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10 Memorable Christmas Specials

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As the nights draw in and every building you enter is blasting the familiar and silky voice of Nat King Cole singing about his roasting chestnuts it’s easy to forget all of the fantastic animation that graces our screens at this time of year. For a lot of animators, getting up at 5:30am on Christmas Day was more about tuning in to Channel 4 for the Christmas specials than it was running to open presents. Here at Skwigly we wanted to celebrate some of those memorable Christmas specials that may sometimes be left off the December ‘to – do’ list.

A Christmas special is exactly what it sounds like. Your favorite characters (and sometimes new characters) coming together for a special moment to entertain you and inform you of why you should avoid being a scrooge. There are many animations that should be listed here but we have counted only a few of those cartoons that warm our hearts but be sure to let us know what we’ve missed from the list. After all what better way to spend those rare few days off that watching some much loved animations.

Skwigly’s Top 10 Christmas Specials

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

These days a lot of people’s minds will jump to the live action Jim Carrey version when you mention the Grinch, but for most animators this classic Dr. Seuss animation can’t be beaten. The animation was created in 1966 and directed by animation legend Chuck Jones. Animated and distributed by Warner Brothers  the animation was screened as a Christmas special . The book originally came out in 1957 but was in black and white. Chuck Jones apparently chose the colour of the Grinch because he always seemed to get rental cars given to him in this exact shade of green (it is also the colour associated with greed and jealously but the rental car story has a nice ring to it).

Dr. Seuss originally didn’t want to animate any of his books but Chuck Jones convinced him it would be a good choice. There were some arguments on the project. Dr. Seuss wasn’t happy with the original design of the Grinch as he thought it was too much of a Chuck Jones caricature. The story of the Grinch is set inside a snowflake and is told in rhyme. It tells of a creature who lives in a mountain and hates everything to do with Christmas. He becomes hell bent on ruining the holiday for everyone in Whoville.

Apart from the stylised animation of the Warner Brothers animators, probably the most memorable element of the story is the song ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch’. The song was sung by the narrator and voice of the Grinch , Thurl Ravenscroft. The credits forgot to credit him as singing the songs so Dr. Seuss sent out personal letters to many American newspaper asking them to announce and correct the mistake. Thurl Ravenscroft is also better known for his voice over work for animated cereal character Tony the Tiger from the ‘Frosties’ cereal.

So why has The Grinch endured? Well it’s safe to say that from time to time we have all felt a little Grinch-y at this time of year. It may be the cold , the busy streets or Mariah Carrey on repeat that makes us a little bit of a grump but at least we don’t set out to destroy this festive time. It’s nice to be reminded that we aren’t as criminally insane as Chuck Jones green creature . The animation and story is simple but beautifully executed. The film has definitely stood  the test of time. While Jim Carrey does a fantastic job of playing this creature that stole Christmas make sure you set aside some time to watch this animated classic.

The Snowman (1982)

the-snowman-cartoon-by-raymond-briggs

A Christmas animation list would not be completely without the inclusion of the 1978 picture book classic and Christmas TV special, The Snowman. Directed by Dianne Jackson and released on Channel 4 in 1982 this family favourite has become an iconic part of British Christmases. Last year we saw the edition of The Snowman and the Snowdog which was part produced by John Coates, the producer from the original 1982 production who tragically passed away before the film was aired. This traditional 2D animated special contains over 10,000 drawings consisting of crayons and pastels.

For those of you who have been hibernating every Christmas for the last decade the story of the snowman follows a boy named James (he never  speaks but we see his name on a Christmas gift given to him from Santa) who wakes up one morning to find his garden covered in snow. He builds himself a new snowman who magically comes to life and takes James on a fantastic adventure.

The score of this animation is probably as iconic as the images themselves. The wordless animation was scored by Howard Blake and features the famous song ‘Walking In The Air’. The song was released by Aled Jones into the charts but he did not sing the original song featured in the movie. It was sung by a choir boy named Peter Auty. The Snowman has become so iconic that many children are sat down by parents all over the country at Christmas time to watch it. Even though it isn’t full of CG and fast paced action this classic seems to be here to stay.

