on American network CBS in 2002. Toy inventor A.C. Gilbert, a pacifist who is forced by the US government to turn his toy factory into a munitions plant during WWI, is asked to convince consumers to buy bonds instead of toys. His brother is declared missing in action and Gilbert questions his decisions. He implores the government to allow toys to be made for Christmas at least. The title of the film rather gives away his success.
“Santa Who?” (2000): starring Leslie Nielsen and Steven Eckholdt
Santa Claus, played by deadpan comic ace Leslie Nielsen, suffers an attack of amnesia after falling out of his sleigh just before Christmas. He ends up in the care of a television journalist, who sees an opportunity to use the poor confused man. Only the innocence of a small child can save Christmas. American network ABC first aired this film in 2000.
“The 12 Dogs of Christmas” (2005): starring Jordan-Claire Green, Tom Kemp and Susan Wood
During the 1930’s depression in the United States, a young girl aims to use puppy power to show townsfolk the true meaning of Christmas. There’s one major problem: dogs aren’t allowed in her town.
Hallmark Christmas TV movies have become an annual tradition. Dozens of new films are made each year. The festive theme is a given…and so, too, are some familiar romantic threads. In turn, the playing of games like this is growing in popularity:
“Christmas Do-Over” (2006): starring Jay Mohr and Daphne Zuniga
Think “Groundhog Day” on Christmas Day and you have this movie nailed. Kevin is the screw-up father who tries to stay involved in his ex-family’s festivities. But there’s a new, shiny man in town and Kevin can’t possibly compete – unless he has the chance to do-over Christmas until he gets it right.
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (1988): starring Hal Holbrook, Eva Marie Saint and Courteney Cox
Set during the final phase of WWII, this touching NBC film focuses on the Bundy family in Masschusetts at Christmas 1944. There is new life but also stunning tragedy. A pre-Friends Courteney Cox is one of an excellent cast.
“The Christmas Tree” (1996): starring Julie Harris and Andrew McCarthy
Double Oscar winning actress Sally Field directed this television movie for American network ABC. It tells the tale of a friendship between an elderly nun and a New York City gardener. Sister Anthony has been growing a special evergreen in the grounds of the convent for decades and has a unique bond with the tree. When a young gardener wants the spruce to become the centrepiece of Rockerfeller Center’s famous Christmas display, there is much to understand and learn on both sides. The film first aired on December 22nd, 1996 and had an international release.
“A Child’s Christmases in Wales” (2009): starring Ruth Jones, Paul Kaye and Steve Speirs
Comedian Mark Watson wrote this television comedy, loosely adapted from Dylan Thomas’s book “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” There are humorous reminiscences of three Christmases in the eighties in the family of Owen Rhys. The wonderful Martin Sheen narrates. The TV film was shown on BBC4 in December 2009 and repeated on BBC2.
“Home By Christmas” (2008): starring Linda Hamilton and Rob Stewart
“Terminator’s” very own Linda Hamilton isn’t quite so tough in “Home by Christmas” and finds herself dumped by her husband for a younger model, financially strapped and eventually homeless. With her teenage daughter due home for Christmas, Hamilton has to get her act together – and fast. From living in her car to a delightful suburban house can only happen with the help of new friends, new love and a curious career twist.
“The Christmas Card” (2006): starring John Newton, Alice Evans and Ed Asner
A soldier serving in Afghanistan receives a Christmas card from a woman he has never met in Nevada City, California. The card never leaves his side and he later determines to find her. Back on home soil he is suddenly at the heart of her home – but she is betrothed to another. This Hallmark Channel original movie was released in December 2006.
“Christmas Comes to Willow Creek” (1987): starring John Schneider, Tom Wopat and Kim Delaney
Two truck-driving Californian brothers are hired to transport a lorry load of Christmas presents to the struggling Alaskan town of Willow Creek for Christmas. John Schneider and Tom Wopat are reunited from “The Dukes of Hazzard”.
