I would get lost if I tried to include all of the foreign (non-U.S., Canadian, or British, which are often shown on American TV) Christmas animated features and shorts. Here are some samples. (To repeat: Christmas-themed episodes of regular TV programs are not included.)
Australia. Blinky Bill’s White Christmas. December 24, 2005. An 80-minute TV movie animated by Yoram Gross EM-TV Pty. Ltd. The seasons are reversed in Australia, and most of the animals are used to Christmas in summer; but Blinky Bill the koala boy is determined to have a European-style Christmas with lots of snow.
Australia. Santa’s Apprentice. November 24, 2010. An 80-minute Australian-French theatrical co-production directed by Luc Vinciguerra and produced by Gaumont Animation in cel animation. It has not yet been released in America, but the Weinstein Company has just acquired North American and U.K. distribution rights. IMDb’s synopsis is: “Santa doesn’t want to retire, but rules are rules and he must train someone to replace him. The lucky winner, to be chosen from among millions of children, must be named Nicholas, be an orphan and have a pure heart. On the other side of the planet, there is a little boy who is a perfect match, but his lack of self-confidence and fear of heights make him a poor contestant. Will Santa agree to step down, and help his apprentice take his place?” The French release was titled L’Apprenti Père Noël. See under France for the sequel.
Czechoslovakia. Vánoční sen. (The Christmas Dream). 1945. An 11-minute theatrical short (the American dub is only 8 minutes), directed by Karel Zeman and his brother Bořivoj. Zeman’s first entertainment film, not counting animated commercials. A combination of live action and stop-motion animation. A little girl and her parents enter a room decorated for Christmas. The little girl immediately throws away her crude hand-made doll and starts playing with the factory-made new toys under the Christmas tree. That night while she sleeps, Santa Claus is unhappy with her for discarding her old doll. He sends her a dream about her old doll and some of the new toys coming to life (stop-motion). The old doll is clever while the new toys are not; a toy giraffe does nothing but try to eat the Christmas tree. Finally the old doll turns on an electric fan that blows a gale knocking over most things in the room, including blowing a painting of an old ship out of sight in a stormy sea. The doll pleads with the girl not to be discarded again, and the girl cuddles her as her favorite toy.
Finland. Joulupukki ja Noitarumpu (Santa Claus and the Magic Drum). December 24, 1996. A 51-minute TV cartoon movie directed by Mauri Kunnas and produced by Yleisradio and five other Scandinavian studios. Blurb: “Odd things are happening in Santa’s village with Christmas just around the corner. Who peppered the cookies? Who switched off the Northern Lights? And why has the computer come down with a virus just when Santa Claus was about to solve his most vexing Christmas gift problem? The last of the Christmas list letters have just arrived by plane at Santa’s village. Among them is an odd doodle on strangely yellowed paper. It’s signed “Rascal,” but what is it supposed to depict? Santa and the elves simply can’t make it out. So Santa asks all the master elves to create their own versions of Rascal’s wish. Preparations for Christmas Eve are progressing apace, but not everything is as it should be. Someone is pestering Santa Claus. Who can it be? And what in the world for?” (Click image below to see trailer)
Finland. Niko – Lentäjän poika. (Niko – The Way to the Stars.) October 10, 2008. 81 minutes. This is one of those foreign animated movies that has been a direct-to-DVD release in America (although CBS broadcast a 45-minute version), co-animated by Cinemaker Oy and Anima Vitae in Finland and A. Film in Denmark, with animation help in Germany and post-production in Ireland, and distributed in the U.S. by the Weinstein Company under the title of The Flight Before Christmas.
IMDb’s synopsis: “A young reindeer who suffers from vertigo learns to overcome his fear, takes flying lessons from a clumsy flying squirrel and heads to the North Pole to save a troubled Santa and his fleet of flying reindeer.”
My synopsis: Niko, a fatherless child reindeer, is told that he is the result of a one-night-stand between his mother and one of Santa Claus’ “Flying Forces”. He goes with Julius, a flying squirrel, to the North Pole to find which of Santa’s eight flying reindeer is his father, and gets involved with the villainous Black Wolf and his ferocious pack’s plot to kill Santa and take over Christmas, to bring death rather than toys to children. Santa’s macho reindeer are skeptical that Niko is the son of one of them (though all admit that it’s a possibility), and will only believe it if he can fly like them. Eventually, the wolves are defeated, Niko learns to fly, and he turns out to be Prancer’s son.
From online comments, there are separate U.S. and U.K. dubs and edits, and the U.S. version is considerably more censored. There is a fairly risqué scene in the flying reindeers’ private bar with Wilma, an erotic ermine singer/dancer:
IMDb notes: “At the end of the credits: 21.858 liters of beer were consumed during the making of this movie!”
