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The best family films and shows to stream this Christmas

Scene from A Toot Toot Cory Carson Christmas

Technology may have changed the way we watch TV, but it hasn’t (completely) changed what we watch. Or at least not at Christmas.

Gathering the family together to watch a Christmas film or TV show is just as much a festive tradition as being woken up by over-excited children at 5am or pretending you like brussels sprouts.

There’s plenty on offer this year on all of the main streaming platforms. So here’s what we’ll be settling down to watch with our families.

Don’t forget to check out our parent guides to Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video


Christmas films and TV shows to watch with younger kids

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Where: Disney+ (subscription), YouTube (purchase required)

Age rating: U

We defy anyone not to love the Muppets. And this surprisingly faithful version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas tale stands as one of their finest ever outings.

Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy and the gang are all here, while Michael Caine stars as Ebenezer Scrooge and somehow manages to keep a straight face throughout. With songs and dances aplenty, it’s a great introduction to the story – though younger children may be scared by the Ghost of Christmas Future.    


A Toot-Toot Cory Carson Christmas

Where: Netflix (subscription), YouTube (free on the Netflix Jr channel) 

Age rating: U

Cory Carson is a little animated car whose engine runs on fun – and who lives in a town of motor vehicles that come in all makes and models.

In this 21-minute special, Cory goes on a mission to help Santa Cars (yes, that’s right) remember the magic of Christmas, saving Bumperton’s festive season in the process. Younger children love watching Cory Carson’s mischievous adventures – but the show has an everyday charm that older kids and adults will secretly enjoy too. 


The Gruffalo

Where: Amazon Prime Video (subscription)

Age rating: U

You probably don’t need to be told the tale of The Gruffalo – the classic Julia Donaldson-Axel Scheffler children’s book about a little mouse who must escape the clutches of a fox, an owl, a snake... and the poisonous, prickly, knobbly but loveable cave-dwelling Gruffalo.

This 30-minute TV adaptation features an all-star voice cast (Helena Bonham Carter, James Corden) and a soothing soundtrack, as the mouse outwits its hungry adversaries to win the day. And all in search of a nut.


The Legends Family Adventure

Where: On Google's parent page (free)

Age rating: U (but designed for seven to 11-year-olds)

An exciting new addition to Google’s Be Internet Legends programme, the three films that make up The Legends Family Adventure are perfect holiday viewing for children aged seven to 11. 

Created by Google and Parent Zone and animated by Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman, the three-minute films tell the story of Lumen – a shy Internaut who loses her teddy bear and goes on an epic journey with her family to retrieve it. Along the way, they meet villains such as the Cyberbully, Phisher, Hacker and Oversharer.

Plus, the fun doesn’t end when the films do: families can watch the adventure together, do some creative activities straight afterwards and then take on The Legends Family Challenge to test their digital knowledge. If they get three quiz questions right, they can win prizes for their child’s school, including a live online assembly with a school in the USA and some goodies for the classroom. 


Christmas films and TV shows for the whole family

Elf

Where: Amazon Prime Video / YouTube (purchase required on both)

Age rating: PG

This 2003 American comedy is so popular that it's still showing in some cinemas this Christmas. Will Ferrell stars as Buddy, a human who crawled into Santa Claus’ sack as a baby and is raised thinking he is an elf, despite struggling with elf duties due to his human size. After finding out the truth, he sets out on a hilarious adventure to New York to find his real father.

Witty, chaotic and over the top in a great way, Elf is an amusing and heartwarming family Christmas film. 

Worth knowing: in the film, children talk about the possibility of parents giving the presents, rather than Santa. There are also a few mild swear words. 


Doctor Who specials

Where: Netflix (subscription), BBC iPlayer (free)

Age rating: PG/12

The Doctor Who Christmas (or New Year) special has become a festive institution over the past decade or so. The latest instalment, Revolution of the Daleks, will air on 1 January 2021, but you needn’t wait to get your fix – you’ll find all 16 Christmas episodes on BBC iPlayer, and 14 of them on Netflix.

The only question is which one you watch. There’s the killer Christmas trees of 2005’s The Christmas Invasion, the Kylie Minogue-starring Voyage of the Damned from 2007, 2010’s beautiful A Christmas Carol, the magical Twice Upon a Time (2017)… Or you could just watch them all.    


Home Alone

Where: Disney+ (subscription), YouTube (purchase required)

Age rating: PG

The tale of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister’s solitary Christmas is now considered a festive classic – and with good reason.

Built around a series of hilarious set pieces in which Kevin repeatedly outwits two hapless would-be-burglars, Home Alone is fabulously fun for all the family. Just don’t try any of the stunts yourself at home. 


The Nightmare before Christmas

Where: Disney+ (subscription), YouTube (purchase required)

Age rating: PG

Doing double duty as a Halloween and Christmas film, The Nightmare Before Christmas is every bit as creepily creative as you’d expect from director Tim Burton. From the wonderfully original visual style to the brilliant songs by Danny Elfman, it’s a riot of ideas and imagination.

It may scare some younger children – it is about skeletons and ghouls, after all – but the stop-motion cartoon effects reduce the fear factor and on the whole it’s a wonderful choice for family viewing.     


Christmas films and TV shows for your older children

Gremlins

Where: NowTV/Sky (subscription), YouTube (purchase required)

Age rating: 12A

This ’80s classic has everything you’d want from a Christmas movie: snow, carol singers, the cutest little creature you’ve ever seen… and a bunch of evil things running amok in a frenzy of murder and mayhem.

Gremlins is most definitely not a film for younger children – in fact, it was one of the movies that prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating – but if your child is old enough and doesn’t scare easily, they’ll probably love it. It’s bags of fun, zips along at a fair old pace and has a multitude of memorable moments.

But be warned: it does reveal a certain truth about Father Christmas, so don’t let any children who aren’t in on that little secret near it, or you’ll have some explaining to do. 


Love Actually

Where: NowTV/Sky (subscription)

Age rating: 15

The best romcoms mix schmaltz and sincerity with a healthy dollop of self-awareness. If Richard Curtis refined this recipe in the ’90s with Four Weddings… and Notting Hill, Love Actually saw him perfecting it with an unlikely new ingredient: Christmas.

All the winning elements are there – and Hugh Grant is playing a version of himself for the umpteenth time. But it’s all wrapped up in a festive bow.

There are some swearwords and raunchy references, so it might not be a good watch for preteens. But with 10 stories playing out simultaneously across a twinkly, idealised version of noughties London, there’s something here for pretty much everyone.


Die Hard

Where: NowTV/Sky (subscription)

Age rating: 15

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Well it takes place at Christmas and it has snow in it, but really, who cares – because it’s one of the finest action movies ever made.

Bruce Willis is in fine form as the cop who just wants to see his wife but who ends up trapped in a skyscraper with a bunch of terrorists (and a rather grubby white vest), while Alan Rickman is superb as the chief bad guy.

There’s violence and bad language throughout, so it’s probably not one for younger viewers – but everyone else will love it.

Main image: Netflix


READ MORE

What to watch on Netflix – for families, kids and adults

Netflix parents’ guide

Amazon Prime/Amazon Video parents’ guide

Disney+ parents’ guide