Top Five Christmas Movies for Children

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A little girl discovers dreams do come true if you really believe. Six-year-old Susan has doubts about childhood's most enduring miracle - Santa Claus
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
December 7th, 2013

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Top Five Christmas Movies for Children

With the Christmas holiday right around the corner, it's time to cook a cup of cocoa, bundle in a blanket, and settle in to enjoy some of the best Christmas movies of all time. Ranging from classic to cliché, consider these top five Christmas movies to share with your children and family this year.

"Miracle on 34th Street," released in 1947, follows the story of Kris Kringle through his role as a Macy's Santa Claus. Claiming to be the real Santa Claus, Kringle is met with love by the children he encounters and healthy doses of skepticism from hardened adults. After landing in Bellevue for psychological evaluation, Kringle partners with lawyer Fred Gaily to prove he really is Santa, not just to the world but more importantly to one special little girl. What follows is a heartwarming conclusion that will touch even the most cynical mind.

The cast of "Miracle on 34th Street" is jam-packed with some of the biggest names of its time, including Maureen O'Hara, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn. Modern audiences may find this title relatively tame versus more modern offerings, but the long-lasting themes of belief and faith carry the film through as an ageless classic.

Many families wait year after year for the annual television broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." This animated classic was released in 1965 and remains one of the most popular Christmas films of all time. Featuring the beloved Peanuts gang from Charles Shultz' long-running comic strip, Charlie Brown and friends bumble their way through their school's Christmas pageant and discover the reason for the season along the way.

When first broadcast, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" broke from many of the standard holiday film expectations of the time, instead carrying a more blatant Christian message, featuring characters voiced by children instead of adults, and failing to have a laugh track. Its success may have surprised studio executives but not the families who have enjoyed this short movie over the past five decades.

Another short animated classic that deserves its place among the top Christmas movies for children is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" Although this title has been redone several times, it's the original version from 1966 that continues to delight audiences with the wit and wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Told in a combination of narrated passages and original songs, the Grinch benefits from the gravitas of Boris Karloff and the animation genius of Chuck Jones.

"The Polar Express" is a modern holiday movie that continues all the best themes families love from classic Christmas favorites. Released in 2004 and starring Tom Hanks, the movie centers on a boy who is just old enough to begin doubting in the legend of Santa Claus. While trying to stay awake to catch Santa's arrival one Christmas Eve, the young boy instead finds himself invited to board a train headed for the North Pole. What he learns there makes this movie as endearing to audiences as the long line of Christmas classics it follows.

Tom Hanks delivers big time in "The Polar Express," where he ably portrays several different characters including the train conductor, the doubting little boy and even Santa himself. Theatrically, the film has been re-released several times during the holiday season, including in IMAX form. Although children and families can undoubtedly enjoy this one at home, viewing it on the big screen or in an IMAX theater can make it an unforgettable experience.

The final inclusion on this list of best Christmas movies is actually a variety of adaptations of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." This story may arguably be the best-known Christmas tale spanning the last century, reproduced in dozens of films, animated shows and television episodes. Its first movie adaptation was released in 1938 starring Reginald Owen and Gene Lockhart as Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit. This original theatrical version is likely the one best remembered among the many that would follow. Big screen remakes followed in 1951 and 2009, with television versions finding their way to air in 1962, 1984, and 1999. But the versions children may best enjoy include those done by the Muppets (1992), Mickey (1983) or the musical starring Kelsey Grammar, Jason Alexander, and Jennifer Love Hewitt in 2004. No matter the adaptation, however, the enduring story of the goodness of people and the spirit of Christmas endures.

Although this guide only covers the top five Christmas movies for children, many other holiday classics are also readily available for families to enjoy. To expand your holiday collection, you can also consider "Elf," starring Will Ferrell, Macaulay Culkin's "Home Alone," Jimmy Stewart's "It's a Wonderful Life," Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and animated treasures "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman.". Happy Holidays!