“A Diva’s Christmas Carol” (2000): starring Vanessa Williams and Kathy Griffin
“A Diva’s Christmas Carol” premiered on the American music network VH1 and has since been aired on the Lifetime channel. Singer Vanessa Williams plays A Christmas Carol’s Scrooge role as Ebony Scrooge – one third of eighties pop trio Desire. Ebony is now a self-important, arrogant and cold solo diva in need of some serious help from beyond the grave.
“We’ve Got Christmas Mail” (2010): starring AJ Buckley, Ashley Scott and Rolanda Watts
This Christmas rom-com sees AJ Buckley’s character Matt, something of a disillusioned postal worker, fall for a new employee Kristi, whose job is to answer children’s letters addressed to the North Pole. There’s a certain mystery around her and Matt is told by suspicious boss Mr. Fuller to spy on her. Kristi discovers the truth and leaves her job. Where could she be? Does she have a connection to Christmas beyond anything Matt could imagine?
“Ebenezer” (1999): starring Jack Palance and Ricky Schroder
There have been musical versions, animations aplenty and various modern day spins on the 1843 masterpiece “A Christmas Carol”. This is the western option, starring Jack Palance, and it debuted on the USA’s Turner Network Television on November 28th, 1998. The Canadian-made-movie depicts Ebenezer Scrooge as the most corrupt and mean-spirited villain in the old wild west. “NYPD Blue” and one-time child star Ricky Schroder features as Samuel Benson. Samuel who?
“Eloise at Christmastime” (2003): starring Sofia Vassilieva, Julie Andrews and Christine Baranski
This is a perfectly charming musical movie, made all the better for the clever casting of Sofia Vassilieva as six-year-old Eloise and the return to Nanny-dom of Julie Andrews. On this occasion, however, she is no Mary Poppins. Kay Thompson’s books tell of Eloise’s adventures in New York’s Plaza Hotel. This is the festive adaptation in which the mischievous infant plays Christmas spy and matchmaker. The movie first aired on ABC in the United States on November 22, 2003.
“One Special Night” (1999): starring Julie Andrews and James Garner
Two strangers are stranded together in a cabin during a snowstorm and, in spite of their differences, soon discover a mutual attraction. Julie Andrews and James Garner had previously been romantic leads in two other films: “The Americanization of Emily” in 1964 and “Victor Victoria” in 1982. “One Special Night” was written by Nancy Silvers, based on Jan Hartman’s play “A Winter Visitor”. It was first broadcast on CBS network in the USA on November 28, 1999.
“The Night They Saved Christmas” (1984): starring Jaclyn Smith, Paul Le Mat, Art Carney and Paul Williams
An oil company begins exploration in the North Pole, endangering the home of Santa Claus and the future of Christmas. Dynamite is used in the work and one more explosion could be catastrophic. The project manager’s wife and children are taken to Santa’s home and implored to help avert disaster. This film debuted on American network ABC on December 13th, 1984 and was co-written by David Niven Junior. In his review for the New York Times, John J. O’Connor pointed out that although “the special effects encompassing Santa and his helpers are pleasant enough…the surrounding story doesn’t generate much holiday cheer.” We tend to agree. Nonetheless, it was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Programme and is regularly repeated to this day.
“The Christmas Star” (1986): starring Ed Asner and Fred Gwynne
Before he was proper Santa Claus in the comedy film “Elf”, Ed Asner was a fake Santa in this Disney film, made for the ABC network in the United States. Asner is an escaped convict in a Santa suit who hides out in a neighbourhood where children believe he’s the real deal. He has every intention of capitalising on their innocence by using the kids for his villainous gains. But children tend to win out at Christmas, don’t they?
“The Christmas Secret” (2014): starring Bethany Joy Lenz, John Reardon and Susan Hogan
Single mother Christine is struggling to keep afloat as she tries to create some kind of contented life for her and her son. Becoming a lifesaver for someone else leads to a change of fortune, with a family heirloom at the crux of the tale. Indeed, family is at the heart of this touching and inspiring film. A perfect happy ending makes it one of the most enjoyable made-for-TV movies of recent years.
