Attila Dory/Walt Disney Pictures/Photo 12/Alamy Stock Photo; Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. So why not change into your PJs, pour a glass of eggnog and kick back with a Christmas-themed movie or two? This holiday season, the Disney+ streaming platform has a sleighful of yuletide films on its menu — some classic, some just divertingly entertaining — that should manage to satisfy the entire family. We combed through the Mouse House’s digital offerings to come up with these 12 recommendations for when the lights are turned way down low and you just want to let it snow, let it snow, let it snow….
Home Alone (1990)
If you want a little mayhem with your mistletoe, it’s hard to top director Chris Columbus’ modern classic about a harried Chicago family that accidentally leaves mischievous 8-year-old son Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) at home by his lonesome when they hit the road for the holidays. One of Hollywood’s all-time great child actors, Culkin is in peak precocious mode here as he battles wits with a pair of admittedly witless thieves (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) trying to break into his house. Needless to say, Kevin triumphs thanks to a Rube Goldberg-like series of clever booby traps and manages to discover how much he loves and misses his family by the time they realize their mistake and come back for him.
Watch it: Home Alone
Home Sweet Home Alone (2021)
The blockbuster success of Home Alone led to a slew of sequels with diminishing returns. But after a long (and probably necessary) hiatus, the franchise returns this year with a Disney original movie — and this sixth installment is better than you’d expect. This time around, the troublemaking kid isn’t named Kevin but rather Max Mercer, a chubby Brit who finds himself all alone in a home that’s for sale as his parents absentmindedly fly off to Japan without him. Played by Archie Yates with chunky glasses and a smirk that promises consequences for any stranger-danger types dumb enough to cross his path, the resourceful Max foils a married couple (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) hot to get their mitts on a priceless heirloom they think Max took. It doesn’t end well for them even if Yates is no Macaulay Culkin.
Watch it: Home Sweet Home Alone
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Disney’s animation division found itself in the unusual position of being an also-ran when Pixar first entered the picture with Toy Story. But with this enchanting, girl-power fairy tale about a pair of battling sisters with magical powers, the Mouse House returned to the top rank. Very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Frozen is a parent-friendly kids’ film that tells the story of a princess named Elsa (Idina Menzel) who can turn everything she touches into ice and snow (much to the townspeople’s icy chagrin) and her estranged sister Anna (Kristen Bell), who tries to get her to reverse the curse before it’s too late. Along the way, there are Broadway-style musical numbers (“Let It Go”) and a motor-mouthed snowman sidekick (nicely played by Josh Gad).
Watch it: Frozen
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
From the delightfully twisted mind of Tim Burton comes this animated musical fantasy about a spindly, friendly corpse (it’s less creepy than it sounds) named Jack Skellington who lives in a Seussian burg called Halloweentown, where he loves to scare people. Then he visits nearby Christmastown and discovers that not all holidays are ominous and scary, they can be full of kindness and mirth too. Fueled by Danny Elfman’s wonderfully bizarre songs (“What’s This?”), the stop-motion-animated Nightmare is like Edward Scissorhands for kids — a ghoulish, garish fantasia that’s a little bit naughty, but mostly nice.
Watch it: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Toy Story (1995)
Okay, so this Pixar gem isn’t technically a Christmas movie. But it’s full of toys — lots and lots of toys — that all come to life when their pint-sized owner is out of sight. The premise seems so obvious it’s a bit surprising that this sweet, silly movie wasn’t made sooner. Then again, if it had been, then it wouldn’t have featured the note-perfect voices of Tom Hanks (as the exasperated cowboy doll Woody) and Tim Allen (the newfangled, high-tech astronaut Buzz Lightyear) as two action figures battling — and bickering — to be the alpha male in the toy box, as well as their boy-master’s most precious plaything. Toy Story is loaded with heart, humor, and humanity…and what could be more Christmas-y than that?
Watch it: Toy Story
The Santa Clause (1994)
Hey, it’s Tim Allen again. Only this time he’s hardly in the same “To infinity…and beyond!” physical shape as Buzz Lightyear. Instead, he dons a squishy fat suit to play a divorced dad who is magically allowed to atone for a mistake by being transported to the North Pole, where an elf informs him that he has to fill in for St. Nick at Christmas. Was the whole thing a strange sugarplum dream? Guess again, because Allen starts sprouting a white beard and his waistband starts expanding at an exponential rate as he’s about to find out the true meaning of the season. Generally, a little Tim Allen goes a long way, but The Santa Clause taps into his most appealing side: the grump who turns out to have a soft, chewy center.