Lost and Found (2008)

Although this 2008 animation isn’t really a Christmas story it was created to be shown on Christmas Eve by Studio AKA. This animation, based on the best selling children’s book of the same name by Oliver Jeffers depicts the story of a young boy who after finding a penguin on his door step is determined to travel with his new friend and help him return home. Many of the most iconic scenes take place at see with the boy and his penguin in a small rowing boat , finding their way past storms, octopus and even whales.

The animation beautifully represents the individual style and creativity of Oliver Jeffers the renowned author and illustrator. The animation is simple but works perfectly for the story. Similar to many Christmas specials this animation is based around the score. The music was performed by composer Max Richter and narrated by Jim Broadbent. The director, Philip Hunt, also helped produce other Studio AKA productions such as the critically acclaimed Jojo and the Stars.

This animation was a surprise edition to the list but it shouldn’t be with the huge amount of awards it has received. The half hour short won 40 awards and was nominated for many more. A few animators requested this to be on the specials list and if you go and have a look at this beautiful animation for yourself you are sure to see why.

Wallace and Gromit – The Wrong Trousers (1993)

wallace and gromit wrong trousers

Another British classic that has to be listed is of course Wallace and Gromit. Although they aren’t as Christmassy as most specials they are a firm favourite in most households and appear on our screens as a Christmas Day or Boxing Day treat.

The Wrong Trousers has been featured as part of the Christmas specials for many years and will be appearing on our screens yet again this year. It was created by Nick Park and produced by Peter Lord and David Sproxton who of course are in charge of the talented bunch at Aardman. It was shown in the UK on Boxing Day, the 26th of December 1993.

The story of The Wrong Trousers follows Wallace and his loveable side kick Gromit as they take in a new tenant, a small and evil penguin. This penguin attempts to steal a jewel from the local museum and pins the crime on the pair. Like most Wallace and Gromit films this animation features familiar voices such as Peter Sallis,many cheese references and many crazy contraptions. It took over two years to make and won an academy award in 1993. It may not have a Christmas soundtrack and it may not take place on Christmas day but Wallace and Gromit have become so well loved in the UK that it almost doesn’t feel like Christmas if we do not having them on the telly for a familiar catch up.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952)

When you think back to your childhood Christmases many of you may be able to picture the Disney specials that were shown on our screens or maybe even the ones you owned on VHS. (Kids, ask your parents what one of those is.)

This Christmas special was released in 1952 and has since been digitally re-mastered. It was animated by such greats as Fred Moore (famous for his design and depiction of the Disney ladies such as the centaurettes in Fantasia and his animation of the mice in Cinderella) and directed by Jack Hannah (famous for many of Disney’s shorts such as ‘Pluto Saves The Ship‘ and even some Woody Woodpecker shorts. He was honored as a Disney great in 1993).

The short is set in the snowy words where Mickey and Pluto are cutting down a Christmas tree. Once they pick a tree and get inside the house Pluto is shocked (and dismayed ) to discover two chipmunks (chip and dale ) hiding in side the pine leaves. This sweet and beautifully hand animated animation is only 7 minutes in length but is filled with lots of mad cap action that will leave you feeling sorry for poor Pluto and also mastering at the hand drawn skills of those wise old men at Disney.
Although not as popular as many on the list this Disney animated silly symphonies gets a place on the list because of the nostalgia it brings (and any excuse to mention Fred Moore).

Hamilton Mattress (2001)

This stop motion Christmas special was shown on the BBC on Christmas day 2001. It follows Sludger, an Aardvark who wishes for the good life but is stuck in the outback. A talent agent Feldwick C.Hackenbush, a caterpillar hears Sludger’s natural talent for drumming and recruits him as ‘The next big thing’. Together they travel to Beak City where Sludger changes his name to Hamilton Mattress and is hired to play in a hip Africa club as a drummer. Fame and fortune quickly follow.

The stop motion animation in this film is detailed and impressive. The director Barry Purves (also known for his work on Wind in the Willows, Noddy and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks) brings to life these whimsical characters with lots of detail and complex models created by the renowned studio Mackinnon & Saunders. The vast amount of characters in this short half hour animation is impressive for a film made so long ago. The animation feels very hand done but the bumpy movements add a level of grit to the piece that is sometimes missing from stop motion animation these days. Smooth animation is incredible and sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the talent behind it but it’s nice to look at old animation and reminisce.