“A Journey Back to Christmas” (2016): starring Candace Cameron Bure, Oliver Hudson and Tom Skerritt
When the Christmas comet crosses the night sky, miracles are possible. When a nurse does a kind deed amid a furious snowstorm in 1940s America, little does she expect the comet will take her to the future. But is there any way back? Will she be able to find happiness in the modern world? And whatever happened to the husband she lost in World War II?
“Stealing Christmas” (2003): starring Tony Danza, Lea Thompson and Betty White
Tony Danza plays crook Jack Clayton, who plans to steal cash from the safety deposit boxes of a small town’s bank on Christmas Eve, aided by a safe-breaking accomplice. Jack only ends up in Evergreen in the first place after fleeing a previous crime, carried out in a Santa suit. He’s mistaken for the town’s new Santa Claus, who is an annual fixture at a tree-selling lot. Lea Thompson runs the business, helped by her daughter. Soon, there is love in the air – but that does not mean crime is off the Christmas menu. This film first aired on the USA Network.
Top Made-for-TV Animations
“Angela’s Christmas” (2017): with the voice talents of Ruth Negga and Lucy O’Connell.
Angela is a six-year-old girl from Limerick in Ireland and has a heart of gold. She’s not averse to the odd spat with her pesky brother, even at Christmas. But above all she’s kind and caring. Just ask the baby Jesus. This is a beautiful Netflix original animation, with love, kindness and forgiveness at its core. It is based on author Frank McCourt’s only children’s story, inspired by a tale his mother Angela told him and his brother Malachy as children. It is wonderful, then, to hear Malachy McCourt narrate this animated film. A sequel entitled “Angela’s Christmas Wish” was made for release in December 2020. Frank McCourt famously wrote celebrated novel “Angela’s Ashes”. The Angela in question in each story is none other than McCourt’s mother.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965): with the voice talents of Peter Robbins, Chris Shea and Bill Melendez.
This was the first primetime animated television special from the comic strip “Peanuts” and debuted on American network CBS in 1965. It has been shown on US television every year since. Charlie Brown is struggling with the over-commercialisation of Christmas and wants to discover the true meaning of the season. First his pal Linus and then all the Peanuts gang help him do just that.
“The Snowman” (1982)
A Christmas favourite adapted from the wordless picture book by Raymond Briggs. There’s a magical score by Howard Blake, including the classic “Walking in the Air” sung by choirboy Peter Auty. The film premiered on the UK’s Channel 4 on December 26th 1982. A young boy makes a snowman and it magically comes to life, taking him on a flying adventure to meet Father Christmas.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (1966): with the voice talents of Boris Karloff.
Dr. Seuss’ book is marvellously brought to life in this annual American festive staple. The Whos down in Whoville are Christmas crazy. The green and mean Grinch finds them all rather nauseating and decides to do something about spoiling their fun. US network CBS first aired this cartoon on December 18th 1966.
“Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (1962): with the voice talents of Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam and Jack Cassidy.
Looney Tunes made this musical adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” for Mr. Magoo and also a 1979 version for Bugs Bunny. We highlight the 1962 offering as it is the first animated Christmas programme ever made specifically for television, although there was a 1950 marionette special entitled “The Spirit of Christmas”. The original songs of Broadway team Jule Style and Bob Merrill, who worked on “Funny Girl” soon after collaborating on the music for this groundbreaking cartoon, helped make Mr. Magoo’s Scrooge one of the most beloved. The show premiered on US network NBC on December 18th, 1962.
“A Very Merry Cricket” (1973): with the voice talents of Mel Blanc and Charles Tremayne.
George Selden wrote the 1960 book “The Cricket in Times Square” based on his own experience with a chirping insect in New York City. Thirteen years later, Chuck Jones wrote and directed a short animated version of the story featuring the characters Chester Cricket, Harry Cat, Tucker Mouse, Mario and Mr. Smedley. Jones then wrote and directed the follow-up “A Very Merry Cricket” in which Harry and Tucker, who are upset by the anti-social noise of the city, decide to invite Chester back to New York to revive the true sounds and spirit of Christmas.
