By G. Connor Salter, Crosswalk.com
Christmas is a time for many things. Time for trees and advent calendars. Time to see relatives you haven’t reconnected with in a while. Time for presents. Hopefully a time to tell people how much you love them. It is also a great time for Christmas movies to help each other get into the holiday spirit, or remember what the reason for the season is.
Netflix’s variety means that there are plenty of Christmas movies to see. Parents who want to teach their kids about winter holidays worldwide can show them Waffle + Mochi’s Holiday Feast. Parents looking for a comedy about family Christmas get-togethers can watch Merry Happy Whatever. The following looks at some of the best Christmas movies currently available on Netflix, including past favorites and a couple of new offerings that were released this year.
Further Reading: The Five Best Christmas Movies
Photo Credit: Getty Images/evgenyatamanenko
1. White Christmas
There are some great Christmas classic movies (Christmas in Connecticut), but it’s much harder to find a truly classic Christmas musical. Maybe it’s because musicals are already flamboyant and sentimental affairs, even when discussing serious topics like the Nazis invading Austria. Adding holiday nostalgia to the formula can feel like throwing sugar cubes into a pint of candy cane ice cream.
White Christmas is one of the few Christmas musicals that aren’t just fun. It has transcended its time to become a perennial classic. The songs are memorable, even in the “musical within a musical” section, where they go on a bit long. The dialogue is fun and has lines that are clever enough for adults and ones that are silly enough for kids. Maybe most surprising, its romantic plot (four singers who end up at the same holiday inn and struggle to get past their careers to see if they can fall in love with each) doesn’t feel forced.
Further Reading: Michael Buble Sings White Christmas with Bing Crosby
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
2. Shaun the Sheep: A Flight Before Christmas
Since he first appeared in the stop-motion caper A Close Shave, Shaun the Sheep has gone from being a supporting character to the hero of (several) own animated series and films. All of these adventures are fun and kid-friendly. Most of them work for any audience since there’s no dialogue, just slapstick comedy. In this Christmas special, Shaun and his friends on Mossy Bottom Farm are preparing for Christmas. However, when the youngest lamb, Timmy, gets into a truck going to the Christmas market, Shaun and his friends have to get him home. Things get more complicated when a child mistakes Timmy for a stuffed toy and takes him home.
The hijinks are hilarious (especially when Shaun has to sneak into the child’s house, where smart devices operate everything). However, there’s also a clear theme. Shaun’s adventures in a house where the parents are more interested in their work than in their child (too busy to notice the sheep sneaking into their house) remind viewers that Christmas is about family, and cool gizmos can’t replace family time. A great example of telling a heartwarming Christmas story that has a point without making it too syrupy or didactic.
Further Reading: Shaun the Sheep Movie Review
Photo Credit: Aardman Animations/Netflix
3. Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square
Dolly Parton provided the music and some acting in this 90-minute Christmas musical spoofing It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Regina’s father started the small town of Fullerville a generation ago to create a small-town community that could thrive. Regina hasn’t been back since some tragic events during high school, and with her father buried, she has a shocking announcement. She has sold the town to a shopping mall developer and wants everyone out by Christmas. With a little help from Parton (who she initially mistakes for a homeless person, then assumes is a hallucination when Parton explains she’s an angel) and her personal assistant Felicity (an angel in training), Regina revisits her past pain and discovers what Christmas is all about.
The opening credits include paintings of the town, which sets it up as a self-consciously old-fashioned story. The story follows the usual Christmas family movie formula, although there’s enough humor to show it’s gently mocking those standards (Fullerville’s pastor is named Pastor Christian, and someone calls Regina, “Oh, she’s such a… bless her heart”). Christine Baranski adds a hint of sarcastic humor (wondering whether she’s hallucinating, and if so, why it had to be “an angel wearing rhinestones”) that makes the self-conscious element even funnier without making the movie a dark comedy. Cheery and nostalgic, perfect for family viewing.
There are more than a few Christmas origin movies—from Rankin-Bass’ classic Santa Clause is Coming to Town to the upcoming documentary about St. Nicholas of Myra. When these movies are fiction, they pass or fail based on whether they combine their plot needs with interesting characters. Anyone can make a semi-plausible movie about a white-bearded man ending up at the North Pole and discovering he likes to make toys. Even if those scenes fit together, they’re not compelling if the characters are boring. Klaus accomplishes the best of both worlds.
Jesper Johanson is a spoiled man whose father runs the world’s largest mail service. When it becomes clear he’s not learning the family business, his father sends him to the worst mailman’s location ever. Smeerensburg is a tiny town divided by two feud families, where constant rows makes any public service impossible. Jesper gets an idea how he can get the kids interested in mail when he befriends Klaus, a lonely toymaker just outside the town. With a little help from the local schoolteacher, Jesper convinces the kids that if they stop fighting each other, they can send letters for toys.
The animation is excellent, the story has something fun for everybody, and the theme (learning to love our neighbors) couldn’t be more appropriate at Christmastime.
Further Reading: Santa’s Surprising Origins
5. A Castle for Christmas
This may be Netflix’s answer to the Hallmark holiday romance movies, but it handles the formula with charm and uses its famous actors to elevate the material a little. Brooke Shields is Sophie Brown, a bestselling author who needs to get away from New York to decide what to do after a messy divorce and eliminated her most famous character in her last book. She visits Dun Dunbar, a Scottish castle where her father’s family worked on the grounds staff, owned by the resigned Lord Myles (Cary Elwes). Elwes gives her a tour of the castle, where he observes one stairway is “perfectly designed for a right-handed fencer,” reminding viewers this is the actor who performed the famous swordfight in The Princess Bride. While they don’t hit it off, Sophies offers to buy the castle, and Myles’ finances mean he can’t turn her down. They spend December figuring whether Sophie can handle taking care of a castle… and maybe if she has more than one reason to stay at Dun Dunbar.
Since the actors aren’t the typical 30-somethings in a Hallmark Christmas romance, the romance is tasteful. There’s a brief scene of the couple walking through a bedroom door and Elwes in a bathtub (with a breakfast tray covering his kilt area), neither bad enough to justify a PG-13 rating. Aside from a tiny reference to a gay widower living in the nearby village, there’s nothing objectionable for any viewer. The story’s message is certainly about love, but more specifically about finding love after facing one’s past and recognizing how much pride and resentment have held someone back. The way Sophie bonds with the locals provides another important theme for Christmas: community is important, and people grow best when they grow together.
As Christmas romance movies go, this is uplifting, well-delivered comfort food.
Further Reading: 13 Old and New Christmas Movies to Watch with the Family
6. Robin Robin
Another charming stop-motion by the same company that produces Shaun the Sheep’s adventure, this short Christmas movie follows Robin, found in an egg by a family of mice who raise her. Robin’s attempts to live like a mouse (quiet, crafty, careful, and flightless) fail miserably, keeping her family from sneaking food. When she meets a magpie who believes that Christmas tree stars are magic and brings humans stuff on Christmas, Robin thinks she’s found a way to make it all up to her family.
While making mice who sneak food into the good guys may worry some parents, the characters look so little like real mice that it’s inoffensive. The story has a few catchy songs, fun characters, and a charming reminder that Christmas trinkets aren’t enough; family is what matters. Furthermore, Robin’s journey to realize she’s not a mouse teaches a surprisingly healthy message: pursuing a dream doesn’t mean we can change ourselves into whatever we want to be. We each have a unique design, with skills and weaknesses that go along with that. We ultimately find happiness at the place our design meets our personality, passion, and ability to help others. This message seems counterintuitive but proves more inspiring in the long run. Robin Robin is an uplifting Christmas cartoon that’s smarter than most.
Further Reading: Meaning’s at the Heart of Arthur Christmas
Photo Credit: Aardman Animations/Netflix
7. The Claus Family
A European film that’s available in either its original language or several high-quality dubs (including English, Spanish, and German), The Claus Family starts uses the sadness to make the ending all the more inspiring. Jules’ father passed away in an accident during Christmastime last year, and he’s not looking forward to the season this year. When he, his mother, and his sister move to be closer to his grandfather, he accepts the change but won’t get into the holiday spirit. However, things start to change when he finds a magic snow globe in his grandfather’s toy shop that transports him to… a giant workshop in the arctic that includes five tiny elves. Not only is his grandfather Santa Claus. His grandfather is an aging Santa Clause who wasn’t expecting to return to his job after his son died, and worries that Jules is too young to help him. Unfortunately, an accident means the grandfather can’t afford to do this Christmas alone.
