A handy guide to all your favorite animated Christmas classics available in Blu-ray High-Definition!
[NOTE: The following is a slightly updated article/guide I wrote last year on A Cartoon Christmas. There are over 100 articles to read over there about a certain subject matter that should be self explanatory, and fell free to follow any of the links below without trepidation. We are also supported by the Amazon, so we encourage you to shop through the links below and on the right-hand sidebar]
Look, I don’t want to tell you how to Christmas shop, but there’s probably someone in your life who’d really love a Blu-Ray player. Assuming you don’t already have one in your home, they’re pretty much like catnip for men. And better still, they’re pretty inexpensive nowadays and a gateway to a ton of other movies and media in stunning 1080p High-Definition.
Just about any player will do the trick, however the PlayStation 3 has never been cheaper, plays Blu-rays, DVDs, streams Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and also happens to play an enormous library of games! (Both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One feature the same Blu-ray support but at a slightly steeper price.) But in lieu of writing about Christmas specials every damned day in December, I figures the least A Cartoon Christmas could this year is put together a guide to buying (and rebuying) classic Holiday animation and Christmas specials on HD Blu-ray.
MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL – Collector’s Edition
Oooo, it’s the first Xmas special we every wrote up here on A Cartoon Christmas! Can you believe it? Not that we’ve written about it (look to your left and you’ll see nearly 100 similar instances, silly) No, I mean can you believe this thing got a Blu-ray transfer?! It should go saying that it deserves one, obviously. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TV SPECIAL EVER MADE after all. I’m just sayin’ that Magoo (tragically!) doesn’t even get rerun on TV anymore, and almost nothing from that era of television gets restored in high-definition. The fact alone that this exists is nothing short of a Christmas Miracle!
We’ve had high-definition Blu-rays for about as long as the producers of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol had the medium of color television, yet by all accounts, the world’s inaugural animated Xmas special looks stunning in 1080p HD. To top that off, this Collecter’s Edition comes with a audio commentary, a special booklet, multiple featurettes and *GASP* a signed photo of Jim Backus?!?! Insta-buy for me!
MICKEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL – 30th Anniversary Special Edition
I’ve seen some people complain about the high-def transfer on this ( many purists take issue with removing dust, grain and/or hair from classic cel animation), but you can’t deny it’s startlingly crisp and an extremely cool way to rewatch one of the best Christmas specials of all time. And what makes the rebuy even better for me, is that it includes several Disney shorts long unavailable for purchase remastered in HD (for possibly the first time!) Among others, you’ve got Goofy’s “The Art of Skiing” and “The Hockey Champ,” a new Mickey short, and thank God Almighty “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” perhaps my all time favorite Christmas cartoon. (Read more about that here)
Even if you already know it by heart, this here’s a fantastic new way to experience the film. Argubly the most authentic method to originally viewing it in theaters in 1983 attached to The Rescuers! Read more about Mickey’s Christmas Carol’s history here.
CHARLIE BROWN HOLIDAY COLLECTION
Good Grief! If you don’t already own these, this is the set containing A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, each residing in its own slim Blu snap case. Not only have Charles Schulz’s specials never looked better (preserved in glorious 4:3 fullscreen as the were originally animated, of course) they’ve never sounded better, mixed mostly in loseless Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.
The Christmas disc specifically includes a short documentary on the legacy of A Charlie Brown Christmas, other making-of featurettes on the other discs, and more importantly, bonus Peanuts specials and short films. You can pick up a single-disc version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it’ll only save you pennies and you’ll be missing out on a ton of good stuff in the Holiday set. Sadly, this version doesn’t contain the Coca-Cola footage long since cut from the original CBS broadcast, but then, no home version ever has. Read more about that and more here.
Occasionally, I’ll stitch together panning shots in to one large panorama. Click here to see it big as day!
THE ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS CLASSICS GIFT SET
You want Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Check! You want Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town? Check! You want Frosty the Snowman? Check! You want its awful 1992 sequel, Frosty Returns? Probably not… but it’s here anyway! However, this particular set’s a little slimmer on features than any of the versions you might already own…
I’ve had this set for a while now and can attest to the quality of the HD transfer especially on Rudolph, which time and technology have been the kindest to. Personally, I was paying to see these timeless toons remastered in high-def, so consider me satisfied. The only strange thing about this Blu-ray is what it doesn’t include.
