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10 Holiday Movies

Remember when the there were only a handful of Christmas perennials you had to watch on TV? Now you can get that special holiday glow all year round by uncorking one of the favorites below on video or DVD.

Animaniacs: Helloooo Holidays

Rated: Not rated

Year: 1993

Cast: Voices of Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille

Hands down, this is one of the funniest and most irreverent cartoons based on the antics of three inkblot siblings who've escaped from the Warner Bros. animation tower: Wakko, Yakko, and Dot. The Christmas episode serves up plenty of wacky, off-the-wall humor and riffs everything from "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to "A Christmas Carol." There are surprises, too. "A Gift of Gold" takes an existential look at the life of a piece of wrapping paper, from the store to one family's celebration.

What Parents Like: The humor is loaded with topical quips and one-liners. The gags include send-ups of studio heads, fruitcake, and Al Gore.

What Kids Like: Energetic, smart-alecky humor, including a musical performance of "Jingle Bells" belched onstage in formal attire.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Rated: Not rated

Year: 1965

Cast: Voices of Peter Robbins, Tracy Stratford, Christopher Shea

Charlie Brown is down in the dumps. Lucy's remedy? Direct the school Christmas pageant. Along the way Schroeder plays Fur Elise, Sally pens a letter to Santa, and Linus recites the Gospel story of the baby Jesus' birth: "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy!"

What Parents Like: The first Peanuts TV special is a classic for the way it touches upon the material and the spiritual. When Charlie Brown lugs home the scrawniest tree, it becomes a branch-laden metaphor for holiday hope and cheer.

What Kids Like: The kids are all right. As Sally writes to Santa, "Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money."

A Christmas Story

Rated: PG

Year: 1983

Cast: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Scott Schwartz

All Ralphie Parker wants for Christmas is a BB gun -- to be precise, a Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Air Rifle. He is obsessed with it but meets opposition and disbelief from the adults, who lecture: "You'll shoot your eye out!" Even a visit to Santa's lap leaves him stammering. Sometimes Christmas can be the most surreal season of them all.

What Parents Like: The situations are very real -- and funny. Ralphie's parents are endearingly human and flawed. When Christmas dinner goes to the dogs, the family dines at a Chinese restaurant.

What Kids Like: The movie captures both the absurdity and wistfulness of childhood, when snowsuits resembled straitjackets and triple-dog dares led to somebody's tongue getting stuck to the flagpole.

Elf

Rated: PG

Year: 2003

Cast: Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel

Bright Lights, Big City: After crawling into Santa's sack, Buddy is raised by elves. Accident-prone and freakishly tall, he leaves the North Pole and sets out to look for his birth father in New York City. It doesn't take long for him to find his dad -- on Santa's naughty list.

What Parents Like: The action is never too cloying or sweet, thanks to Will Ferrell's innocent elf-child, who is sweet, hyper, and excitable. He confronts the fake department store Santa by yelling: "You sit on a throne of lies!"

What Kids Like: Children will love the sight of a very tall man jumping up and down and giddily running around like a little kid. Ferrell blankets the world in Christmas decorations, goes for extra spins in the revolving door, and eats way too much sugar and candy.

Frosty and Rudolph

Rated: Not rated

Year: 1964, 1969, 1966

Cast: Voices of Burl Ives, Jimmy Durante, Boris Karloff

The arrival of this trio of TV specials every year is comparable to the coming of the Wise Men. A magician's hat blows away and lands on top of a snowman, bringing Frosty to life. After being rejected by the other reindeer for his glowing nose, Rudolph saves Christmas by allowing Santa to deliver presents during a blizzard. And Dr. Seuss draws a gimlet-eyed thief with the perfect cover: pretending to be Santa.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

What Parents Like: Let Your Light Shine: It's your differences that make you unique. In the right circumstances, outcasts and misfits like Rudolph, Frosty, and even the Grinch can become heroes.

What Kids Like: Miracles happen. Rudolph saves the day, Frosty shows he has the white stuff, and even the smallest child will understand the transformation that takes place when the Grinch faces the tiny innocent, Cindy Lou Who.

Home Alone

Rated: PG

Year: 1990

Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern

When the youngest child in a large family gets left behind, he eats too much junk food and single-handedly defends his home against robbers. What could have been a nightmare -- being forgotten by your family -- turns into an adventure with slapstick farce.

What Parents Like: Oh, the clamor, the din, the confusion, and the mad rush that signifies the holidays. Admit it, it could happen, you could forget a few important details, like one of your kids.

What Kids Like: Kevin's ingenuity saves the day and puts the baddies away. Culkin is an impish delight, as he hatches booby traps and scatters toy trucks across the floor to trip up Pesci and Stern.

March of the Wooden Soldiers

Rated: Not rated

Year: 1934

Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy

A tall order: Instead of building "600 soldiers one foot high," Stan and Ollie build "100 soldiers six feet high." Their miscalculation comes in handy when mean Mr. Barnaby unleashes the Bogeymen on Toyland. He's put out because he didn't get to marry Bo-Peep.

What Parents Like: Those Bogeymen costumes are a low-tech marvel of shag carpeting and skirts.

What Kids Like: Kids will enjoy the physical slapstick and humor of Laurel and Hardy -- and the determined way the denizens of Toyland fight off the Bogeymen.

Miracle on 34th Street

Rated: Not rated

Year: 1947

Cast: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood

Faith clashes with modern objectivity when Kris Kringle is hired to be Santa at Macy's. The real Santa gets a cold reception in the real world and is put on trial in the Supreme Court. Will he win people's hearts or be judged insane?

What Parents Like: The real insanity is letting cynicism and commercialism rule the day. Gwenn got an Oscar for his portrayal of a discredited and discounted Santa: "Seems we're all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle."

What Kids Like: Seeing is believing. Children are natural-born skeptics. Wood is adorable as the doubting little girl who questions Santa's very existence.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Rated: PG

Year: 1993

Cast: Voices of Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara

Christmas gets a wicked makeover when Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, crashes neighboring Christmastown. The haunting result is a fantastical brew of stop-motion animation and delightfully ghoulish surprises. Among the gifts director Tim Burton bears: skeletal reindeer, a sacked Santa, and a tree-eating snake.

What Parents Like: Adults will appreciate the naughtiness it takes to deliver such a subversive take on such a cheery time of year.

What Kids Like: The movie is a visual feast of quirky details, backed up by Danny Elfman's dark musical score.

The Santa Clause

Rated: PG

Year: 1994, 2002

Cast: Tim Allen, Eric Lloyd

A single dad must pick up the reins when he startles Santa off the roof -- and accidentally kills him. Reading the fine print of the job description and following the manual is no easy task. It takes a lot of work to make the world jolly.

What Parents Like: Allen fills out the red suit nicely -- making the transformation from harried single dad to harried Santa completely believable. Parents will relate to the white hairs and weight that Allen gains during the holiday season.

What Kids Like: What child hasn't felt neglected by stressed-out and working parents during the holidays?