Let me preface this list by saying this: these are for KIDS. You won’t find black and white films or Lifetime TV movies here. We’re sticking to the true classics and the soon to be classics that are geared towards little ones. My frame of reference is my son (he’s 8) and his pals, so my list might differ a little from yours, but after much research and conferring with many children, this is what I’ve compiled as the top 10 Christmas movies for Kids (and adults who refuse to grow up):
10. Frosty the Snowman
An oldie but a goodie. While I will never understand why these children are running around in the snow wearing shorts and dresses, this is still a go-to come Christmas time. And I love that a little girl is the hero. It’s short – less than half an hour – but it gives the Frosty Christmas carol a cute twist and it’s bright and colorful, with lots of snow and, of course, some Christmas magic. What else could you ask for?
9. Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas
Those who know me know that I’m kind of a Disney nut. Okay, I’m totally obsessed. But this genuinely deserves to be on the list. It’s a collection of original Christmas tales, each teaching those typical Christmas “lessons” but in that bright, magical way only Disney can do. There’s no Pixar or princesses here, only the original bunch: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto and some of their pals. It’s new school animation mixed with old school friends and hits every holiday nail right on the head.
8. Polar Express
The concept of Polar Express ranks much higher on our Christmas activities, but the movie itself does not. It’s a little slow (unless your kid is in its train phase, then this might be much more magical) but it’s all about the magic of Santa Claus and the strength of believing so it’s a big hit with my son who’s on the brink of disbelief. When that Polar Express first appears, it really is impressive and captivating (kinda like the Hogwarts Express for some of us) and that conductor looks so exactly like Tom Hanks it’s incredible. But honestly, riding a Polar Express and knowing the story is way more exciting than watching the movie. Still, a Christmas classic worth investing in.
7. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
In this day and age where movies have become visual masterpieces, somehow this Claymation is as classic and entertaining as ever. From Hermey – the elf who wants to be a dentist, to Yukon Cornelius – a prospector in search of the Abominable Snowman, to Rudolph and Clarice, it’s chock full of endearing characters and brings one of the most well-known Christmas carols to life in a way. With all the CGI and special effects out there, kids will still happily sit and enjoy the jerky movements of these clay-characters and use something a lot of kids just don’t anymore: imagination.
6. Home Alone 2
While it pales in comparison to the original, Home Alone 2 is still an awesome movie. Moving the setting to New York was genius – the weather, the hustle and bustle of the shoppers, Rockefeller Center, the grand hotels, it’s the perfect kids Christmas winter wonderland. While the original “Wet Bandits” are (however implausibly) involved, adding in the stellar cast of hotel staff was just brilliant. The movie stayed true to what worked the first time around to keep it familiar, but changed it just enough to keep it fresh. If not for its predecessor, this would rank much higher on the list but it still has a respectable showing.
5. A Charlie Brown Christmas
The first time we watched this, my son was appalled by the character of Lucy (this child has a zero tolerance policy for bullying), but he fell in love with both Snoopy and Charlie Brown. While this isn’t the first, or even the most unique, telling of “what Christmas is all about,” it is one of the best. There’s something about the Peanuts gang that touches hearts and resonates with kids generation after generation. You may think today’s kids won’t engage, but nobody should grow up without knowing exactly what a “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” is. It’s a must-see and always will be.
4. Nightmare Before Christmas
Some (my sister) would argue that this is not a Christmas movie. But it is. Yes, it’s Halloween Town and the Pumpkin King, but it’s all about creating Christmas. The signature style of Time Burton combined with the whimsical and infectious music of Danny Elfman, layered onto one of the most unique and innovative storylines I’ve ever seen make this cult classic completely irresistible. And since it is technically also a Halloween movie, I get to watch this from October 1 to January 1. Can’t beat that.
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
And we’re talking the original here, not the remake with Jim Carey. Some would argue that the remake is better. Those people would be wrong. The remake was a garish and over the top caricature of what is a legendary and classic Christmas story. The animated version held true to the way it was drawn and told by Dr. Seuss but brought it to life in a way that still resonates to this day. The song “Welcome Christmas” that the Whos sing and that lascivious slow, green grin of the Grinch are truly iconic. It’s Christmas classic at its finest.
2. Home Alone
Not too many of my childhood favorites translate over to my son’s childhood, but this is one of the few that do. It was an instant hit in our household – the borderline slapstick comedy, the physicality of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, the charm of Macaulay Culkin, and that wickedly delightful premise (what kid, or hell, what adult, hasn’t dreamt of waking up one day and finding their family has disappeared?) all come together perfectly. It’s got the sort of humor and heart that will please kids of all ages and will bring nostalgia to the adults who grew up with that signature “KEVIN!” scream and Macaulay Culkin aftershave cheek slap. Put aside the fact that this could never even remotely happen in today’s times and it’s the kind of movie you can watch for hundreds of Christmases to come.
This movie is perfection. Say what you want about Will Ferrell, but he is brilliant in this film. He brought such innocence and whimsy to Buddy the Elf in a way that no other actor I can think of could. It’s hilarious and heartwarming and so chock full of Christmas spirit, I can hardly stand it. Even the credits are festive! As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is carved (if we can even wait that long), this movie is on our TV screen. Seeing the world through Buddy’s eyes is just magical. He’s so pure and so positive, he reminds me that even in the cynicism of adulthood, we can put it aside and just believe: in the magic of Christmas and in the goodness of others. It’s just one of those movies that you can’t help but love and that no Christmas is complete without. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch it.