Perhaps you noticed that the DVD version of the 2012 Rankin-Bass set actually contains THREE additional Xmas specials as bonus features? Cricket on the Hearth, The Little Drummer Boy and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, none of which are included here I suppose this explains why the DVD and Blu-ray are roughly the same price, plus it probably answers my query above regarding Magoo getting its own Blu-ray. Because if it didn’t, it’d be stuck in 480p Standard-Def like Frosty Returns. You can pick the other three specials up as a stand-alone disc, just bear in mind that buying two is the same price of this entire set.
[UPDATE: A new 50th Anniversary Edition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been released this year, with some slight color correction, forgettable bonus features, and not a whole helluva lot else. Purchasing The Original Christmas Classic is still wholly recommended.]
THE YEAR WITHOUT SANTA CLAUS
Ho man, this special is so wonderful I almost don’t fault whomever Rankin-Bass’ overlords are now (I believe it’s Dreamworks) for not including this special in box set above. Even though I’m always down to enjoy Mickey Rooney playing the part of St. Nick, I’ve always always preferred The Year Without Santa Claus over Santa Claus is Comin to Town. You’d better believe that has everything to do with Heat Miser and Snow Miser!
I’ve been in love with those villainous designs ever since I was a kid, as have many people, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone how many more times they’ve popped up throughout the years (Read more about that here.) As for this Blu, it once again looks amazing. Some unsung hero long ago preserved the specials the right way, evident even on standard-def DVDs, but it shines all the brighter in 1080p. Seriously, there are theatrical movies released this decade that don’t have a transfer as good as these relatively ancient Rankin-Bass productions. Making this stand-along disc even more acceptable are its bonus features: You’ve got some featurettes on the special and the stop-motion animation process, plus two bonus specials, Nestor the Long-Earred Christmas Donkey and Nestor’s Shiny New Year! Love that Jesus Donkey!
PREP AND LANDING
Let’s run headlong into the modern age shall we? Prep and Landing is probably the most recent special we’ve ever written up here at A Cartoon Christmas, but I stand by my assertion that it very much belongs in the pantheon of Classic Christmas Specials, and should very much run annually on TV. Shrek the Halls this ain’t!
And please understand: I’m hardly a fan of CGI nor Disney’s recent animated output, but Prep and Landing wholly succeeds by not trying to weasel its way into “classical” territory, like so many have cynically tried, tripping over themselves to become The Next Classic Christmas Special by following cynical and cliched beats all the while. It’s funny, charming and yeah, a NEW kind of classic. I haven’t seen the follow up, but man, I hope it doesn’t tarnish my opinion of the original, both of which come on this Blu-ray.
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
And here’s a Christmas Special so beloved, it played on alt-rock radio stations when I was a lad. Seriously, there’s way to much to love about How the Grinch Stole Christmas and I’d even go so far to argue that this Xmas special will stand will stand the test of time longer than any other annually aired special written about here on this site… even though the Blu-ray isn’t necessarily bursting with neither new nor High-Def features.
As a sot of a backhanded silver lining, the disc does contain much of the Standard-Def bonus features from the previous DVDs, including that wonderfully cornball feature starring the late, great Phil Hartman, but at least you have a commentary from animator Phil Roman and June Foray, renowned voice actor known of characters like Rocky the Squirrel, Witch Hazel, Magica De Spell and uncredited here for her role as Cindy Lou Who.
