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Photograph: © Warner Brothers/ABC Family

The best kids' Christmas movies to watch this year

Settle in with one of the best kids' Christmas movies and a cup of cocoa. This lineup is nothing short of holly jolly!

Written by
Danielle Valente
,
Allie Early
&
Time Out editors
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Drumroll, please: The most wonderful time of the year has arrived, and the best kids' Christmas movies are calling your name. 

Grab a mug of hot chocolate (extra marshmallows and whipped cream) and sit in for a festive marathon with Christmas movies on Netflix (there's a newbie that requires your attention) and classic animated Christmas movies like Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas for kids in New York

Celebrating the way we normally do might not be in the cards this year, but if you peruse our December events calendar, you'll find socially distanced Christmas events (like drive-thru Christmas lights) that will make the season merry and bright. 

Happy holidays and best wishes for 2021! 

The best kids' Christmas movies

  • Movies

This oddball origin story of Santa Klaus is the first animated feature from Netflix, and features Klaus (Oscar-winner J. K. Simmons), a large, bearded man with a knack for toymaking but who doesn't have much interest in children, Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), the worst postal carrier ever and Alva (Rashida Jones), a cynical teacher. They live in Smeerensburg, the unhappiest place on Earth. If it sounds like a grump-fest, well yes, that's the setup. But don't worry: Icy hearts melt, and even Smeerensburg can find joy. Rated PG. 

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Who wouldn't want to spend the holidays in the City of Lights? The McCallister clan is more than ready to leave the burbs behind for Christmas in Paris. But things go slightly awry (to say the least) when the realize one very important item has been left at home: their son Kevin. The youngster has no problem having the digs all to himself—especially since he's watching mature gangster flicks, munching on ice cream for dinner and causing chaos. But a pair of burglars set their sights on the gorgeous home, and soon Kevin is left to fend for himself against Harry and Marv, both of whom need a little help in the crime department. As the saying goes, "Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!" Rated PG. 

Funnyman Will Ferrell delights in a Christmas flick that has joined the ranks of holiday classics. He plays the overly enthusiastic Buddy the Elf, who realizes he's not quite like his peers in the North Pole—he's actually human! With this new information in mind, he goes on a quest to celebrate the holidays in NYC with his family. Although many people would jump at the chance to spend Christmas in NYC (who could blame them, right?) Buddy isn't quite getting the hang of things in Gotham. If you don't watch this one at least once, all we have to say to you is "Son of a NUT-cracker!” Rated PG.

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The reigning king of Christmas movies, Frank Capra’s poignant fable stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man with big ambitions (and a bigger heart) who defers his dream of leaving small-town Bedford Falls, but makes personal sacrifices that create a staggering ripple effect of inspirational goodwill on earth—a great message for young viewers watching at home. He even helps an angel get his wings. Rated PG. 

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Dr. Seuss' beloved holiday killjoy returns for another round of curmudgeonly Christmas misery! While the town of Whoville anxiously awaits December 25, the grouchy, green fella uncovers a way to ruin it for everyone. He attempts to pose as Saint Nick, steal Christmas from the Whovillians and finally put an end to the most wonderful time of the year. Looks like someone's tinsel is in a twist! Rated PG. 

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” All nine-year-old Ralphie wants is an official Red Ryder BB gun—and the only things standing in his way are a pink bunny suit, a leg lamp and a tongue sticking to a flagpole. Humorist Jean Shepherd’s short stories are the basis of this sassy sentimental brew. And who knew that duck was actually Chinese turkey? Rated PG. 

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That small-hearted villain from Mt. Crumpit goes down to Whoville for some seasonal spoiling—only to discover that Christmas cheer can never be stolen. Spooky thespian Boris Karloff is the inspired narrator for this delightful TV special, a faithful rendition of the rhyming classic that will have everyone singing “Da hoo doray.” This fan-favorite family Christmas movie is not to be missed. Not rated. 

Ever since she was a girl, Elsa (Idina Menzel), princess of Arendelle, has had literally chilling powers. With a wave of her hand she can cover everything around her in ice and snow. However, when her frosty abilities nearly kill her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa is confined to a room in her castle, not to emerge until she comes of age for her queenly coronation. On that day, unsurprisingly, things go very awry, and the two sisters—with help from a friendly snowman who dreams of spring—must work together to save the kingdom from eternal winter. Plasticine CG animation brings the icy world to life in this Walt Disney musical production, which sparked a nationwide frenzy to scoop up any and all themed merchandise. The almost instantaneous popularity speaks to the film’s success with the peanut gallery—not to mention countless parents who admittedly sang along to Menzel’s showstopping, self-actualizing ballad “Let It Go” more than a few times. Rated PG.

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Everyone has found a spot (likely several) for an Elf on the Shelf. The annual visitor is placed in unique situations and acts as a North Pole spy for Santa (hopefully ellicting good behavior, though that's not always a guarantee). Thanks to the newfound tradition's popularity, it has received the holiday movie treatment. In the animated story, we journey alongside Taylor. The young boy hasn't quite embraced the holiday spirit, so Chipey is sent from Santa's workshop to assess the situation. Although tricky at times, Taylor and his new buddy discover the importance of the season together. If you're looking for a little Elf on the Shelf creativity in your own home, check out these awesome ideas

Chris Van Allsburg’s enchanting children’s book made its way to the big screen as an animated flick in 2004, drawing a new generation in for even more family fun. As the story goes, on Christmas Eve, a young boy finds a train parked outside his house—The Polar Express—which is headed to the North Pole! He finds out he’s been picked to receive the first gift of Christmas, and he asks for only one thing: a silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when he tries to take the bell home with him? Rated G.

