Disney is known for bringing magic to every movie they’ve made in the last 100 years. A century of magic also means a century of bringing double that same sparkle to their own Christmas movies.
While they have a tendency to release their non-Christmas-themed movies right around Thanksgiving, Disney releases their Christmas films on television, video, or nowadays Disney+ in tandem with their traditional films to make the holidays even more fun and memorable for families — or Disney adults without families. Here are the 10 best Disney Christmas movies you can watch during the holiday season this year.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Based on a three-page poem Tim Burton wrote in 1982 and directed by Henry Selick despite Burton’s name on the title, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the one holiday film that gives you permission to have Halloween on Christmas, as Blink-182 once sang (thanks, Travis Barker). When Halloween Town’s resident Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, grows bored of the same spooky routine, he discovers Christmas Town and attempts to put his own macabre spin on its namesake holiday, nearly killing Santa Claus in the process.
The Nightmare Before Christmas draws parallels to Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, only Jack combined the yuletide holiday with his own out of boredom for the latter, while the Grinch tried to cancel Christmas because of how commercialized and materialistic it became. Though Disney released the film under the Touchstone Pictures banner out of fear it would be too scary for kids, it has since grown into such a huge cult classic it spawned a 2006 re-release under the Walt Disney Pictures label and a popular merchandise line at Hot Topic.
The Santa Clause (1994)
Unlike Jack Skellington, divorced father and marketing director Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) actually gets Santa killed, albeit accidentally, by startling him, causing him to slip and fall off the roof of his house to the cold hard ground. Once he puts on the red suit, he is magically transported to the North Pole where the elves explain that by wearing the suit, he is bound by the duties and responsibilities of the late St. Nick by a legal technicality called “The Santa Clause,” hence the movie’s title, and has to take Santa’s place by the next Christmas. The prospect of being the new Santa Claus proves to be anything but a dream, as he inexplicably gains a significant amount of weight and grows a white beard, leading him to convince the people he loves, including his son Charlie, that he’s the new Santa Claus.
The Santa Clause proves that although children can believe in Santa Claus all they want, anyone can play the role of Santa to maintain their belief in him if they work hard to do so. It was considered Allen’s major film debut, spawning two sequels and a Disney+ series called The Santa Clauses.
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
While not exactly a Christmas movie in the traditional sense, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is an anthology of three short films starring Mickey Mouse and friends wrapped up in one ultimate Disney-themed Christmas present. Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie relive Christmas Day to the point of boredom until the boys fix their mistakes; Goofy tries to make his tween son Max happy in events that precede Goof Troop and A Goofy Movie; and Mickey and Minnie work hard to get each other the gifts they want to get the other in their rendition of O. Henry’s 1905 short story, The Gift of the Magi.
As Disney’s last animated Christmas project before the dawn of the new millennium, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is a memorable direct-to-DVD film that imparts positive messages of love, caring, and the spirit of giving to children who grew up in the 90s and 2000s — messages that those fans, as Disney adults, can pass down to their children now. It’s a fun animated treat the whole family can watch while snowed in at home.
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is a direct sequel to Beauty and the Beast, but the story is set immediately after Beast saves Belle from the wolves. In the present day, Mrs. Potts, who is human again along with her son Chip, Lumiere, Cogsworth, and the other servants, tells the story of how Belle saved Christmas from Beast’s all-out ban on the holiday since his curse on him and his servants went into effect on Christmas Eve. While Belle tries to lift up Beast’s Christmas spirits by teaching him how to ice skate and decorate the castle, the pipe organ Forte works to end their newfound relationship by any means necessary.
While not the best sequel to one of the greatest animated films of the Disney Renaissance, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas did an excellent job of giving more context to Beast’s situation and teaching viewers to let go of the past and live happily no matter the circumstances. Plus, who better to play the devious pipe organ than Tim Curry?
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a light-hearted musical take on Charles Dickens’ classic tale, but with the same amount of drama as the other adaptations, especially with Gonzo as the author and narrator. It’s the first Muppet movie not to have Kermit in the lead role, as he plays Bob Cratchit to Michael Caine’s Ebeneezer Scrooge who, as in previous versions, is just as cold-hearted and greedy until he’s taken for a ride through his life by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on Christmas Eve — all accompanied by the Muppets’ singing.
Walt Disney Pictures and Jim Henson Productions took the creative license to make A Christmas Carol suit the Muppet aesthetic but still managed to put the film’s plot in lockstep with the original. The Muppet Christmas Carol was dedicated to Jim Henson and puppeteer Richard Hunt, who died within two years of each other during the making of the film.
Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse (2001)
Taking place during the second season of House of Mouse (which is still not on Disney+ for reasons that confound even this author), Mickey and the gang, including a humbugged Donald, host a Christmas party for all the Disney animated guests at the titular dinner club free of charge after a snowstorm barricades everyone in. To keep things merry and bright, they showcase four Christmas-themed cartoons, including one where Donald keeps accidentally destroying the snowman his nephews are building for a contest; the classic cartoon of Pluto chasing Chip and Dale out of Mickey’s Christmas tree; Mickey’s rendition of The Nutcracker (complete with a rock version of Tchaikovsy’s Nutcracker Suite); and Mickey’s Christmas Carol — the last of which where, just like Kermit (see above), Mickey plays a supporting role to Scrooge McDuck’s… Scrooge.
Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse is a perfect example of holiday plans not going the way they expect them to, so they do their best with what they have despite dire situations. It’s a good lesson to learn from not only during the winter holidays, but during other holidays year-round.
The Ultimate Christmas Present (2000)
If you live in an area where it doesn’t snow during the holidays, or at all, The Ultimate Christmas Present is the Disney movie for you. In this Disney Channel Original Movie, two teenage girls, Allie and Sam (the latter of whom is played by a burgeoning Brenda Song), find a weather machine in the woods and use it to make it snow in Los Angeles to get out of going to school not knowing that the contraption belongs to Santa Claus. The snowstorm grows to the point where it spreads to San Francisco and Santa has to come down to get the weather machine under control.
The Ultimate Christmas Present was Disney Channel’s juvenile attempt at relating to viewers who were geographically unfortunate enough not to experience snow during the winter (unless they traveled someplace where it does), but it still makes for a good Christmas movie for people who grew up watching it to share with their kids if they live in a snowy area now. We’d like to point out that the film does share some parallels with a certain Jimmy Neutron episode.
If fairy godmothers can help keep dreams alive, they can also keep their jobs intact. Eleanor is a young fairy godmother-in-training so devastated to learn about her chosen profession dying out that she finds a letter written by a 10-year-old girl in distress named Mackenzie and sets out to find her. To her surprise, that same girl is a 40-year-old single mom of two daughters working at a failing news station in Boston who has given up on the idea of “Happily Ever After” after losing her husband several years earlier. Despite not being good with magic, Eleanor is bound to give Mackenzie a happiness makeover no matter what lest she lose all her fairy godmother powers — just in time for the holidays.
Godmothered may not look like a Christmas movie on the surface, but it does take place around that time of year because Mackenzie’s eldest daughter Jane has to sing for her high school at a local Christmas festival. This is like debating whether or not Die Hard is a real Christmas movie, which it actually is.
Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year
A Very Merry Pooh Year allows viewers to experience Christmas and New Year’s at the same time, with the latter holiday playing out like Freaky Friday. The first part of the movie has Rabbit tell the story of how everyone in Hundred Acre Wood nearly missed out on getting their presents in a re-telling of Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too. The Freaky Friday part comes in the second half of the movie, where Pooh and his friends change their behaviors as a New Year’s resolution to keep Rabbit from leaving after annoying him with their usual antics, but with bizarre results: they all swap personalities with each other. Pooh acts depressed like Eeyore, who develops a taste for honey and is more positive like Pooh; and Piglet becomes zany and bouncy like Tigger, who grows anxious and paranoid like Piglet to the point where he ties his tail around a rock to keep himself from bouncing.
If you have trouble sticking with your New Year’s resolutions after making them in the days leading up to the new year, A Very Merry Pooh Year proves that not all resolutions are the best ones to follow through on. Healthy eating and exercising frequently are more important, though.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1998)
I’ll Be Home For Christmas revolves around college student Jake (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) who has to race from his prestigious college in Los Angeles, California to his family’s home in Larchmont, New York in time for Christmas dinner in order to lay claim to his father’s Porsche. Chaos ensues when he trades his airline ticket to New York for two tickets to Cabo San Lucas and he helps a trio of jocks cheat on their midterm exam, only for the jocks and Eddie, who’s competing for Jake’s girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel), to leave Jake in the desert with a Santa Claus suit, hat, and beard glued to his body. With only three days until Christmas Eve, Jake goes through various misadventures in order to get home in time to get his father’s car, changing some people’s lives along the way.
The plot for I’ll Be Home For Christmas may read like a script out of a ‘50s sitcom, but it’s as zany as ‘90s Christmas movies can get, especially when Disney is involved. It imparts the message that spreading Christmas joy and goodwill to the people you encounter, no matter what life throws at you, is more important than any present you get.
Cristina Alexander is a freelance writer for IGN. She has contributed her work to various publications, including Digital Trends, TheGamer, Twinfinite, Mega Visions, and The Escapist. To paraphrase Calvin Harris, she wears her love for Sonic the Hedgehog on her sleeve like a big deal. Follow her on Twitter @SonicPrincess15.