“Shrek the Halls” (2007): with the voice talents of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz.
Shrek wants a lovely, quiet family Christmas – but isn’t quite sure how the whole family festive thing works. When he finds the book to help him, his less-than-tactful friend Donkey puts the proverbial spanner in the works. This 30-minute spin-off from the hugely successful big screen Shrek series premiered on American network ABC on November 27th 2007.
“Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas” (2011): with the voice talents of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
The big screen Ice Age franchise is mammoth – but here Manny and the gang are back for a small screen, bite-size adventure that takes them to the North Pole because a certain youngster wants to prove her non-believing Dad is wrong. We are also introduced to the Christmas rock. The film premiered on November 24th 2011 on the American Fox network.
“The First Snow of Winter” (1998): with the voice talents of Dermot Morgan, Miriam Margolyes and Sorcha Cusack.
This cartoon first aired on BBC television on Christmas Day 1998. Young white duck Sean is cut adrift from his family as winter approaches in Ireland. There’s peril in the shape of the Red Fox – but friendship from a rodent named Voley and a puffin named Puffy. Christmas isn’t at the core of the film, but the wintry theme is enough to make it a fine seasonal choice.
“A Flintstones Christmas Carol” (1994): with the voice talents of Henry Corden, Jean Vander Pyl and Frank Welker.
Fred Flintstone is set to play Scrooge in the Bedrock play – as long as he can avoid the stomach bug that’s doing the rounds. It premiered in syndication on November 21st 1994. This was the last time Jean Vander Pyl voiced the character of Wilma before her death in 1999.
“Frosty the Snowman” (1969): with the voice talents of Jimmy Durante and Jackie Vernon.
The Rankin-Bass Company, in association with Mushi Production of Japan, produced this 30-minute television special based on the popular 1950 Gene Autry song of the same name. Narration is by Jimmy Durante – his last performance in film. Frosty is brought to life by a magic hat and adventure follows. American network CBS first aired this cartoon on December 7th 1969.
“The Snowman and the Snowdog” (2012)
This was created to mark the 30th anniversary of “The Snowman” and was broadcast on UK network Channel 4 on Christmas Eve 2012, watched by almost six million viewers. This time, the snowman is joined by a snowdog with socks for ears. Music comes courtesy of Ilan Eshkeri and Razorlight’s Andy Burrows.
“Yogi’s First Christmas” (1980): with the voice talents of Daws Butler and Don Messick.
Yogi Bear decides to stay awake one Christmas rather than hibernate – basically to see what all the fuss is about. He might need a little help from his friends, though. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, this cartoon first aired in the US on November 21st 1980.
“The Bear” (1998)
This animated short film, based on the book by Raymond Briggs, first aired in the UK at Christmas 1999. Like Briggs’s “The Snowman”, the film is accompanied only by music (although Dame Judi Dench narrates an American version). Tilly is parted from her teddy bear on a visit to London Zoo then receives an unexpected visit of her own from a polar bear. They embark on a Christmassy London adventure and Tilly is introduced to the Star Bear.
“Winnie the Pooh And Christmas Too” (1991): with the voice talents of Jim Cummings, Paul Winchell, Ken Sansom, John Fiedler and Peter Cullen.
In the delightful television special “Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too”, Christopher Robin writes a letter to Santa asking for gifts for him and his friends. But Pooh is overlooked so retrieves the letter and adds his wish: a pot of honey, of course. Getting the revised letter to Santa is not as easy as Pooh hoped. Could Pooh Bear have ruined Christmas for everyone and what sacrifice is he willing to make to rectify matters? This film was originally broadcast on ABC in the USA on December 14th, 1991 and included on the 2002 DVD release entitled “Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year”.
