A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Of those, I think this and the Grinch stand a little above the other two. I like both Rudolph and Frosty, but I think they have some serious flaws. Personally, I'm of the opinion that A Charlie Brown Christmas is more or less perfect.
There are a few things that really impress me. The first is that, by rights, I shouldn't be interested in this. My love of Christmas is almost entirely founded in the fantasy aspects of the holiday: Santa Claus, magic, and all that. The Christian elements have no inherent interest to me. I'm not religious now, and I never have been. In almost every case but this one, the "Christmas Story" bores the hell out of me.
But not here. When Linus gets up on stage and the music goes silent, my eyes and ears are glued to the screen while he delivers his monologue. The line, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown," punctuates the entire special with enough force I get emotional watching it.
There's an art to the construction of this special. From start to finish, it focuses on tone. The music is haunting; there's something off throughout, something you can feel more than hear. It really is beautiful.
Like I said, this is flawless. Here are the flaws. Okay, I'll admit the "dance" party sequence runs a little long, particularly since it's reusing the same few seconds of animation over and over again. And, yeah, it's a little bizarre they didn't try to utilize continuity in the layout of the sign on Lucy's booth.
But why nitpick? This is an incredible work. If you haven't seen this in a while, you need to track it down. It shouldn't be too difficult to find it on TV this time of year or, barring that, you should be able to locate it online. Amazon's unloading copies with some other specials, assuming you're willing to drop seventeen bucks (I wasn't).
However you track it down, make sure you get to it. It really is that good.