From "Frosty" to "Rudolph": TV's All-Time Favorite Animated Christmas Specials

Herbie J Pilato

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"Frosty the Snowman" TV specialPhoto byRankin/Bass

Who doesn’t remember and cherish animated TV holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, or Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer? For generations, these colorful classics remain timepieces to revered days gone by. Viewers of all ages, some of who are now parents and grandparents, grew up watching these spirited, sentimental programs for decades, and now do so with their children and grandchildren. Millions of viewers continue to treasure moments like this:

Shortly after Rudolph arrives on the Island of Misfit Toys with his friends - Yukon Cornelius, the arctic prospector, and Hermie, the elf who wants to be a dentist - knows he must venture back out alone to fulfill his destiny. So, in order to return to the Arctic Sea of the North Pole, he breaks off a piece of shore-line ice and uses it to carry him on his way, across the wintery waters. Adrift in the frigid air, he wistfully bids farewell to his dear friends.

“Goodbye, Cornelius. I hope you find lots of tinsel.”

“Goodbye, Hermie. Whatever a dentist is…I hope you will be the greatest.”

It’s one of the most poignant scenes among many others in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which originally aired on NBC in 1964, and has not been off the air since except only once. But after a landmark protest from millions of TV viewers, that never happened again.

A similar protest recently transpired with A Charlie Brown Christmas, which premiered on CBS in 1965. Upon learning that only the digitalized Apple TV channel, and not the mainstream ABC-TV network that had acquired it in recent years, would be airing the Charles Schulz treasure, viewers were not pleased. As a result, A Charlie Brown Christmas found its way if not back on ABC, but to PBS.

The message from the TV audience was clear: ‘Don’t mess with our animated Christmas memories,’ which include Frosty the Snowman, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and more.

Fortunately, each special is now also readily available on various digital landscapes or via DVD or Blu-ray release. Such cherished holiday classics, drawn and produced in the traditional or stop-action design, beloved by millions for decades, are discovered by new generations every year.

Other yuletide favorite animated specials include:

* A Charlie Brown Christmas (CBS, 1965): Directed by Bill Melendez. Written by Charles Schulz.

* Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (ABC, 1969): Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. Written by Romeo Miller; starring the voices of Mickey Rooney and Fred Astaire.

* The Year Without a Santa Claus (ABC, 1974): Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. Written by William Keenan and based on the novel by Phyllis McGinley; starring the voice of Shirley Boothe

* A Christmas Carol (Syndicated, 1970): Directed by Zoran Janjic. Written by Michael Robinson and based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens; starring the voice of Alistair Sim (who appeared in the live-action version from 1951 - which is considered the best movie adaptation of the play).

* The Night The Animals Talked (CBS, 1970): Directed by Shamus Culhane. Written by Peter Fernandez, Jan Hartman, and others; a never-fully-appreciated animated classic.

* 'Twas The Night Before Christmas (CBS, 1974): Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. Written by Jerome Coopersmith and based on the poem by Clement Moore.

* The Little Drummer Boy (NBC, 1968): Directed by Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr., and others. Written by Romeo Muller; narrated by film legend Greer Garson.

* How The Grinch Stole Christmas (CBS, 1966): Directed by Chuck Jones and Ben Washam. Written by Bob Ogle and based on the book by Dr. Seuss; featuring the vocal brilliance of Boris Karloff.

Each of these TV specials remains cherished by all viewers of all ages, decades, and generations.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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