The holiday season is upon us, once again! It’s time to watch some Christmas cartoon shorts to get us all in the mood. There’s much trouble in the world, of course, but this year it seems we can actually spend time together and celebrate love and light, whatever that might mean in terms of belief, be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Wiccan, Buddhist, or whatever else helps you make sense of why we’re all here. We bring in the new year with those we love most, whether they’re relatives or found family.
To put everyone in that joyful place, we at ArtInsights thought we’d offer some suggestions of a few of the sweetest Christmas cartoon shorts, some of which will be familiar, others of which may be entirely new to you. You don’t have to be Christian to love Christmas and Christmas cartoons, whatever they say. Yule, Santa, and all the beauty of the holiday can be enjoyed by anyone. It’s all story, after all! So here are 10 Christmas cartoon shorts from a variety of animation studios and productions for you, as we offer season’s greetings!
Mickey’s Orphans 1931
This early black and white Mickey short features the famed mouse along with his beloved Minnie Mouse and faithful pup Pluto. It takes place during Christmas time, features the voice of Walt Disney, and is Mickey’s 36th short. It’s a remake of a 1927 Oswald cartoon Empty Socks, which was only recently found in a library in Norway in December of 2014! (That cartoon is still not available to the public, or it would be on this list!)
The stage is set at the beginning of the short, with Minnie playing Silent Night, and Pluto sleeping by the fire. When someone leaves a basket on their doorstep, Pluto brings it in, and the household discovers it’s filled with orphaned kittens. Though Mickey and Minnie are determined to make the kitties feel at home, the babies go about destroying to place. This storyline will resonate with anyone who has a cat, especially a kitten who has toyed with carefully appointed holiday decorations!
Santa’s Workshop 1932
Also an early Disney short, Santa’s Workshop is part of the Silly Symphonies. It centers on Santa’s preparations for the night before Christmas, aided by his trusty elves. It also features Walt’s voice work, this time as an elf. It’s directed by Wilfred Jackson, who went on the direct Snow White in 1937, and Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan in 1950, 1951, and 1953, and won the Winsor McCay Award in 1983. Notable about this cartoon is it features prominently in the Scandinavian version of the Disney compilation featurette From All of Us to All of You, played every year just before the holiday. It is part of, in effect, the Scandinavian version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It is a short of its time, and as such has a few racial stereotypes that have been since scrubbed from the cartoon.
The Night Before Christmas 1933
The sequel to Santa’s Workshop, The Night Before Christmas is also directed by Wilfred Jackson, and it’s one of the more joyful Christmas cartoon shorts ever released. As you might imagine, it’s based on Clement C Moore’s famous poem from 1823, originally released anonymously as Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”. Moore’s work had an enormous impact on the perceptions and traditions of the holiday, and Walt Disney created this short to lean into those traditions. In it, St. Nick delivers toys to sleeping children, whereupon they come alive, dance, and have fun.
Alias St Nick 1935
This short was produced by Harman-Ising Productions and released by MGM as one of the Happy Harmonies cartoon series. It features a tough, skeptical baby mouse named Little Cheeser who makes clear his doubts of the existence of Santa Claus as Mrs. Mouse is reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to her whole brood. A cat overhears the mice and dresses like Santa to trick Mrs. Mouse and make a meal of her and her babies, but Little Cheeser thwarts his plans. Little Cheeser goes on to have a cartoon named after him, released in 1936.
The Pups’ Christmas 1936
Also released by MGM as a Happy Harmonies short is the very sweet cartoon in which two puppies experience Christmas for the first time. They get up to a lot of mischief in a script co-written by Bill Hanna of Hanna Barbera fame. The stars are the “two little pups”, who were introduced earlier the same year in, you guessed it, “Two Little Pups”.
Christmas Comes but Once a Year 1936
Here’s a cartoon short from Fleischer Studios as part of its Color Classics series. I absolutely love this cartoon. It features the character from Betty Boop Professor Grampy in his only appearance without Betty. Grampy discovers that kids in an orphanage have gotten worn out and broken old toys on Christmas, and sneaks into the kitchen of the orphanage to assemble new toys from household appliances, furniture, and other kitchen paraphernalia. Then, dressed as Santa, he changes Christmas for all the orphans.
Frosty the Snowman 1950
In 1950, just after the first release of this Christmas classic tune, the UPA (United Productions of America) Studio created a 3 minute cartoon short in the style of their most famous cartoon, Gerald McBoing-Boing. It was directed by Robert Cannon, known for his work at Warner Bros. famed Termite Terrace, and won the prestigious Winsor McCay Award in 1976. Filmed in black and white, Frosty premiered on Chicago tv station WGN-TV on December 24th and 25th, 1955, and has been playing every year since.
The Star of Bethlehem 1956
As much as most folks think Snow White is the first full length animated feature, Reiniger beat him by 11 years when she created The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926. She is known for using delicate silhouettes in creating her animation. This 1956 film retells the story of the nativity through her unique and artistic lens. You can read more about it HERE. (https://www.bfi.org.uk/features/lotte-reiniger-star-bethlehem) ..and here’s a great short film with Lotte that shows her process and art.
Christmas Cracker 1963
This Oscar-nomationed short is a mix of live action and animation, with segments directed by animation legend Norman McLaren (oscar-winning Scottish Canadian), Jeff Hale (famed for creating animation inserts for Sesame Street and founding the SF animation studio Imagination Inc), Gerald Potterton (best known for directing Heavy Metal and sequences in Yellow Submarine) and Grant Munro (Canadian animator known as a pioneer and animator of paper cut-outs). There are three segments: Jingle Bells, which uses cut-out animation, Tin Toys, which uses stop-motion animation, and Christmas Tree Decoration, (my favorite) which features a man working to find the very best and most inspiring topper for his tree.
Une Vieille Boîte (An Old Box) 1975
This is a charming and slightly more minimalist animated short by Dutch animator Paul Driessen. Released by the National Film Board of Canada, it tells the story of an unsheltered man who discovers a box that turns out to be magical and full of Christmas spirit. Driessen’s animated films have won more than 50 prizes all over the world, and he also won a lifetime achievement award at both the Zagreb and Ottawa animation film festivals. He is famed professor and two of his students have won Oscars for their work.
I hope you enjoy these shorts and they get you into the Christmas spirit! If you’re looking for art that can bring spirit to your wall, check out our HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE or consider a few of these gallery favorites:
You can see lots more snowy imagery that celebrates the coming of winter HERE, but for Star Wars fans, this evokes love, warmth (brought to you by the guts of a Ton ton) and found family:
One last suggestion, just to get you ready for all the sweets, the candies, cookies, and pies of the holidays, with this limited edition by movie poster artist and former animator Andrea Alvin: