We’re settling into the last bit of the year: the end of November and December. It’s time for snow if you’re lucky, hot chocolate, fuzzy blankets, and other elements of general coziness.
This time of the year is marked for its high influx of holidays in such a short time, and all the specials that come with it. Just as we did for Halloween, we thought we would get a list of some animated shorts for the various end-of-year holidays together. Unlike our Halloween list, these shorts are more mainstream, the kind that you probably caught growing up if you’re a twenty-to-thirtysomething, or are likely to find playing on TV now.
To qualify as a short for this list, the short had to be under a half hour–or, the length of your average animated show’s episode. The specials on this list are ordered by their respective holidays or times of year. Please note that although some of these are child-friendly, some are not.
“The Dressing,” Aqua Teen Hunger Force:
It’s Thanksgiving with the Aqua Teens: Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad, a sentient package of fries, a sentient milkshake, and a sentient meatball, respectively. Unfortunately, the festivities are interrupted by a somewhat familiar turkey robot, who condemns the Teens for eating turkey, the chosen one à la Terminator (sort of). Even Master Shake, normally a bit slow about things like this, figures out that there’s something weird about the robot’s story.
This episode is available on DVD and on Hulu.
“A Rugrats Chanukah,” Rugrats:
On one of the nights of Chanukah, Tommy’s grandma reads a book about the holiday to the baby’s, and as the baby’s so often do, imagine that they are living out the story behind the holiday, and confuse Tommy’s grandfather’s rival with King Antiochus of the story.
Rugrats had the bases covered for holiday specials: Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa. Of the three, A Rugrats Chanukah always seemed to get the most air time when Rugrats was still on Nickelodeon regularly, and is sometimes still pulled out for holiday programming blocks, even though it doesn’t run on the main Nickelodeon channel regularly anymore. It’s a fun episode, even for someone who isn’t Jewish: despite the fact that I’m not Jewish and don’t celebrate this holiday, I loved catching this episode on TV when I was younger, and I still remember it fondly today. A Rugrats Chanukah also serves as a decent introduction to the holiday for anyone who isn’t Jewish, though of course it should be taken with a grain of salt.
This episode is available on tape, a few different DVD collections, and usually shows up on Nickelodeon and On Demand before or during the eight nights of Chanukah.
“Anime Christmas,” Robot Chicken:
Santa is robbed by bandits and he asks Goku and Gohan to help save the day. It really doesn’t feel too different from your average filler episode of Dragonball Z. Even the end of the clip could pass as the ending to a DBZ story arc. Well, Goku swears much more than usual, but… (Consider that a language warning for the video!)
This clip is from the second season of Robot Chicken, which is available on DVD.
“Arnold’s Christmas,” Hey Arnold!:
The residents of the boardinghouse decide to do a Secret Santa exchange, and Arnold draws Mr. Hyunh’s name. Arnold finds out about Hyunh’s daughter, who was separated from him at the climax of the Vietnam war. Arnold becomes determined to reunite them. Meanwhile, Helga is trying to find the perfect gift for Arnold and secretly gets involved with his search for Mr. Hyunh’s daughter.
This episode is not exactly easy-watching; it’s sort of heart-wrenching, in fact. The Vietnam war subtext probably goes over most kids’ heads, but the why isn’t the most important thing about this episode: the emotional strength is there whether that’s understood or not.
“Arnold’s Christmas” is readily available on DVD and Hulu. Because of the November 24 release of The Jungle Movie, a made-for-TV Hey Arnold! movie meant to wrap up the story of Arnold’s missing parents, it seems safe to assume that “Arnold’s Christmas” will show up on Nickelodeon’s holiday schedule this year.
“Dexter Vs Santa’s Claws,” Dexter’s Laboratory:
Most Christmas specials center on a character trying to change their ways prior to Christmas to get on Santa’s good side for maximum presents day of. Dexter, however, is so determined to prove to his sister Dee Dee that Santa is just their dad in costume that he misses all the very obvious clues that he’s tormenting the real Santa on Christmas Eve. There are no hard feelings from Santa (apparently) at the end of the misadventure, though, as he happily imparts the true importance of Christmas: the presents.
This short originally aired with “Dexter and Computress Get Mandark,” a cute short which was created by a young fan of the show, and “The Justice Friends: Pain in the Mouth,” which sees the Infraggable Krunk struggling with tooth pain. It’s not a bad set of shorts. (That kid did a killer impression of Dexter, too!)
It’s available on a few different DVDs, including a holiday-specific Cartoon Network DVD and a Powerpuff Girls DVD as a special feature. Hulu currently has the show available to stream.
“Holidays of Future Passed,” The Simpsons:
This updated Christmas episode from The Simpsons premiered in 2011 and looks into the future—or, weirdly, puts the family at the age they should be if they had aged normally from 1989 on, or pretty darn close. Bart and Lisa return home for the holidays (Maggie is in labor with her first child) with their kids, and there are many strong scenes, such as when Lisa and Bart drunkenly discuss how difficult it is to be raising their children, up in the old, familiar treehouse. This episode was planned as a potential series finale, and it’s easy to see that the Simpsons team put a lot of work into potentially sending the iconic show off on a strong note.
