Top Five Stop-Motion Animation Christmas Films

Photo Credit: Rankin/Bass Productions
December 24th, 2013

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Top Five Stop-Motion Animation Christmas Films

Stop-motion animation has thrived as a filmmaking technique for more than a century. It has been used to produce many memorable shorts and feature films and in combination with live action for special effects. The technique is currently enjoying a full-blown renaissance, producing box office and critical hits such as "Coraline," "Frankenweenie," and "Chicken Run." Among the dozens of stop-motion animation films made, a handful stand out as being exceptional in their form and great examples of the Christmas film genre.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"

First airing as a television special in 1964, the stop-motion animation retelling of Santa's ninth reindeer has become a classic Christmas film and is shown every year to new generations of admirers. Although the filmmakers take some liberties with the original story published in 1939, this adaptation in which Rudolph is at first made a social outcast because of his "deformity" and runs away from home is likely the version of the story viewers will recognize best. Rudolph makes his way to the Island of Misfit Toys, and with the help of a disgruntled elf who dreams of becoming a dentist, he convinces Santa to brave the fog with Rudolph's guidance to save the Christmas Day toys. Its strong lessons about tolerance and inclusion remain relevant today.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas"

Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" features one of the most original storylines in a Christmas movie and is one of a handful of exquisite stop-motion animation features from a filmmaker who is considered to be a master of the form. Burton avoids the simplistic cheeriness associated with much of the holiday fare by exploring Christmas obsession through the character of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King from Halloween Town who finds an opening to Christmas Town and decides he wants to take over Christmas. This soon makes him the most skeletal and somber Santa Claus in film history. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is perhaps the most playful and inventive of Christmas movies and has aged remarkably well.

"Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town"

The narrator mailman of the Christmas classic "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" tells the story of a young Kris Kringle and how he became the famous jolly old Santa Claus we know today. An all-star cast that includes Fred Astaire as the voice of the narrator and Mickey Rooney as Santa Claus, "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" first aired as a Christmas special in 1970. The young Kris Kringle gets his start in the toy delivery business by volunteering for a group of elves to deliver Christmas cheer to the children of Sombertown, but soon, he must overcome the wiles of the town's mean-spirited Burgermeister and the force of the Winter Warlock who have no use for Christmas cheer. Filling a gap in the myth of the beloved Santa Claus, the film has become a Christmas classic.

"The Year Without a Santa Claus"

A quasi-sequel to "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" and made by the same creative team, this stop-motion animation film tells the story of the year Santa Claus decided to take some time off because he had heard from his doctor that no one believes in him anymore. The elves attempt at taking over Santa's task does not go well, and they endure a crash landing in Southtown, USA, due to the battling forces of Snow Miser and Heat Miser. Not as magical as its predecessor, "The Year Without a Santa Claus" nevertheless manages to convey the spirit of cooperation and generosity that is necessary for the holiday to succeed, as even the warring forces of nature agree to a compromise so that Santa Claus can return.

"Pinocchio's Christmas"

This Christmas stop-motion animation film cleverly incorporates characters from the classic fairy tale into the traditional Christmas narrative of trying to get home for Christmas. Pinocchio is swindled out of money that he was going to use to buy presents, so he becomes a marionette in a Christmas show to earn it back. After he steals a puppet from the show, he is chased into an enchanted forest and later sold to a duke who wants to make him a present for his children. It seems that all will be for naught and Pinocchio will miss his first Christmas as a boy unless Santa Claus can whiz him back home on Christmas Eve. Somewhat of a pioneer for future Christmas specials starring popular characters from fairy tales or hit animation films, "Pinocchio's Christmas" is a charming sequel to the classic story.