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December is a highly anticipated month, largely thanks to Saint Nick's Christmas Eve pilgrimage. In this '70s film—narrated by none other than Fred Astaire—families get a taste of how the Christmas magic comes to be. Expect to learn how reindeers fly, how exactly Santa makes his way down the chimney and even how Mr. and Mrs. Claus were first introduced. D'aww! Despite some scrooges along the way, this sweet story prevails and makes this time of year all the more jolly and bright. Not rated.  

Christmas is meant to be a joyous time, yet it's anything but for Charlie. The youngster has grown to hate the holiday, since it marks the death of his fame-hungry rock n' roll father. Things are difficult, until Charlie realizes he and his pop have a second chance: The family snowman has actually turned into his dad! It's crazy, but he's willing to embrace any opportunity to spend quality time with his old man and rebuild their relationship. Rated PG. 

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Is that bearded fella really Santa Claus? Macy’s hires gentle Kris Kringle to be its department store St. Nick, but his stellar commitment to the job (as well as insistence on being the genuine article) has all the kids in awe. Unfortunately for Kris, many considered his wonderful behavior and magical affect quite unusual—so unusual that he actually ends up at Bellevue! Will he be freed and his reputation redeemed? You’ll just have to watch to find out. Rated G. 

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This smart and very British 3D animation from the Aardman stable opens with one of life’s great questions: how does Santa visit so many homes so quickly? The answer, it seems, is a high-tech army of elves dispatched, SAS-style, from a silent spaceship disguised as a cluster of stars. But it never used to be like this, not before Santa’s eldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), modernized the operation. Nevertheless, one parcel slips through the net, so it’s left to Santa’s sensitive younger son, Arthur (James McAvoy), and the retired, grumpy Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to deliver the package using reindeer and sleigh. All of which inspires a frenzied inter-continental dash and one too many padded-out mishaps. What makes this festive fantasy engaging is the savvy way in which it debunks cold efficiency in favor of more wholesome values. Rated PG.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger faces his most harrowing enemy yet: the holiday shopping crowd. The Governator in his “family comedy” period is desperate to get the last remaining Turbo-Man action figure on Christmas Eve—even if it means fighting a Santa with candy-cane nunchucks. The contorted mix of action-hero hijinks and lowbrow jokes is just silly enough to make all the members of your family smile. Rated PG. 

What would you do if Santa was injured on your roof? Typically his December 24 journey goes according to plan, but not when he arrives at Scott Calvin's. After Saint Nick's slight injury, Scott is forced to assume his role. (Some interesting insurance plan, huh?) Scott's son Charlie is totally thrilled with his pop's new job title, but his mother and her new boyfriend are trying to convince him otherwise. Rated PG. 

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Poor Rudolph! His bright red nose makes him the target of reindeer bullies who won't let him join in any of their fun. (Sounds like a recipe to get on the naughty list, if you ask us.) But when all is said and done, it seems that he's the one who gets the last laugh when Santa needs a little sleigh guidance on one foggy Christmas Eve. Rated TV-G

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Humbug! Deliciously malevolent Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer, the grouchy miser who endures various visions of Christmases Past, Present and Future in the world’s last-ditch effort to save him from being a true scrooge forever. Will he give his faithful clerk Bob Cratchit the raise he deserves? Save Tiny Tim from a cruel fate? Treat his neighbors with any respect whatsoever? Learn to love Christmas? His marathon evening of soul-searching ends with a surprising decision, and while the film holds a rather dark plot, it’s ability to warm the hearts of all ages solidifies its role as one of the best holiday movies of all time. Not rated.

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Clara wants nothing more than to unlock her late mother’s box. She didn’t realize that key she receives at holiday party actually unlocks the door to new realms. Who wouldn’t want to take the journey alongside Clara through the Land of Snowflakes, the Land of Flowers and the Land of Sweets? Things get dicey in the fourth realm, but you’ll enjoy tagging along for the ride. Rated PG. 

Jake is preaching to the wrong choir. He can't quite seem to convince his family that his grandmother got run over by a reindeer—the worst type of holiday predicament one can imagine. Will a journey to Santa's workshop be proof enough? Will it explain her disappearance? You've certainly got your work cut out for you, Jake, but we know we can rely on you for a dose of holiday cheer. Rated TV-G. 

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Oh, Garfield. A typical day consists of snacking, giving Odie a hard time and more snacking, but things change during the holidays. When his owner brings the crew to his visit his parents for a Christmas celebration no one can seem to agree on how to spend their time—a classic predicament during the busiest time of the year. Despite his typical mischevious ways, Garfield manages to get everyone to cooperate and appreciate what December 25 is all about. Not rated.
 

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Christmas without Santa? Perish the thought! In this '70s flim, Santa visits a doctor and needs to make some changes in his routine (don't we all). That's when he decides Dec 24 is an excellent time to take a vacation...except all the kiddies are waiting for their presents! How will Kris Kringle be convinced that children still need him? Not rated. 

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The wicked Winterbolt—who is certainly on Santa's naughty list, —awoke from a spell. Now that's he's up, he's ready to put the light out on Rudolph's shiny red nose, which is already getting dimmer. Will Christmas go on with our star reindeer's most beloved feature? Not rated. 

A necessity for any mouseketeer in your life, Mickey's Magical Christmas focuses on what happens when Disney's most beloved characters are stuck inside because of a snow storm. Rather than feel blue about being trapped indoors, the crew decides to throw a Christmas party, though it's going to take some work to ensure that Donald Duck gets out of his Scrooge-like funk. Rated TV-G.

 

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35. Kung Fu Panda Holiday (2010)

Po (Jack Black) sets out to restore honor to his village and save the winter festival: What can possibly go wrong? This animated short also features the purring voices of Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Seth Rogan. Not rated.

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