Watch it: The Santa Clause
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Charles Dickens can be a tough sell to kids in a wired age of iPads and videogames. But Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of Jim Henson’s felt-covered gang deliver the perfect adaptation of the author’s beloved novella, A Christmas Carol, with Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Michael Caine (very much not phoning it in for the paycheck) as the prickly and parsimonious bah-humbug Scrooge. The songs are a delight, the sentiment is timeless, and the Muppets do…well, what they always do: they put a big, stupid smile on your face. An annual holiday staple in our household for kids of all ages.
Watch it: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952)
Clocking in at a swift six minutes, this Disney animated short from the studio’s heyday is a joy-buzzer treat. Mickey Mouse and his faithful mutt head out on a snowy day to chop down a Christmas tree to put in front of the fireplace. Problem is, the tree Mickey’s got his eye on is inhabited by a pair of mischievous helium-voiced chipmunks (Chip n’ Dale), who put poor Pluto through the wringer like he has a giant “Kick Me” sign on his keister. There’s something so nostalgically perfect about old Disney shorts like this one that it will make you feel like a youngster again leaving cookies and milk on the mantel on Christmas Eve.
Watch it: Pluto’s Christmas Tree
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
We started showing this one to our kids when they were 4 — and it’s become an annual ritual ever since. I hope they never outgrow it. Narrated by Kelsey Grammer, this hour-long anthology of three holiday-themed shorts is a Who’s Who of the Disney stable. In the first, Huey, Dewey and Louie’s wish that it could be Christmas every day is granted (with unexpected results). In the second, Goofy’s son doubts the existence of Santa until the old dog (or whatever Goofy is) can teach him more important lessons of holiday. And in the final chapter, sweethearts Mickey and Minnie are both saving up to buy one another presents only to discover that their love is the best gift they could ever receive. Wholesome? Sure. Square? A little. But if watching Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Watch it: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas
For Disney+’s first original holiday movie, the studio landed some pretty big stars: Shirley MacLaine, Bill Hader and Anna Kendrick. And they certainly add some liveliness to this tale about how the Kringle family will manage the duties of the holidays without their jolly patriarch. Hader, who plays Santa’s son, wants no part of filling his famous father’s shoes and heads off to Phoenix for some R&R. Meanwhile, Santa’s daughter (Kendrick, who could sell smiles for a living) steps into the role to save the day with the help of her nanny elf (MacLaine). Noelle isn’t exactly It’s a Wonderful Life-caliber cinema, but its heart is in the right place. And any movie that pairs Kendrick’s cheer and MacLaine’s sass, is worth checking out.
Watch it: Noelle
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)
You want more big stars? You got ‘em in this fantasy-and-f/x-fueled riff on The Nutcracker. How’s this for a serious roll call: Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Richard E. Grant? If that doesn’t sell you, then there’s also this — in this loose iteration of the holiday classic, Mackenzie Foy’s young Clara unlocks a magical egg-shaped doodad to help her find the last Christmas present she left behind. The search takes her down a mystical rabbit hole into a snowy universe of wonder with Freeman as her sage-like godfather, Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy and enough beautiful ballet sequences to make Baryshnikov swoon. Consider this one The Nutcracker-meets-The Chronicles of Narnia.
Watch it: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
The Simpsons: “Marge Be Not Proud” (1995)
Disney+ is a completist’s one-stop supermarket for all things Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that most of my time on the streaming service wasn’t spent rewatching old episodes of The Simpsons. Over the years, Springfield’s most famous family has cranked out their fair share of Christmas episodes. But this one from Season 7 is a holiday-season gem. After being denied an excessively violent video game he desperately wants called Bonestorm, Bart decides to steal it from Try N’ Save, the local discount store, and gets caught by a gruff security guard. When Marge finds out that her “little guy” is a shoplifter, she piles the guilt on thick. In the end, though, Bart manages to win back his blue-haired mom’s love and learns a valuable lesson — even if he ends up getting Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge on Christmas morning instead of his beloved Bonestorm.
Watch it: The Simpsons
Chris Nashawaty, former film critic for Entertainment Weekly, is the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story and a contributor to Esquire, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.