Finland. Niko 2: Lentäjäveljekset. (Niko 2: The Flying Brothers.) October 12, 2012. 79 minutes. This is the sequel to the above, co-animated by Cinemaker Oy and Anima Vitae in Finland and A. Film in Denmark, and distributed in the U.S. by Lionsgate under the title of Little Brother, Big Trouble: A Christmas Adventure. Lionsgate’s synopsis: “On Christmas Eve, Niko the young reindeer must find his little brother [Jonni] who has gone missing. But in order to save Christmas, it’s going to take a lot of help from Niko’s friends in order to save the day. While on his epic journey to save his brother, Niko learns the importance of friendship and family, in this heartwarming Holiday tale that all ages will enjoy.” IMDb’s synopsis: “Set right before Christmas, Niko the reindeer must deal with his mom getting re-married and his being tasked with looking after his little stepbrother.” Re-married? I suspect that’s a bowdlerization.
France. L’Aventure du Père Noël. 1956. An 8-minute 14-second theatrical short in a wordless UPAish ultra-modern art style, directed by Jean Image. A passenger in an Air France jet flying to New York looks out a window and sees Santa Claus and his reindeer flying alongside the plane. He radios ahead that Santa Claus is coming with their plane, which will arrive tomorrow. NYC goes wild, preparing to welcome him with a red carpet, dignitaries & parades. Santa flies into a cloud and disappears. Officialdom cannot disappoint the public, so the man in the plane is ordered to disguise himself as Santa Claus and impersonate him.
France. Merlin Contre le Père Noël. December 31, 2003. A 28-minute cartoon TV special, directed by Serge Elissalde and produced by Les Films de l’Arlequin, Belvision France, & RTBF. An adaptation of the bande dessinée Merlin, t.2, by Joann Sfar & José-Luis Munuera. On Christmas, Merlin and his friends Jambon the pig and Tartine the ogre decide to see who looks most like Santa Claus. They get the real Santa to swallow Merlin’s potion that turns him into a horrible evil ogre, but he kidnaps all the children in town and flees.
France. Spike. June 20, 2008. A 70-minute CG feature, directed by David Alaux & Éric Tosti, produced by TAT Productions in Toulouse. Spike the elf, the youngest in Santa’s workshop, volunteers to carry the sack with all the letters from children to Santa naming the toys that they want. When the sack is accidentally taken by penguin guards to the fish-bank of Ping Ville, Spike and Raymond, the old elf inventor, must break into the bank’s vault to get it back. Unfortunately Tony and Vito, two polar bear thieves, have picked the same night to rob the bank.
France. Au Pays du Père Noël (The World of Santa Claus). December 1-24, 2008. 24 1-minute CGI TV episodes directed by David Alaux & Éric Tosti, produced by TAT Productions; designed to be edited into a half-hour TV special. A sensation-seeking journalist investigates Santa Claus’ workshop. Featuring the cast of Spike. Here’s a sample:
France. Spike 2. October 23, 2012. A 35-minute 42-second CG featurette directed by David Alaux & Éric Tosti, produced by TAT Productions. Tony the polar bear, who was arrested by Spike the elf and sentenced to community-service work in Santa’s workshop, has escaped and kidnapped Santa’s flying reindeer. Spike the elf, his cousin Dorothy, and their friend Paco the penguin must face multiple hardships to find them and save Christmas. Shown at the 2013 Anima Mundi (Rio de Janeiro), 2013 Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival, and ReAnimania ’13 (Yerevan) international animation festivals.
France. L’Apprenti Père Noël et le Flocon Magique (Santa’s Apprentice and the Magic Snowflake). November 20, 2013. An 82-minute cartoon feature directed by Luc Vinciguerra and produced by Gaumont Animation. The Weinstein Co. has just acquired North American and U.K. distribution rights as The Magic Snowflake, but there has not been time for release beyond France yet. The sequel to Santa’s Apprentice (see Australia). The old Santa has finally resigned in favor of 7-year-old Nicholas, but he performs poorly on his first Christmas and is replaced by a more experienced Santa. Nicholas must earn the position back.
Italy. La Freccia Azzurra (The Blue Arrow). December 5, 1996 in Germany as Der Blaue Pfeil; no Italian release listed. 93 minutes. An adaptation directed by Enzo d’Alò of the 1964 children’s book by Gianni Rodari. IMDb’s synopsis, revised: “When Santa’s helper La Befana (an Italian traditional good witch who delivers the presents on Epiphany, January 5th; Granny Rose in the American dub) falls ill and must take off on Christmas Eve, she recruits Dr. Scarafoni (Mr. Grimm) to help deliver all the toys. What no one but the toys knows is that Scarafoni plans to auction off the toys to the highest bidder! His plan means that the toys won’t make it to the children who are their destinies. The toys decide to deliver themselves, and the story follows them as they struggle to avoid the heartless Scarafoni and to find their true homes.” In a subplot, the poor young orphan Francesco (Christopher Winter) wishes for the Blue Arrow, an expensive toy train, for Christmas. Available in the U.S. by Buena Vista Home Video with voices by Mary Tyler Moore as Granny Rose, Tony Randall as Mr. Grimm, and Michael Caloz as Christopher Winter; titled How the Toys Saved Christmas, but with some scenes deleted and some new music. This should not be confused with the 2001 half-hour Christian video The Toys That Rescued Christmas.
Next week: Japan to the Soviet Union.