We wait for them every year. They've become as integral to our Christmas celebration as tinsel. They're animated Christmas specials. My Top 10 does not include special holiday episodes of regular series, so there is no Simpsons or Scooby Doo on this list.
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
One of the many Christmas specials by Rankin/Bass, The Year Without a Santa Claus is perhaps best remembered for its introduction of the characters Heat Miser and Snow Miser. The story goes that Santa is sick and on doctor's orders is canceling Christmas. Mrs. Claus sends two elves on a mission to find some Christmas cheer to help revive Santa. Shirley Booth provided the voice of Mrs. Claus and Mickey Rooney played Santa.
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)
Fred Astaire plays the postman who tells the story of Santa Claus, an orphan adopted by the Kringles. Santa, played by Mickey Rooney, must battle Burgermeister Meisterburger and an evil wizard named Winter. This special is another of the Rankin/Bass Christmas classics.
A Garfield Christmas Special (1987)
Garfield, John and Odie travel to John's family's farm for Christmas. While there Garfield starts to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Lorenzo Music plays the voice of Garfield.
Shrek the Halls (2007)
Shrek wants to provide the perfect Christmas for Fiona and the kids. When Donkey and friends show up all of Shrek's plans are ruined. Most of the stars from the Shrek movies reprise their voice roles, including Mike Meyers as Shrek and Eddie Murphy as Donkey.
A Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987)
Hosted by dinosaurs Rex and Herb, the Claymation special features a number of songs all performed by clay characters. Rex is looking for the meaning of "wassail" throughout the special. A highlight includes the California Raisins performing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Frosty, a snowman made by a group of children, comes to life when the kids put a magic silk hat on his head. Failed magician Professor Hinkle threw the hat away. When he sees that the hat is really magic he begins chasing Frosty to the North Pole to get it back. Jimmy Durante narrated and sang the theme song.
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
The cast of The Muppet Show drops in unexpectedly on Fozzie's mom for Christmas. The Sesame Street Muppets show up as carolers and Kermit finds a Fraggle Rock hole in the basement. A snowstorm strands everyone in the house for Christmas. This is the first production to feature Muppets from all of their major franchise shows. Jim Henson makes a rare cameo.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Rudolph, the misfit reindeer, and his equally misfit elf friend, Hermey, leave the North Pole in search of a place where they'll be accepted. They return to the North Pole just in time to save Christmas. Burl Ives, a late addition to the cast brought on to add star power, plays Sam the Snowman who narrates and performs several songs. This was the first Rankin/Bass Christmas special. Rudolph is the longest running Christmas special on network TV.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Based on the Dr. Seuss children's book, the Grinch is the story of a grumpy hermit who attempts to steal Christmas from the village of Whoville. When Christmas comes anyway the Grinch undergoes a change of heart. Boris Karloff provided narration and the voice of the Grinch.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
It's Christmas time and Charlie Brown is depressed. He just can't seem to get into the Christmas spirit, and the overwhelming sense of commercialism isn't helping matters. According to IMDB, A Charlie Brown Christmas defied many of the conventions of animated holiday specials, it didn't use a laugh track, the producers used real children instead the voices of adults, and it used Biblical references.
The producer, Bill Melendez, actually tried to talk Charles Schulz out of using the Biblical reference in Linus'speech. Schulz reportedly responded, "If we don't do it, who will?" The speech remained in tact. This is the second longest running Christmas special on network TV, behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which premiered one year earlier.
Catch Them This Christmas
Most, if not all, of these specials show up like clockwork every holiday season. And many are available on DVD. Check listings in your area, and don't neglect those cable TV networks you usually don't watch, many of them may be the homes of your favorite specials this year.
And I'd love to know if your favorite was on or off the list. You can comment here, on my personal Face Book page or the Prevenings with Jerry and Shannon Face Book page. Merry Christmas.