Although some consider it heresy to praise an episode of The Simpsons that came after season eight or season nine at the latest, “Holidays of Future Passed” is worth your time, even if you have no love lost for later Simpsons episodes. There’s a lot of heart in it, and besides, the future episodes are always interesting, though of course this episode retcons some of the other future episodes (so much for Lisa’s “government job”). If you’re really not sure about a newer episode of The Simpsons, at least check out the procession of the Simpsons’ life through their Christmas cards from the episode, the above clip. You may find it reels you in.
This episode is available as a single episode or as a part of the season 23 digital collection for The Simpsons on Amazon and on Hulu.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!:
I refer, of course, to the Dr. Seuss/Chuck Jones special from 1966. This television special only clocks in at 26 minutes, which means that by our standards for the list, it counts as a short. A creature known as the Grinch hates Christmas, and he hates the Whos who celebrate it so darn loudly and cheerfully. He cooks up a scheme to steal Christmas, but only succeeds in stealing the trappings of Christmas, not the spirit.
By the time this special came out, Chuck Jones had been animating Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry cartoons for 33 years. His style is unmistakable, the animation is smooth, and the comic timing is perfect. The short also features June Foray as the voice of Cindy Lou Who, a veteran voice actor for Warner Brothers and others, Boris Karloff, perhaps best remembered as the original Frankenstein’s monster, as the narrator/the Grinch, and Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger for 51 years, as the singer of the memorable “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
This special is everywhere come Christmas time—everywhere! Close your eyes and press some numbers on your remote. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is also available on DVD. An early DVD from 1999/2000 pairs it with the less impressive Horton Hears a Who (1970), but makes up for it with some great special features that take viewers through the basics of hand-drawn animation and many other topics, such as the composition of the now-famous songs and sound mixing. There are also editions released in 2006 and 2009 which contain some new special features along with the old. The original Grinch picture book is available at just about any stores books can be bought at.
“The Nutcracker Suite”:
This short based on Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous “Nutcracker Suite” has nothing to do with the familiar nutcracker Christmas story. Instead, fairies awaken to at night help summer change to autumn, and then autumn change to winter. Intercut with the changing of the seasons are shorter sequences which feature mushrooms, fish, and flowers dancing. It works for any time of the year, but the short climaxes and ends in the winter, and the music is usually associated with the famous Christmas story of the nutcracker, so it just naturally recalls winter and the holidays that go with.
This is a short from Disney’s impressive 1940 film Fantasia, which received attention in our animated shorts list for the fall/Halloween as well. It’s much more likely that this short from Fantasia would make it onto the Disney channel unedited in time for the winter holidays than “A Night on Bald Mountain,” though. This film is available on the US Netflix at the time of this writing, as well as on DVD and Blu-Ray formats.
“Rapture’s Delight,” American Dad:
This particular episode of American Dad sees Stan getting stressed out over “Christmas and Easter” Christians on Christmas day. Francine distracts him from his stress and they miss the rapture. Left behind in Armageddon, Francine leaves Stan for Jesus and Stan dedicates his life to fighting demons on the scorched earth. When Francine is abducted by the antichrist, Jesus seeks Stan’s help.
Obviously American Dad’s Christmas episodes tend to have a different tone than most other show’s holiday specials, steering away from the usual messages of good cheer and kindness. Most of them are so memorable because they’re so different from the usual holiday fare. You can tell that the creative team enjoyed themselves working on this episode. It’s fun to see the familiar cast in a weird, eighties throwback view of the apocalypse.
This episode is also great because it finishes a storyline with Roger that was started in season 1, and is referenced in another, later Christmas episode, where Jeff unknowingly adopts the antichrist. Both episodes are available on Hulu, the US Netflix, and DVD.
“Xmas Story,” Futurama:
In the future, the Friendly Robot Company creates a robotic Santa to deliver presents to all good citizens. However, a programming error have made his standards too high, and not only is everyone labelled bad, the malfunctioning Santa punishes badness with death. Fry doesn’t really understand the danger of future Christmas and ends up in some holly-jolly cross hairs. At the same time, Bender runs a scam at a robot booze kitchen and across the city.
This is a sweet Leela/Fry episode. Fry is his usual well-meaning but idiotic self and Leela makes a good foil for him, as usual. Robot Santa—voiced by John Goodman—is a memorable character and oddly appealing, besides. Well, Santa really was never pictured as a homicidal robot before this.
This episode is available on DVD, the US Netflix, and Hulu. If you miss it in December, don’t worry: Comedy Central plays this episode all year round.
If at least some of these don’t get you ready for the holidays–whichever ones you celebrate–we’re not sure what will. Maybe the hundreds of other animated holiday specials that didn’t make it onto this year’s list are more your speed! Let us know if we missed any of your holiday favorites, we would love to check them out.