“Merry Madagascar” (2009): with the voice talents of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria attempt to escape Madagascar and return to New York in a hot air balloon, but King Julien mistakes them for someone he calls “The Red Night Goblin” and their plan crash lands. The goblin then appears and drops coal on the island, only to be shot from the sky. It’s then we learn the coal was for naughty Julien and the goblin was none other than Santa Claus, who is left with amnesia. The four friends hatch another plan: to deliver gifts for Santa and use the sleigh to get home. This festive spin-off from the successful “Madagascar” film series first aired on American network NBC on November 17th, 2009.
“Annabelle’s Wish” (1997): with the voice talents of Randy Travis, Cloris Leachman and Kath Soucie.
Annabelle the calf is born on Christmas Eve. She has the honour of meeting Santa Claus and is so fascinated by his reindeer that she, too, wishes she could fly. There’s a legend that tells how animals have the ability too peak on Christmas Eve and Annabelle uses her voice to befriend Billy, the farmer’s mute grandson. Friendship blossoms and so does their belief that dreams can come true. American country singer Randy Travis is the narrator and veteran voice actress Kath Soucie is Annabelle. The animated film originally aired on US network Fox.
“An All Dogs Christmas Carol” (1998): with the voice talents of Steven Weber, Bebe Neuwirth, Dom DeLuise and Ernest Borgnine.
This is the third film in the “All Dogs Go To Heaven” series. At the outset, Angel puppies ask Annabelle to tell them a story. She explains how Christmas was saved from the evil of a huge hypnotic dog whistle thanks to the help of Charlie and Itchy. As the title suggests, the dogs have to adopt a bit of ghostly magic out of the Charles Dickens’ book to show Carface the error of his mean and greedy way. This animated feature was first shown on American network ABC in 1998.
“The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas” (1973): with the voice talents of Tom Smothers, Barbara Feldon and Casey Kasem.
When all other bears are hibernating through Christmas, snoring the season away in deep sleep, Ted E. Bear wonders what he’s missing and decides to stay awake to discover what all the fuss is about. He thinks Christmas is a place, but is about to discover its true meaning. This cartoon premiered on US network NBC on December 17th, 1973. Unusually, this was a TV cartoon before it became a book.
“Olive, The Other Reindeer” (1999): with the voice talents of Drew Barrymore, Ed Asner and Matt Groening.
The lyrics “all of the other reindeer” in the song “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” are misheard as “Olive, the other reindeer”. Olive thinks the words are aimed at her and that she has to come to Santa’s rescue when Blitzen is hurt, even though Olive is a dog. The title character was introduced to the world in a 1997 book and took on new life in this animation two years later, voiced by Drew Barrymore. She’s a Jack Russell Terrier that doesn’t act like your normal dog. On this occasion, it’s just as well. The cartoon first aired on December 17th, 1999 on American network Fox.
“Mole’s Christmas” (1994): with the voice talents of Richard Briers, Peter Davison and Imelda Staunton.
This charming animated short is a festive extract from Kenneth Grahame’s beloved book “Wind in the Willows”. Mole and his friend Rat are trudging through the snow on Christmas Eve, pursued by two inept weasels. Mole wishes he could be home and soon finds himself there, safe and sound, preparing for Christmas. Mole and Rat are visited by mice carollers and together they share a festive feast. This 30-minute animation is a gentle delight, first shown on ITV on Christmas Day 1994.
“A Christmas Carol” (1971): with the voice talents of Alistair Sim, Michael Hordern, Diana Quick, Joan Sims and Michael Redgrave.
How wonderful to have Alistair Sim return to the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, twenty years after his brilliant performance in the live action film. Michael Hordern also reprises his role as Marley’s Ghost. Narrated by Michael Redgrave, this animated short, based on the splendid Charles Dickens novella, was made for American television network ABC and first aired on December 21st, 1971 – although it was so highly regarded it had a cinema release as well and won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. This adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” has a distinctive appearance, created by multiple pans, zooms and unexpected scene transitions. The film isn’t ideal for young children as it graphically captures the darker elements of this story for the ages. The visuals are inspired by nineteenth century engraved illustrations in the original book by John Leech – best known for his work in “Punch” – and the 1930s pen and ink creations of illustrator Milo Winter.
“Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas” (2009): with the voice talents of Frank Welker and Jeff Bennett.
Curious George is a children’s book creation that’s been successfully turned into an animated character. This American festive special sees George, voiced by Frank Welker, and The Man with the Yellow Hat struggle to decide what to buy each other for Christmas. Can they solve the problem in time for the big day? This cartoon is traditionally shown each US holiday season on PBS Kids.
“Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas” (2014): with the voice talents of Jim Parsons, Mark Hamill and Ed Asner.
Ed Asner reprises his role as Santa Claus from the movie “Elf” for this animated musical special, first shown on American network NBC on December 16th 2014. No Will Ferrell, however. Other voice artists instead include Jim Parsons, of “The Big Bang Theory” fame, “Star Wars” stalwart Mark Hamill and Kate Micucci. The animation’s story draws from both the film and the musical stage production.
“Klaus” (2019): with the voice talents of J.K. Simmons, Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones and Joan Cusack.
“Klaus” is the title and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons is the voice of Santa Claus in the first original animated feature film released by Netflix. The Spanish-made animation about the origins of Santa has been written and directed by Sergio Pablos and also stars Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones and Joan Cusack. The story sees a struggling postal worker sent north of the Arctic Circle, where he discovers a mysterious carpenter and befriends a teacher. Together, they help create some seasonal magic. “Klaus” was released in select cinemas on November 8, 2019 and was released digitally through Netflix for television and general home viewing a week later.
Stop-Motion Animation & Puppetry
“Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” (1964): with the voice talents of Burl Ives.
Stop-motion Christmas animation for television was born with this adaptation of the popular song. Rudolph first appeared in Robert L. May’s story of 1939 and a hugely successful song followed. In this stop-motion animation, Rudolph and Hermey the Misfit Elf overcome rejection for being different to help Santa Claus make his Christmas Eve deliveries. This is the longest running Christmas special in TV history, having been shown every year in the USA since premiering on American channel NBC on December 6th, 1964. The 50th anniversary of the programme in 2014 was marked by a series of postage stamps featuring Rudolph, issued by the United Postal Service on November 6th, 2014.
“The Little Drummer Boy” (1968): with the voice talents of Greer Garson, Teddy Eccles and Jose Ferrer.
Aaron, an orphan drummer boy, is at the centre of this story that stems from the popular festive song. Aaron, who plays his drum for his animal friends, hates humanity after a terrible family tragedy. But his life will change once he meets three kings en route to Bethlehem. This stop-motion animation was first televised on December 19th, 1968 on US network NBC and was followed by a 1976 sequel.
“Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” (1970): with the voice talents of Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney.
There’s a town in which toys are banned. A young orphan named Claus and a band of trusty elves are determined to change all that. Fred Astaire provides the voice for the mailman character who narrates the story of Sombertown. Along the way we learn how some of Santa’s traditions came to be. This stop-motion animation is based on the hit song of the same name. The TV special was originally shown on US network ABC on December 14th, 1970.
“The Christmas Toy” (1986): with the voice talents of Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson and Steve Whitmire.
Jim Henson’s muppets feature in this charming story of toys that come to life when there are no people around. They cannot be seen out of place by humans or the toys will be frozen, unable to come to life again. It was surely the inspiration for a similar thread to the animated “Toy Story” film series. There’s a new toy to be opened up this Christmas – but that hasn’t quite sunk in for last year’s special toy, Rugby the Tiger. The Jim Henson Company film debuted on December 6th, 1986 on the ABC channel.
“It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie” (2002): with the voice talents of Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz and Eric Jacobson.
This made-for-TV Muppets film is an homage to Frank Capra’s Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” and stars Whoopi Goldberg, David Arquette and Joan Cusack. It was made for American network NBC in 2002. Kermit the Frog has lost hope of saving the Muppet Theatre and believes his friends would be better off without him. An angel shows him what life would be like if he had never been created.