The Christmas season is well known for presents under the tree; snowballs and icicles if you live in North America, Europe, and Russia; and goodwill towards humanity. It is also well known, unfortunately, for rampant shopping and commercial extravaganzas. Companies and organizations, big and small, almost always seem ready to get in on the holiday action, flashing advertisements about their products or services in our faces. Without sounding too much like the Grinch, it can feel like the holiday season is more about capitalism than generosity, cold cash over human connection.
But I have to give them credit: Companies and organizations can pull out all the stops when it comes to advertisements and, indirectly, make us pull out the tissues à la Pixar. Some of the best holiday advertisements stem from the Christmas spirit, or the exploitation of it, including some fine works in animation. What follows are 10 holiday advertisements that feature various forms of animation, with different themes and messages, made recently or long ago, and all cozily wrapped up in Christmas warmth and cheer.
Although not exhaustive nor a “top 10” list, my criteria were that the advertisements needed to be fully animated, sponsored by a company or organization, and have themes of holiday cheer. There were many wonderful Christmas adverts that I had to sadly axe from the running. My goal is to showcase 10 animated ads that bring viewers a holiday message of hope, love, and generosity.
10. “Paddington, Please Look After This Bear” – Barbour – 2021
Sometimes, gift giving takes a little observation, ingenuity, and a tin of Barbour Wax Thornproof dressing, at least according to our favorite marmalade-loving bear. From British lifestyle brand Barbour and Passion Pictures, an Academy-Award winning studio (The Lost Thing short film), comes a cute ad, full of nostalgia, featuring Paddington Bear, voiced by Paul Panting. In the advert, Paddington runs into the all-familiar problem of figuring out what to give as a present to Mr. Brown. Hint: It is not marmalade.
According to Creative Boom, the ad marks the “first time ever that the style of original Paddington illustrator Peggy Fortnum has been brought to life in animation,” with Sam Gray from Passion Pictures commenting, “It was a real labour of love to do true justice to that style, and I’m so proud of the results.”
9. “Together Through the Years” – Jigsaw and NFTS – 2017
Friendship, love, loss, and reunion are all briefly explored in this lovely short, told through fabric puppetry and stop-motion animation. According to The Drum, in a collaboration between British fashion brand Jigsaw and the National Film and Television School (NFTS), the advert was part of Jigsaw’s 2017 “Have a Holly Jolly Lobster” campaign, ending with the call to “be together this Christmas.” A timely sentiment that many of us want but may not get to have this year, at least in person.
8. “Inseparable” – IGA – 2019
No words have to be said in this tender tale of two kids becoming friends by sharing their lunches at school. The music and character expressions make up for the lack of dialogue and carry the story from start to finish. Foodies will drool at the 3D depictions of spaghetti, sandwiches, and carrot cake and tear up as Anto and Maxime face a lonely Christmas without the company of each other. With its focus on friendship and food, the ad is a perfect match between supermarket chain IGA and the global creative agency Sid Lee and La Tablée des Chefs, a Canadian organization who strives to “feed people in need and to develop culinary education for youth.”
7. “Stella” – Re-engage – 2019
For many people, Christmas may be a lonely affair this year. For older people, this situation may be especially true. Similar to Pixar’s Up, Stella echoes painful themes of losing a loved one in later life and the aching loneliness that follows, this time during the holiday season. Hope comes at the end with friends appearing in furry and feathery forms. What makes this advert special is the partnership between Passion Pictures and the UK charity Re-engage that “provides vital, life-enhancing social connections for older people at a time in their lives when their social circles are diminishing.” For being such a short piece of animation, Stella packs an emotional punch that leaves a timely reminder for younger generations.
6. “Inner Child” – McDonald’s UK – 2020
Getting in touch with your inner child is the theme of the McDonald’s UK advert, and I’ll be honest: I’m lovin it. With British singer and songwriter Becky Hill singing a stripped-back rendition of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” in the background, we watch a single mom continually trying to coax her son into celebrating Christmas with her. In a successful reversal of roles, the child is the grumpy old Grinch, and the parent is the excited kid on Christmas morning. The advert debuted in 2020, as part of McDonald’s #ReindeerReady campaign; MotionCue reported that McDonald pledged to donate funds to FareShare, a food charity, as part of the campaign. In an interview with The Drum, the ad’s creative directors James Millers and Andrew Long focused on a heartfelt message that would resonate with viewers suffering from the global COVID-19 pandemic. “What was really important for this was to try and find a story worth telling that actually connects with people you know on a deeper level.”
5. “Edgar’s Christmas” – Erste Group – 2020
Get ready to have your heart melt—again—by Austrian banking firm Erste Group’s holiday spot, made in collaboration with Passion Pictures. In a similar vein to Pixar’s Up and Re-engage’s Stella, a grumpy old man languishes in a nursing home, uninterested in befriending anyone and yearning for his old career as a composer. His observant caregiver gives him the chance for a Christmas encore, sending home the message that we should not forget those who have been pushed to the sides of society, especially during the coronavirus pandemic that has isolated so many.
“Loneliness and isolation have been the defining themes of this pandemic year,” says Erste’s Martin Radjaby-Rasset, via Creative Boom. “Unfortunately, that is likely to remain true for most people also during the Christmas season, when we would usually get a chance to be close to our family and friends. We wanted to show what’s possible when people are there for each other and when they believe in themselves and others, especially in these times.”
