The Soul of Christmas Cartoons

The Soul of Christmas Cartoons

The Spiritual Side of Christmas Cartoons
By Laura Sheahen

Most Christmas specials say something about the meaning of the season, even if they don't mention Jesus. Check this chart to see how Beliefnet has rated the sacred and secular elements of your favorite TV specials. If a show inspires, it gets a high soul grade; if it has toe-tapping songs and memorable dialogue, it gets a high entertainment grade.

  • Challenge our decisions on the message boards.
  • Do you remember the name of Rudolph's girlfriend? Take our quiz.

The Spiritually Correct Christmas Cartoon
Title & Theme Sacred and
Secular Highlights
This Is
Spiritual Message
and Grade
How the Grinch
Stole Christmas
(1966 cartoon)

Misanthrope plots to steal entire town's Christmas trappings.

Grinch grins evilly as he gets "terrible, awful idea"; gripping Cindy-Lou Who episode is fraught with suspense; Grinch's swelling heart breaks measuring device; anti-commercialism moral avoids heavy-handedness.

Quotable: "He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming. It had!"
Grinch's dog tortured in filming of episode; no manger scenes or religious paraphernalia apparent as Grinch cleans out Whos' houses. "Maybe Christmas...doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

Soul grade: A
Entertainment grade: A+
Overall grade: A
A Charlie Brown Christmas

Depressed boy directs Christmas play.

Only mass-market Christmas special to reference Nativity narrative (Linus recites Luke 2:8-14). True spirit of Christmas triumphs as Peanuts gang learns all a tiny tree needs is love.

Quotable: "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"
Introduces kids to "holiday blues"; Lucy threatens to slug errant actors; madcap dancing verges on frenzy. Anything and anyone can thrive with just a little love; Christmas is about Jesus.

Soul grade: A
Entertainment grade: A
Overall grade: A
The Year Without a Santa Claus

Underappreciated Santa decides to cancel Christmas.

Boasts show-stopping numbers like "Heat Miser" and "Blue Christmas" with nifty rhyming lyrics ("isthmus"/"Christmas"); elfin hijinks abound; Mickey Rooney voices charmingly crusty Santa.

Quotable: "I believe in Santa Claus--like I believe in love."
Iconoclastic, gender-bending Mrs. Claus croons "Everyone can be Santa"; sibling rivalry goes unchecked; whiny Santa swears "Consarn it, Ma"; no trace of Jesus apparent. Evangelicals reportedly object to Satan-esque Heat Miser. Without goodwill and spirit, there is no Christmas.

Soul grade: C
Entertainment grade: A
Overall grade: B
The Little Drummer Boy

Traumatized boy seeks lost animal friend.

Narrator Greer Garson quotes Luke 2:1 and a Beatitude; Wise Men, Joseph, Mary, and a hazy light representing Baby Jesus all appear during the show's climax.

Quotable: "Your gift, given out of the simple desperation of a pure love, is the one favored above all."
Prior to uplifting finale, bandits kill Drummer Boy's parents, burn his house; callous Roman soldier runs over his pet sheep. Jesus' love helps us triumph over hatred and bitterness.

Soul grade: A
Entertainment grade: C
Overall grade: B
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Scorned reindeer finds way in world with help of bright nose and unique friends.

Hermey the Elf clashes with supervisor in bid to become dentist; Rudolph and Clarice nose-nuzzle; Yukon Cornelius cavorts with sled dogs; Burl Ives narrates.

Quotable: "I am not just a misfit."
Rudolph's embarrassed dad (Dasher) and Santa reject Rudolph; eerie Island of Misfit Toys underscores fate of nonconformists; incoherent but sharp-toothed Abominable Snowman terrorizes North Pole. Don't underestimate misfits; everyone has a purpose.

Soul grade: B
Entertainment grade: A
Overall grade: A
Frosty the Snowman

Magical snowman must hightail it to North Pole before he melts.

Jimmy Durante narrates with memorable Noo Yawk accent; "magic Christmas snow" has special powers. Bizarre Christological allusion (Santa resurrects Frosty after he melts), but no real mention of reason for season. Friendship and self-sacrifice are the greatest gifts you can give; don't despair, even when you're a puddle.

Soul grade: C
Entertainment grade: B-
Overall grade: C+
Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

Scrappy young adoptee smuggles toys to deprived children.

More signature Rankin/Bass tunes and lyrics ("Stuffed animals? Unstuff 'em! / If a child objects, rebuff 'em!"). At end, overworked Clauses decide to give gifts on only one night. They pick the "holiest night of the year--a night of profound love--Christmas Eve." Plot hinges on idea that life without toys is joyless and dreary; trippy Jessica (future Mrs. Claus) song recalls "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" video; in theologically ambiguous wedding, Kris Kringle and Jessica stand "before the Lord in the silent winter woods. A grove of pine trees was their cathedral--no church ever looked nicer." "Changing from bad to good's as easy as--as taking your first step"; "What if we all gave like Santa? Maybe there would be peace on earth and goodwill."

Soul grade: B
Entertainment grade: A
Overall grade: A-
Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

Despised donkey carries Mary to Bethlehem.

Nestor and barnyard friends celebrate Winter Solstice; the cherub Tilly informs Nestor that "angels inspire humans; cherubs inspire animals"; Mary and Joseph choose Nestor for his "gentle eyes"; Santa and his elves pay homage at a manger scene.

Quotable: "He carried the first gift of Christmas/More precious than diamonds or gold."
Nasty Romans terrorize animals; cruel stable owner flings Nestor into storm by his ears; Nestor's mother dies in the snow; during sandstorm, Nestor considers bailing on the Holy Family. Quirky traits may be a blessing in disguise; "the Good Lord works in strange ways."

Soul grade: A
Entertainment grade:B
Overall grade: B+