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The 30 best Christmas cartoons and animated movies to watch this holiday season

From "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to "The Polar Express," these festive flicks are fun for the whole family.
Universal Pictures, NBC
/ Source: TODAY

The holiday season is officially here, which means it's just about time to cuddle up on the couch to watch a Christmas movie.

While there are hundreds — if not, thousands — of Christmas movies to stream, the animated ones in particular often hold a special place in people's hearts thanks to their wholesome Christmas cheer and life lessons. These feel-good favorites can transport you right back to childhood — when the only things you cared about were the presents under the tree and the Christmas cookies you'd leave out for Santa.

In between replaying Mariah Carey's Christmas songs, take a gander at watching these animated Christmas movies. Some of's picks include stories of selflessness, doing what could be viewed as the wrong thing for the right reason and overcoming self-doubt to achieve dreams.

If you're looking for a cheery cartoon to get young and old in the holiday spirit, you're in luck because we've rounded up some of our favorites below. By nature, cartoons tend to be lighthearted and funny, but a lot of these picks — both new releases and beloved classics — sprinkle in a few valuable lessons about the importance of family, faith and giving back to those in need.

Since it may be hard for the whole family to agree on one movie, cozy up for a night of back-to-back viewings ... since the weather outside is frightful and all.

'Alien XMas' (2020)

A lead elf mechanic in the Christmas spirit finds what he believes to be a doll, which he doesn't realize is an alien named X, and gives it to his daughter as a gift. This happens as the remaining aliens plot to destroy Earth's gravity. X's dark ways soften as he spends time with the daughter. Will X remain loyal to the aliens or help the earthlings?

'Frozen' (2013)

It is a winter wonderland in Arendelle, which is the problem because the usual sunny skies and warm weather have been transformed by Elsa's icy powers into eternal winter. Elsa's sister, Anna, sets off on a journey to find her estranged loved one to right the conditions and save the kingdom.

'Annabelle's Wish' (1997)

A young boy named Billy and Annabelle the calf have a special Christmas wish. Billy becomes unable to speak after the death of his parents and experiences bullying. When Annabelle gets the power of speech, she later asks Santa to give it to Billy, her good friend. But what she really wants is to become one of Santa's reindeer. Now, can calves be reindeer? The movie tells the tale.

'Angela's Christmas' (2017)

Little Angela did the wrong thing for the right reason: stealing baby Jesus to keep him warm. Her mother later finds out and shares the story of her dad, who did something similar — only, he was arrested for it. Angela decides what she is going to do next and is ready for any consequences that may come.

'The Flight Before Christmas' (2008)

Niko the reindeer has dreamed of being one of Santa's reindeers just like his dad. But Niko cannot fly and is afraid of heights so his goal seems impossible. He ends up running away from it all after causing some trouble in his herd. But, with the help of others, Niko regains confidence, starts believing in himself again and pursues his dream of pulling Santa's sleigh.

'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' (1964)

This Rankin/Bass Christmas classic is at the top of everyone's list for good reason. With an unforgettable soundtrack (who could forget the foreboding musical intro of "we're on the island of misfit toys") and a triumphant cast of characters, this stop-motion flick a must-watch every holiday season.

'Frosty the Snowman' (1969)

Another one that crosses everyone's mind, "Frosty the Snowman" is a tale of friendship with a catchy theme song to match. This is another Rankin/Bass production, but instead of the stop-motion they're typically known for, this one was made with 2D animation.

'Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas' (1966)

"It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!"

Christmas movie aficionados have seen all the remakes of the Grinch's story, including the one with Jim Carrey starring in the titular role, but the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" just can't be beat.

'The Polar Express' (2004)

Tom Hanks and Christmas — who could ask for anything more? Hanks voices the train conductor of the Polar Express, which takes children to see Santa at the North Pole on Christmas Eve.

'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)

Though some argue this movie is better suited for Halloween, others say it's a Christmas movie through and through. With a fabulous score by Danny Elfman, this iconic Disney movie is sure to give you a little bit of the creeps during the holiday season.

'Arthur Christmas' (2011)

This underrated Christmas flick follows Arthur Claus, the son of Santa, who discovers that one little girl was missed on Christmas Eve. He sets out on a mission to ensure that she gets her present.