More importantly, the special itself is so strikingly gorgeous, some long time fans took issue with the coloring, claiming Warner Bros. had gone too far, claiming that the vibrantly restored color palettes no longer matched the ones Chuck Jones created in 1966. However, it turns out that those behind the HD restoration went back to the original animation cels and tried to correct some of the fading and deterioration that’d set it from decades of analog broadcasts. Yep, turns out the Blu-ray is actually more authentic to the original production and that made my heart grow several sizes! (Seriously, see the chimney shot above and this one for a direct comparison)
Good Lord, this thing still haunts me, but in a most beautiful way, mind you. I’ll still get shivers on those rare occasions I get to hear the sounds of The Snowman‘s flight accompaniment “Walking in the Air.” Brings me right back to the 80s. Even though I a little too young to remember its original 1982 airing, it seemingly played damn near every Christmas somewhere from as long as I’ve been able to speak. And I certainly remember Nickelodeon running ads hocking VHSs of the thing all year round.
Sadly, this little special, which was at one time introduced by David Bowie himself (read more about that here), has fallen into obscurity here in the US. It looks to only be available via a rather pricey import Blu-ray from the UK, where it’s legacy is much, much stronger and continues to air every year. To make matters worse, many purists were upset with the mandatory 1080p widescreen presentation. The picture is undeniably clearer, however the Blu-ray crops the top and bottom of the original frame, creating a “zoomed in” effect so as to fill the aspect ratio of modern televisions.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – A Chipmunk Christmas
One of the most shocking experiences I’ve had writing up Christmas specials here for the last five years was finding out that I don’t hate the Chipmunks. Those awful CG movies had convinced me these rodents were rotten, but that all fell away with one highly belated viewing of A Chipmunk Christmas.
Rewatching and researching Alvin’s sweet, well animated Xmas special showed me The Chipmunks are one of those institutions built to last for an eternity, not unlike Weird Al and Saturday Night Live. It’s not their job to uphold the culture of the past, but to react and change to the zeitgeist of the present. Just because I don’t like the new Chipmunks movies doesn’t mean MY CHIPMUNKS sucked, nor the incarnation that preceded it… Christ, does this even make any sense? I swear it was cathartic at the time!
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (20th Anniversary Edition)
Okay, I really have to apologize for something. Although I doubt many of you will care, I just gotta get this off my chest… Here goes: A Cartoon Christmas has NEVER written up The Muppet Christmas Carol! I know! What the hell?! What makes it such an embarrassing omission for me personally is A) we’d always intended to, and B) WE’VE HAD AN IMAGE OF IT IN THE SITE’S TOP IMAGE HEADER SINCE DAY ONE and C) I haven’t taken any images of the movies… Please enjoy these shots from other Muppet things!
Seriously, I throw myself upon the readers’ mercy. Yeah, it’s not a “Christmas Special” in the strictest sense, but neither is The Small One, Toy Tinkers, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and surely not that ridiculous Santa episode of Rambo… and they got the Cartoon Christmas treatment and Muppet Christmas Carol didn’t?! I’m so very sorry, but as you can see by all this text containing zero information on the Blu-ray in question, I can be a little self indulgent at times…
Okay, back to this Blu-ray: On the one hand, this movie looks great in HD, has many of the existing non-HD features from the previous DVDs, including a fantastic commentary from Brian Henson, as well as a new one featuring the actual Muppets! But other than the new-fangled ability to see the Muppets sing Christmas carols at you whenever you pause the movie, there’s not a lot new here. Worse still, this version removes the “When Love is Gone” song/sequence other home editions nobly restored.
Many Muppet fans have complained this ruined the movie for them, but they’ve got an even more bitter pill to swallow beyond that: If you’re looking a Muppety Christmas in High Definition, this is all you’ve got. Which, and no offense to Carol, is a shame because Jim Henson is responsible for what I believe are some of the greatest Christmas specials of all time. But The Bells of Fraggle Rock, The Christmas Toy, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, and John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together, and A Muppet Family Christmas will probably never get any kind of restoration. Ever. Whether that’s due to technical restraints of the original formats, legal rights involved with the characters and music, or a growing lack of exposure/interest, it’s a reality we have to face. But hey, that’s why we created this site: To celebrate the things we love with the people who choose to remember. And it never ceases to surprise and amaze me how many Cartoon/Muppet/Christmas fans manage to find their way to this little corner of the web and say so. And that’s awesome.
More Animated Xmas cheer awaits you over at A Cartoon Christmas.