Holiday Specials Roundup

Our programming director shares his thoughts on some new, classic, and obscure Christmas animations

Three reindeer ride a sled towards a frozen pond, with Christmas trees and snow drifts in the background

Quickdraw programming director Ryan Von Hagen was on CBC's Eyeopener on Thursday morning to talk about some of his favourite holiday specials, from classics to contemporary films to oddities and obscurities from the island of misfit animation. If you missed it, you can listen back on CBC's podcast site, but we figured we might as well share a few selections here.

Folks with Netflix can check out Robin Robin, the new stop-motion animated special from Dan Ojari and GIRAF alumni Mikey Please, a thoroughly charming short that earns extra credit as Aardman's first musical. The streaming platform is also the home to 2019's Klaus, a somewhat offbeat origin story for Santa Claus. Its richly textured art may look like it's rendered in 3D, but that's not the case—the team behind the film spent a lot of time perfecting the art layout, lighting, texture, and multi-pane effects so that a 2D-animated character can travel through the light. This lends itself to beautiful wintry landscapes and a vibrant yet tactile texture that is a staple of classic Christmas animated specials.

Ryan also touches on some familiar classics, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, which pairs a critique of Christmas commercialization with one of the best dance scenes ever; Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, the episode that launched America's longest-running sitcom and gave the origin of Santa's Little Helper; and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, directed by Looney Tunes' resident genius Chuck Jones, with memorable narration by Boris Karloff.

As for the obscurities, there's Max Fleischer's 1947 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—originally released two years before the song was written, based instead on the poem by Robert L. May, which was created for the Montgomery Ward department Store. The film was re-released in 1949 with the song added, and the film is now in the public domain. A darker selection, The Junky's Christmas, is a claymation adaptation of William Burroughs' 1989 short story, narrated by Burroughs himself and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Certainly one of the most unique holiday stories out there, it's not exactly one to share with the family.

And last but certainly not least, there's Yule Log 2.0, an hour-long collaborative animation that collects 200+ animations from 300-ish artists, originally released in holiday roundups from 2013-2016. A few of the clips are slightly NSFW, but it sure makes a unique alternative to the usual yule log.