4. “Justino” – Loteria de Navidad – 2015
Passion Pictures is back again, this time with an advertisement from Spain’s Loteria de Navidad, considered to be the world’s largest lottery which annually occurs at Christmas. People will stand in line to buy tickets. Family, friends, and even workplaces will even buy “participaciones,” or “shared tickets,” allowing people to share the prize money and the joy of winning together.
In the beautifully told ad, Justino is the faithful night watchman who wishes to connect with his fellow colleagues on the day shift. To remind his coworkers he exists, Justino creatively poses the company’s mannequins during the night, surprising and amusing his colleagues when they come into the office in the morning. When the company wins the lottery, Justino thinks he will miss the celebration, or does he?
Debuting in 2015, Justino went viral on YouTube, especially in Spain. According to Motioncue, the heartwarming advert “won the prestigious Cannes Lions Cyber Grand Prix at the 63rd Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.”
3. “The Bear and the Hare” – John Lewis – 2013
The holiday season is a time to be mindful of others and share the season’s joy and wonders with loved ones. The Bear and the Hare masterfully shares this message in an emotional narrative. When a bear has to hibernate during the winter and miss out celebrating Christmas with his forest friends, one hare decides that this Christmas will be different, starting with an early present.
Widely considered a classic from British retail brand John Lewis and Adam & Eve DDB, The Bear and the Hare stands out not only for resonating with audiences but also for its wonderful combination of 2D and 3D animation. “Classic hand-crafted Disney-style animation was an obvious inspiration to convey the integrity we wanted, but we were also keen to ensure how it was executed was both distinctively British and 21st century in feel,” says Aiden McClure, creative director for Adam & Eve DDB along with Laurent Simon, in an article via Fast Company. Indeed, the animation is slick and gorgeous, which is no surprise given the high caliber of the creative teams behind it. According to Fast Company, directors Elliot Dear and Yves Geleyn led a collaboration between teams in England and the US, some of whom have worked for Disney and Dreamworks Animation.
2. “Feels like home” – Alpha – 2021
One of the beauties of storytelling is that anyone can tell a good story. This is especially true for Alpha Heating Innovation’s TV holiday ad. The Christmas season can not only be hard on older people; families dealing with separation and divorce can also feel loneliness and sadness even when the parents and children spend time together. In the advert, a girl struggles with her sadness and anger over her parents’ separation and desperately wishes for her family to be whole again. While her wish doesn’t exactly come true, it doesn’t mean her loved ones can’t put aside their differences and celebrate Christmas together. It can be a tearjerker, even though the main purpose is to sell Alpha boilers so that your place “feels like home.”
1. “Made with Love” – IGA – 2020
Supermarket chain IGA and Sid Lee delivered another great holiday ad back in 2020, one that tugs at the heartstrings and highlights the importance of essential workers and human connections within hospital walls. When a nurse shares her daughter’s baked goods with a sick child recovering at a hospital, a remote yet sweet friendship is sparked. Of course, food plays a pivotal role, but I’m not complaining; the baked treats look delicious.
A product of global collaboration among several agencies, the production process still had to contend with the complexities of working during a pandemic. SHED, a 3D agency who worked on the ad, “had to deal with the new realities brought by COVID and so we worked in a completely remote environment. This, in itself, came with its load of challenges: we had to race against everyone else in the business to make sure every player on the team had the right equipment at home to put in their best work remotely.” Despite the production challenges and the coronavirus, this ad is simply wonderful and provides us a timely message for this holiday season.
Below are a few more animated videos that either did not make it into the list or did not meet my criteria but are still wonderful and beautifully animated.
“A Little Love” – John Lewis – 2020
The John Lewis brand has become well known for its tearjerker Christmas adverts. For the 2020 holiday season though, the company shifted from presents and tissues to small acts of kindness and hope. Throughout the ad, nine interconnected scenes are shown in which strangers provide small acts of kindness to each other, with an original song, “A Little Love,” provided by soul singer Celeste, a first for a John Lewis holiday spot. After a tumultuous year fraught with COVID-19, stress, and uncertainty, this advert is a nice reminder that hope is always present if small and hidden.
The animation is impressive in its diversity: 2D, claymation, 3D, and fabric puppetry. Daily Mail reports that the animated vignettes were “created by eight different artists who are leading experts in their particular art, including Chris Hopewell, who has created music videos for Radiohead and Franz Ferdinand, and French animator Sylvain Chomet.”
“Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” – Ingrid Michaelson and Zooey Deschanel – 2021
Okay, this honorable mention isn’t a holiday advertisement, but it is animated, Christmas-themed, and a music video. Written and sung by Ingrid Michaelson and Zooey Deschanel, “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” has everything you could want in a holiday music video. Set in a snow-laden forest, a bunny and rabbit prepare for Christmas together, with the bunny setting off to find a Christmas tree and running into a little problem. Luckily, some forest friends are nearby to help. The overall effect is wholesome, cozy, and simply sweet to watch. The animation is a combination of felting and stop-animation, directed by Andrea Love, an animator and fiber artist (check out her fantastic Instagram account: andreaanimates), and Phoebe Wahl, an author and illustrator.
What is your favorite holiday-themed advert? What makes it special to you? Let us know in the comments!
Note: Rotoscopers is not sponsored by nor is associated with any of the companies or organizations mentioned in this article.