'A Christmas Carol' (2009)

This animated retelling of the classic Charles Dickens story stars Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge. On the night of Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, and he learns that he has to change his ways if he wants his life to be a long and happy one.

'Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas' (1999)

Fans of Disney will love this sweet compilation of Christmas stories centered around their favorite characters. In these short stories, we see Mickey, Donald and Minnie go through different struggles during the holiday season — but ultimately, they learn what Christmas is all about with help from friends.

'The Year Without a Santa Claus' (1974)

Every Christmas movie needs a villain or two, and in this case, it's Heat Miser and Snow Miser. When Santa gets unmotivated around Christmastime, it's up to Mrs. Claus and her friends to get Santa healthy and everything back in order before Christmas Eve.

'A Charlie Brown Christmas' (1965)

From Charlie Brown's less-than-perfect Christmas tree to Linus' retelling of the nativity story, this animated classic is sure to put folks in the holiday spirit.

'Klaus' (2019)

This Spanish-American Christmas special is the first of its kind for Netflix. The moral of the story: A little act of kindness can go a long way — especially during the Christmas season.

'Trolls: Holiday in Harmony' (2021)

"Trolls: Holiday in Harmony" is a high-energy holiday movie that includes toe-tapping music your whole family will love. This time around, the crew learns how to handle an unsightly mishap in their first annual Trolls Kingdom Gift Swap.

'Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer' (2018)

Elliot, voiced by Josh Hutcherson, is, as the title depicts, the littlest reindeer (OK, he's actually a horse). Martin Short and Jeff Dunham also lend their voices in this family-friendly flick.

'Olaf's Frozen Adventure' (2017)

Olaf, the sunshiny sidekick from "Frozen," sets to make the holiday season a memorable one for Anna and Elsa since they have no holiday traditions of their own. Yes, this movie is as cute as it sounds, and yes, you should watch it ASAP.

'The Star' (2017)

This one is perfect if you want to teach your kids about the reason for the season, along with the importance of community and family. In this biblical comedy, a brave little donkey and his animal friends become the heroes of the first Christmas.

'Olive, the Other Reindeer' (1999)

Drew Barrymore stars as Olive, a hilarious puppy who learns she needs to step it up during the holiday season. This criminally underrated movie is rife with catchy songs, clever animations and belly laughs for the whole family.

'Prep & Landing' (2009)

Here's a great watch for all ages. Not only did this special win multiple Emmy Awards, but it also has an important message for young and old: Keep the Christmas spirit alive at all costs.

'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town' (1970)

Rankin/Bass clearly dominate Christmas, and this movie is proof. Fred Astaire narrates this story with Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle (aka Santa). And, like any good Christmas special, it includes a handful of catchy tunes, including the timeless titular song with the same name as the film.

'Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas' (1997)

Who doesn't love a Disney Christmas movie? "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" gives us a glimpse of Belle's village at Christmastime and includes all the characters you know and love from the original film.

'The Grinch' (2018)

"The Grinch" has been adapted numerous times, but the newest version with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch is a fresh and hilarious retelling.

'Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You' (2017)

Everyone — we mean, everyone — knows "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. Experience the song in a whole new way by following a little girl on her journey to get a puppy for Christmas — which, let's be honest, is all we want for Christmas, too.

'It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown' (1992)

If you're a fan of Charlie Brown holiday specials, you're in luck — this sequel (of sorts) is a great follow-up to the original Charlie Brown Christmas special. Expect to see the intellectual musings of Linus, the sass of Sally and all of your other favorite Charlie Brown characters.

'Eight Crazy Nights' (2002)

OK, we know — this is a Hanukkah movie. But, anyone who has seen this holiday flick produced and written by Adam Sandler knows it's a must-watch around the holiday season, especially for the older kids and adults in your family. If you like Sandler's infamous "Hanukkah Song," you'll definitely love this movie.

'An Elf's Story' (2011)

If you're familiar with the Elf on the Shelf (which, at this point, we're positive you are), you'll love this animated movie from the Elf on the Shelf company. Your kids will especially love this one if you have an Elf on the Shelf who loves to come out and play at Christmastime.

'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' (2000)

Like the classic Christmas song denotes, Santa does exist because one of his famous reindeer ran over this family's beloved grandma. In this movie, we get a retelling of the classic song, with a fictional family and story to back up the tale.