One of the most enduring Christmastime traditions across the globe is the animated Christmas special. In the US, Rankin-Bass-produced shorts like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer led the way, but I’ll never forget the yearly showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
In many Nordic countries, the Walt Disney-produced Christmas special From All of Us to All of You – which includes Christmas shorts featuring Donald Duck and others – plays on TV every Christmas Eve, where it’s one of the most-watched programs of the year.
In the UK, the half-hour adaptation of Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman leaves viewers teary-eyed each year. In a re-released version, David Bowie appears as the older version of the main character.
In the Czech Republic, classic pohádky – fairy tales – lead the way for essential Christmastime viewing, with Tři oříšky pro Popelku in particular a must-see Christmas Eve event. You can check out my list of the top ten Christmas pohádky here for some other choice films.
But in a country with such a rich history in animation – pioneers like Jiří Trnka and Karel Zeman paved the way for stop-motion artists around the world – what about some animated Christmas fare? I can’t speak for the enduring popularity of the below shorts, but they offer some terrific seasonal delights with a unique Czech twist.
Also: you can catch the first three shorts below on the big screen this Sunday, December 21, at Kino Ponrepo’s special Christmas celebration for kids.
Vánoční sen (1945)
While not strictly animated, this stop-motion short directed by brothers Borovoj and Karel Zeman won a special award at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival and achieved some worldwide popularity years later with an English dub (you can watch that version – complete with cutaway shots to Santa Claus (!) added by the US distributor – here).
Karl Zeman, of course, went on to become one of the most important figures in Czech animation. You can check out some of his craft in person at the Karel Zeman museum in Prague.
Dva mrazíci (1954)
Master animator Jiří Trnka incorporated both hand-drawn and stop-motion animation in this film about two frost-spirits having some fun in the forest. Actors Vlasta Burian and Jan Werich voice the two main characters; the duo would meet again onscreen in the classic fairy tale Byl jednou jeden král…
Mesícní pohádka (1958)
Krtek creator Zdeněk Miler made this delightful little short a few years before creating his iconic Little Mole character. It’s a beautifully-realized frost-themed piece that incorporates some striking animation techniques.
This is my favorite short on this list: Hermína Týrlová, the mother of Czech animation who frequently collaborated with Karel Zeman, made this absolutely gorgeous piece about a snowman, a boy, and a little black dog. The trippy soundtrack makes this one of the most unique Christmas films you’ll ever see, but I’m not sure if it was originally there or added by a Japanese distributor.
Vánoční stromeček (1968)
Týrlová also made this similarly-animated short about a Christmas tree, which features some of the same characters. This one has a much more traditional score and sound effects.
Spejbl a Hurvínek – Příliš štědrý večer (1972)
The classic puppet duo has a pair of Christmas specials. Above, the father-and-son (along with dog Žeryk!) suffer through a Christmas Eve dinner; you can also catch Hurvínek’s Mikuláš adventure here.
Krtek o vánocích (1975)
No Christmas would be complete without the antics of creator Zdeněk Miler’s The Little Mole, the Czech Republic’s most famous cartoon creation.
- Czech Christmas Fairy Tales
- Top 10 Czech Cartoons
- Top 20 Czech Animators, Pt. 1
- Top 20 Czech Animators, Pt. 2