For many Christmas lovers, one of the great annual traditions is checking out a Claymation classic. The genre’s heyday was undoubtedly in the 1960s and ’70s, when Rankin/Bass were churning out TV specials in the format.
If you’re looking for something new to throw into the rotation this year, though, or if you’re just starting your journey into the world of Claymation holiday specials, then we’ve got you covered. Here are the seven best ever released, including some classics and a few underseen gems that rank up there with the best Christmas movies ever made.
Perhaps the first show many people think of when it comes to a Claymation holiday special is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This story of an outcast who finds himself suddenly accepted has endured for decades.
Thanks to charming Claymation, some wonderful voice performances, and one ultra-determined elf who really wants to be a dentist, basically everything about this Rankin/Bass special has helped solidify its legacy in the decades since. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this is the definitive animated version of one of America’s most beloved Christmas anthems.
Adapted from one of the creepier Christmas anthems, The Little Drummer Boy is much more overtly religious than most of the other Rankin/Bass specials, and for obvious reasons. The special tells the story of a young Jewish boy who begins to hate humanity and only has his faith restored after he meets baby Jesus.
If you don’t really vibe with the more overtly Christian parts of Christmas, this special may not be for you, but if you’re somewhat religious, or just want to see what all the fuss is about, The Little Drummer Boy is definitely worth watching at least once.
Sort of a prototype for the superhero origin story, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town shows us how Kris Kringle became the man who delivers presents every Christmas Eve.
Although we may cringe when movies show us the origins of every single thing involved with the character, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town manages to make that approach work, illustrating how many of the Christmas traditions we know and love came to be. Along the way, we get a lovely story of a man who wants to spread joy, and decides that the best way to do that is by delivering presents all over the world.
All manner of chaos ensues when Santa gets a cold and decides to take the year off from Christmas. Much like Elf, this movie is ultimately about whether people still believe in Santa Claus, but it’s best remembered for the Heat Miser and Snow Miser, two of the most artfully designed characters in the history of Claymation.
More importantly, though, the movie ends with Santa realizing that the children of the world still appreciate him, a touching moment that’s also a reminder that Christmas is more about giving than it is receiving.
Perhaps the most melancholy, tragic film on this list, Jack Frost tells the story of an immortal ice being (just go with it) who falls in love with a human girl. Although this film is more about winter than Christmas specifically, it has just the right sad, mournful tone that anyone who doesn’t love Christmas may long for.
Jack Frost is the Claymation special for the moodier part of the population.
This is the perfect follow-up to A Year Without a Santa Claus for anyone who just can’t get enough of those crazy Miser Brothers. This film, which features much of the same voice cast from that prior installment, offers a more global perspective on what might happen in a year without a Santa Claus. Of course, the animation in this installment is even more impressive than in the original film, and may feel a little more relevant to anyone thinking about climate change. Even so, it remains fun for the whole family.
Aardman Animations is the best studio in stop-motion animation today, and Shaun the Sheep is one of their very best characters. In this animated short, Shaun and his friends are preparing for the holiday when Tommy goes missing in search of a larger stocking. Shaun and the rest of the gang then have to go searching for him.
There’s plenty of witty visual humor to enjoy here, as well as some genuinely beautiful animation. The old-school Claymation is wonderful in its own way, but Shaun the Sheep shows how far the medium has come in the last 50 years.