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Five Animated British Christmas Specials

For generations of American viewers, Christmas is about the Rankin-Bass stop-motion specials and A Charlie Brown Christmas. For those of us in the UK however, we have our own tradition of Christmas animation. Some of them have become firm festive favourites. Others, not so much. So for this year's Christmas list, let's take a look at some of the UK's animated Christmas specials. How many do you remember?

The Snowman (1982)

The tradition of the animated Christmas special in Britain basically began here. Commissioned as part of the first Christmas schedule of the (at the time) newest national station Channel 4 in 1982, it has since become a part of every Christmas since. Adapted from the Raymond Briggs picture book (and perfectly capturing its style) the story follows the magical night a young boy spends with a Snowman that comes to life. The iconic flying sequence, accompanied by the haunting choral track Walking In The Air is an unforgettable part of Christmas for generations who grew up with it.  In Christmas 2012, thirty years after the original, a follow-up film The Snowman and The Snowdog aired for the first time. Read our full review here.



The Angel And The Soldier Boy (1989)


First aired in the Christmas of 1989, this hand-drawn TV special was very much in the spirit of The Snowman, even if it's not technically set at Christmas. Adapted from a picture book by Peter Collington, the story followed a sweet friendship between the two tiny toys of the title, who come to life when their owner is asleep. Together they must contend with a band of pirates (who spring to life from a picture book), the family cat and other dangers. The special featured music composed by Irish folk band Clannad, which was also released as the band's 13th album. It was directed by animation veteran Alison De Vere.

Father Christmas (1991)


Another Raymond Briggs adaptation, but this 1991 special doesn't seem to have had anywhere near the lasting cultural impact of its predecessor. Which is a shame, as this has buckets of charm. It's very different from The Snowman, although it shares a visual style and much of the same creative team. This was Briggs in more mischevious mode, showing the life of a gruff, rough around the edges Father Christmas (Santa Claus) during his time off. Voiced by the late comedian Mel Smith, this is a very relatable and all too human version of Old Saint Nick that we hadn't seen before. If you've never seen it- good news! The UK distributor Illuminated Films has made the whole thing available on YouTube, completely legitimately.




Prince Cinders (1993)

Thanks to its association with traditional Pantomime, Cinderella (alongside many other fairytales) is closely associated with the Christmas for the British public. This animated special, based on a Children's book by Babette Cole puts a new spin on the classic tale. For a start, this focusses on Cinders, the put-upon little brother of three 'Ugly Brothers'. Like every other take on the story, Cinders longs to go to the ball (a disco, in this case). Unlike the traditional story, however, poor Cinders is transformed into a hairy ape by a bumbling fairy. A fun twist on a story that's been told many times before. Available in full on YouTube via Illuminated films.


Robbie The Reindeer (1999-2007)


Wallace and Gromit's specials may have often made their debut at Christmas, but there was nothing particularly festive about them. Strangely enough, Aardman hasn't really done much in the way of true Christmas specials- but the Robbie The Reindeer trilogy might just be the next best thing. Although not actually produced by Aardman,  they share much of the studio's charm and humour. Robbie The Reindeer was created by Richard Curtis (director of Love Actually, co-writer of Blackadder) and the stop-motion specials were made in support of the Comic Relief charity.

The eponymous deer (voiced by Irish comedian Ardal O'Hanlon) was the son of Rudolph, and the tenth of Santa's Reindeer. The character starred in three half-hour specials: Hooves Of Fire (1999) Legend Of The Lost Tribe (2002) and Close Encounters Of The Herd Kind (2007). Aside from Father Ted star O'Hanlon, the cast features a line-up of top British comedy talent, plus Sir David Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum for good measure. Unless that was, you saw the American broadcasts which replaced all the original performances with US actors such as Ben Stiller,  Jim Belushi and... Brittney Spears. The only actor to survive the dub and keep their accent was Hugh Grant, who (of course) played the villain. (Wow, thanks America).

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