The animation was produced by Chris Moll who also helped produce The Wrong Trousers (another Christmas special on the list), A Close Shave and A Grand Day Out.

Although this special isn’t really very Christmassy with its summer vibe, a good stop motion animation has become synonymous with Christmas Day. The story isn’t too strong and very predictable but just looking back on old plasticine animation can make anyone feel nostalgic.

Flatworld (1997)

Flatworld is animation at its best. It is a combination of both stop motion cardboard cut outs and 2D cell animation.

The story is set in a cardboard city where Matt Phlatt, an ordinary electrical repair man lives with his cat, Geoff and his viscous fish, Chips. During a normal day Matt accidently breaks a TV cable that allows a 1930’s criminal to escape from a TV show. Unfortunately the criminal bears a striking resemblance to our main character Matt so when a crime is committed by this unexpected visitor Matt gets the blame. A chase ensues which sees Matt, Geoff the cat and Chips the fish thrown into the television world (a brightly colored 2D set) .

This Bafta award winning animation was directed and written by Daniel Greaves, who also animated on the Oscar winning short Manipulation.

The piece is moved along effortlessly by the score created by Julian Nott, best known for his musical scores featured in Wallace and Gromit and easily keeps the audience’s attention without needing any dialogue.

The short was released in June 1997 but it was aired on the BBC on Christmas day in 1997. It was distributed by Tandem Films who have released many stop motion animations over the years as well as branching out into CG and traditional animation.

So why is this on the list of Christmas specials? It is a great piece of animation. It isn’t set at Christmas and doesn’t feature one carol but the effort and time that went into producing this work is hard for even the hardest working animator to comprehend. It is a wonder to watch and a lovely piece of work to share with the family on Christmas Day.

Robbie the Reindeer (1999)

After the last few animations on the list not being primarily Christmassy this edition to the list is full to bursting with magical Christmas spirit. Robbie the Reindeer was a stop motion 3 part special, featured on the BBC in 1999.

This special was written by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, both of which have written for many popular British comedies such as Little Britain, The Armstrong and Miller Show and Black Books. The show was published by the British charity Comic Relief and the special helped to raise money through its DVD sales.

The cast list reads like the who’s who of British comedy. Jane Horrocks, Steve Coogan, Ricky Tomlinson, Harry Enfield, Rhys Ifans and many more. Every scene is beautiful crafted with many of the familiar background elements and details we’ve come to love in British stop motion. It’s easy to see Richard Goleszowski’s influence running through the piece. Richard directed the animations and has had an illustrious career with Aardman. He has written and directed such British gems as Rex the Runt, Shaun the Sheep and Creature Comforts.

The three specials were named ‘Hooves of Fire’, ‘Close Encounters of the Heard Kind’ and ‘Legend of the Lost Tribe’. All three specials centre on Robbie, Rudolf’s son who is unusually fast but not liked by many of the other reindeers (such as Blitzen) who are jealous of his famous father.

The special was bought and aired by America who kept the original voice cast until 2001 when they redubbed it with actors such as Ben Stiller, Hugh Grant (who remained the only British voice in the piece) and also Brittney Spears.

This special contains all the elements you need for Christmas day. Carols, Santa, snow and stop motion.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

It isn’t really Christmas if you don’t watch at least one adaption of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol and what better version* is there for a chilly Christmas Eve. In case you have never seen a Christmas carol let alone the Disney version the story centers around Scrooge (of course played by Scrooge McDuck in this version) who is visited by three ghosts that show him the error of his ways and how to avoid a horrible future.

The special features everyone’s favourite characters from Mickey himself as Bob Cratchit to Donald Duck (Fred). The story is still set in the Victorian era like the original book and despite the cast’s American accents it is set in England.

The special was originally screened as a featurette in Cinemas and was hailed as Mickey Mouse’s big screen comeback. The film marked the last performance by Clarence Nash who was known as the voice of Donad Duck. The film was shown in the UK in October and was shown alongside the re-release of The Rescuers in the December of the same year.

