The Best Christmas Movies for Kids
Grab the popcorn, cuddle up on the sofa, and celebrate the spirit of the season together with these old (and new!) holiday classics.
The Polar Express (2004)
Voices of Tom Hanks, Leslie Zemeckis, Peter Scolari
Truth? Sometimes movie adaptations of books are just meh. Thankfully, that's not the case with this bedtime favorite-turned-animated classic about a young boy who takes a fantastical train ride to the North Pole.
What Parents Like: Watching this sweet story on the small screen gives you all the warm-and-fuzzies of the book—without having to do all the voices.
What Kids Like: Seeing Santa's spectacular workshop should put to rest any nagging is-he-real questions your kiddo has—at least for one more year.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
We admit, this holiday go-to film starts dark—down-on-his-luck dad George Bailey wishes aloud that he were never born—but ends on a life-affirming note, thanks to the help of bumbling angel Clarence Oddbody.
What Parents Like: Turn on this black-and-white classic to help remind your wish list-making fam that there's more to the season than just getting new stuff.
What Kids Like: The positive message resonates and inspires older kiddos, and we're betting there won't be a dry eye in the house when George Bailey's daughter, Zuzu, announces that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.
The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf's Story (2011)
Voices of Leslie Bellair, Brendan Dooling, Evie Eikhoff
Chippy lands in the home of a boy who is skeptical of both Christmas magic and Santa. So the delightful newbie elf enlists the help of his friends and—yup, you guessed it—the guy in the red suit to show just how wonderful this time of year can be.
What Parents Like: Predictable? Sure. Sweet? Absolutely. This mini movie focuses on the joy of the season and is just the thing to watch after a long day of fighting mall traffic.
What Kids Like: After scouring the house every morning to see where their own elf is hiding, your kiddos will relish seeing an animated version come to life on screen. Plus, at 23 minutes long, it's short enough to keep younger ones' attention.
Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas (2009)
Voices of Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Rino Romano
It's George's first Christmas, and the Man with the Yellow Hat is determined to give him the best holiday ever. Of course, that doesn't mean the season is without its fair share of hijinks, especially when a curious monkey is involved!
What Parents Like: Think you're having a tough time deciphering your kid's wish list? At least you're not the Man with the Yellow Hat, who spends all of Christmas Eve trying to figure out what his monkey really wants for Christmas.
What Kids Like: George is at his most adorable experiencing Christmas traditions—like baking cookies, choosing a tree and singing carols—for the very first time.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson
Before he became the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a workaholic dad on a mission to snap up the very last Turbo-Man action figure in town. And no one—not even Sinbad or Santa Claus—can get in his way.
What Parents Like: Even if you've never tussled in a store aisle over the season's hottest toy (yet!), you can appreciate a busy dad's desperation to win at Christmas.
What Kids Like: What kid doesn't enjoy watching a grown-up make a complete fool of himself? If the physical comedy doesn't get your tweens laughing, the corny-but-funny jokes certainly will.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
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 (1983)
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 very 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.
Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel
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, Grinch and Rudolph (1964, 1969, 1966)
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 Three 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.
What Parents Like: 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 (1990)
Macaulay Culkin, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern
When the youngest child in a large family gets left behind at home, he eats too much junk food and single-handedly defends his house 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 (1934)
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 (1947)
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.
Animaniacs: Helloooo Holidays (1993)
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.
The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2 (1994, 2002)
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?
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
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: You'll 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.