Jules’ grief journey is slow but no slower than in most family Christmas movies. How many Hallmark characters have we seen who didn’t admit their mistakes until the last 15 minutes? Here, the slow journey makes sense. Furthermore, it works with the story, instead of feeling like an add-on. If Jules can’t learn to understand his late father and love Christmas again, his whole family (and the world’s children) will be in big trouble. A surprisingly deep Christmas movie about recognizing loss, honoring family members who have passed on, and learning to find new purpose.
Further Reading: The Real Santa Claus
Photo Credit: Dingie/Netflix
8. Angela’s Christmas
Based on a children’s book by acclaimed Irish-American writer Frank McCourt, this short film is set in 1910s Ireland. Angela and her family have struggled since her father was imprisoned for swiping a piece of coal to keep his children warm. As always during the Christmas season, the family goes to St. Jeremiah’s church for a service. Angela’s mother warns them to bundle up to stay warm as they leave their house. Angela notices the baby Jesus in the church mangar doesn’t have a blanket. As the service ends, she sneaks back into the church and borrows the baby Jesus to warm him up at the house. Getting him back to the house proves more complicated than she expected.
Like many of Charles’ Dickens’ Christmas books, this is about people in terrible circumstances who struggle but find their community and generosity to each other matter more. The scenes at the church raise an important question about what happens when Christians become more wrapped up in their position or power than helping the least of these. Angela’s interactions with various characters (a generous policeman, a kind blind beggar) highlight how human goodness can appear in the most surprising places. A heartfelt Christmas story about hope and family.
Further Reading: Great Christmas Books for Kids
Photo Credit: Brown Bag Films/9 Story/Netflix
9. Scrooge: A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is easily the most famous Christmas story ever written and one of the most adapted. Notable past versions included the 1970 musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney, and the 2009 animated film A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey. This latest version, an animated film co-produced by Netflix and released on December 2, 2022, has as much spectacle as the Jim Carrey film but takes things in a new direction. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit's pasts get new details, and the time travel aspects are handled with more visual humor than in most renditions. The cast (including Luke Evans as Scrooge and Oliva Coleman as the Ghost of Christmas Past) give it their all and are clearly having fun. The musical sequences are consistently fun, particularly in opening scenes featuring Scrooge’s nephew Fred and the Cratchit children. All the pieces in place for a fun Christmas movie to introduce kids to a classic tale.
Further Reading: The Real Christmas Carol
Photo Credit: Timeless Films/Netflix
Honorary Mention: My Father’s Dragon
My Father’s Dragon isn’t set at Christmas, but Netflix has released it as part of its three-month holiday rollout, alongside Christmas films like The Noel Diary and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. Several things make this movie especially worth seeing this month.
First, it’s a great adventure by a team of people who have provided some incredible films in the past. The same filmmakers and animation studio created The Secret of the Kells, a wondrous fantasy film about Christian monks in medieval Ireland. Here, the animation is at the same high level, pushing what you can accomplish with traditional animation to create unusual effects that CGI can’t compete with.
Second, it’s a terrific adaptation of a classic book that borrows from the source while doing something new that works. The book, written by Ruth Stiles Gannett and released in 1948, won the Newberry medal and has been a classic for decades. Previously, it’s been made into an anime film, an audiobook, and at least one play (released free for anyone to watch during 2020). These adaptations have good qualities but struggle with the fact that the story is pretty simple. A young boy, Elmer, finds out about an enslaved dragon on an island and goes to rescue the dragon. The book has many clever scenes but little insight into Elmer or his dragon friend. This film expands their backstories, making this an inward quest and a quest with a clear goal (freeing the dragon). The heroes’ journey becomes one about facing their fears, realizing how fear drives others to do foolish things, and finding out what really matters.
Thus, without officially being a Christmas film, My Father’s Dragon tells a story about heartwarming themes (bravery, friendship, unexpected solutions to problems) worth remembering at Christmas.
Further Reading: Secular Movies with Christian Themes
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the following:
Photo Credit: Netflix Animation/Mockingbird Pictures/Cartoon Saloon