Many familiar characters can be spotted throughout the animation such as Chip ‘n Dale , lady Kluck from Robin hood and Angus MacBadger from The Wind in the Willows.

Burny Mattinson directed, produced and wrote the adaption for this film. He is considered a Disney great and worked as an in-between assistant on Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty as well as 101 Dalmatians. He worked as an assistant to Eric Larson and later became a storyboard artist on The Lion King as well as The Fox and the Hound.

Excitingly Mattinson announced in 2011 that he was pitching an idea for a feature length animation about Mickey Mouse.

*If it was animated even slightly we would be including The Muppets Christmas Carol but we didn’t think we could sneak it past you animation pros.

The Grufallo (2009)

The Grufallo was voted the UK’s favourite bed time story so it was no surprise that Magic Light Productions decided to make it an animation in 2009. Magic Light used Studio Soi, an independent German animation studio to animate the feature. It used a mixture of model backgrounds and CG. This mixed media approach to the animation helped the short to have the same illustrated feel of the original book.

The Grufallo was shown on Christmas day and was viewed by 9.8 million people. It received rave reviews and won an Oscar as well as a Bafta the following year.

The story of the Grufallo follows a small mouse trying to make his way through the forest. On the way he meets different predators and has to lie his way out of being eaten.  He invents the Grufallo only to find that his lies were true.

The story is narrated by a mother squirrel telling her children a story. The squirrel is voiced by Helena Bonham Carter. The rest of the cast has such British greats as the late John Hurt, James Corden, Rob Brydon and Robbie Coltrane.

The directors of this project were Max Lang and Jakob Schuh both of which have animated on other projects such as ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’.

The animation seems to have an almost stop motion like look to it. The textures of the models make them look like they could have been carved from wood and they fit in effortlessly with the model backgrounds.

The original children’s book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler was such a loved book that it was almost a dangerous move by the directors Max Lang and Jakob Schuh. The directors knew this and spent a lot of time trying to visually explore new techniques. With their tradition training they decided that the small miniature sets would allow for a more 3D feel to the pieces and help give the animation a more tactile quality. These characters were real in people’s minds so they wanted to create a world that seemed as real as possible. The 26 minute animation took two years to animate and 40 people to create it.

It’s a Christmas classic because it is something all of the family can enjoy and something that makes you feel like you are a child again.

Two years later Studio Soi made a follow up special with ‘The Grufallo’s child’.

 

So those are just a few of the Christmas Specials Skwigly recommend you search out this festive season but what are your favourite Christmas specials? Let us know below! We hope you all find a second to sit and enjoy some festive animated fun. Happy Holidays!

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  • Peter Kimball-Evans

    I think it’s worth mentioning the Simpson’s series 1 debut episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”. Early Simpsons episodes appeal more to me than any other, as they hold the struggles of the family members and personal, very human struggles very close to the heart of the story. Being set at Christmas, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire presented the world with this otherwise dysfunctional family coping together at the most family-oriented time of the year. The episode is as much about the Simpsons as it is about any family and the value of Christmas.

    • Steve Henderson

      An article on “Best Christmas TV Specials” will be scheduled for next year Peter! Great points there.

  • Michael Tharme

    shame you couldn’t have mentioned Tom and Jerrys The Night before Christmas, its a good list mind, forgot about Robbie the Reindeer and Lost and Found 🙂

    • Steve Henderson

      We could have but decided not to just to upset you Mike! 😉

  • Marc Hendry

    how about Richard Williams’ Christmas Carol?

    • Steve Henderson

      The list was originally just 5 before we added another 5, we could have carried on forever there are so many to choose from, hopefully these all fill you with seasonal spirit!

  • Ewan Horne Green

    Suzie Templeton’s Peter and the Wolf is my number one. 🙂

  • Tania Vincent

    Thank you everyone, I completely agree with all of these suggestions. We will definitely have to do a ‘part 2’ next year. Merry Christmas

  • John Paterson

    I only saw this the once, but it’s a great story based on the 1997 children’s book by Vivian Walsh and illustrated by J. Otto Seibold & I have just found out the animated film was written and produced by Matt Groening- http://youtu.be/i69D5InPKCI

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