All the John Lewis Christmas Ads: Ranked

Ella Williams decides which John Lewis advert is the best

Ella Williams
30th November 2020
Credit: The Telegraph on Youtube
Christmas adverts. It’s all a part of the big capitalist cheer of the festive season. I understand the commercial aims of these adverts... but I can’t find it in me to mind. The formula is always the same: some heart-wrenching CGI character captures the spirit of Christmas to a half speed cover of a pop classic with extra-breathy vocals. Some are cringey, others try a little too hard, and a precious few are really quite lovely. 

Over the past few years they have reached the scale of a mini feature film: now eagerly awaited they are a full-on affair with secret filming locations and million-pound set designs. I might not buy a John Lewis Whittard tea gift set this Christmas, but I’m afraid I do buy into the care and creativity they put into their festive few minutes each year. These are all the John Lewis Christmas adverts since 2011, ranked:

10th place: The Journey (2012)

It’s not actively bad, just overly saccharine and forgettable. John Lewis’ 2012 offering depicts Mr. Snowman traversing snowy plains to go to John Lewis and get a gift for his misses. Gabrielle Aplin’s “Power of Love” cover is rather twinkly and a pleasant accompaniment to some fancy drone-filmed scenery . But for me that didn’t exonerate the bland storyline and materialistic message. Good laptop screensaver material, but I am not crying.

9th place: The Boy and the Piano (2018)

Sweet. It's important to get your kids good presents... if they happen to be child prodigies like the legend Sir Elton John. While lacking in a cute little creature, it does feature John Lewis' other Christmas ad favourites: small children and old men. The advert goes rather swiftly through Elton John's career to a nice rendition of "Your Song", and it does end on an emotional note (quite literally).

That said, the fact that the whole thing ended up being a PR stunt for the musician's subsequent world tour and biopic film "Rocketman" felt less festive. Next...

8th place: Moz the Monster (2017)

Moz, I'm sorry mate, but this one just didn't land for me. It seems I'm not the only one: the #MozTheMonster campaign was John Lewis' least successful in five years. Set to an Elbow cover of the Beatles song "Golden Slumber", the 2017 advert depicts a boy befriending the monster under his bed. But with a distinct shortage of festive cheer and an ending that lacks the emotional oomph of its predecessors, this feels like a tired reiteration of a formula that has worked before. I find it hard to connect to such a relentlessly goofy-looking creature: the giant toothy smile and nose of a Proboscis monkey don't lend themselves to a huge emotional range. A nice concept, but it didn't live up to the hype.

7th place: Buster the Boxer (2016)

Dog on a trampoline! You can't go wildly wrong. John Lewis went a different route in 2016, with a semi-spoof of their classic format. The little foxes, hedgehog, and the darling badger were all wonderfully animated. Perhaps the ending rendered a slight nose-exhale of a laugh. A bit of fun, but it didn't fill the John Lewis Christmas Advert void that starts to bubble up come November. Keep the dog on a trampoline, but make it make me cry.

6th place: Give a Little Love (2020)

This year's advert improved exponentially when I heard about the initiative behind it: John Lewis partnered with several small creatives struggling in light of the pandemic to create the different animation styles that run throughout. I'm glad the "2020 has been a rough year" messaging wasn't too on the nose, but was there in subtle ways like the NHS fob key round the boy in the bus's neck and the wholesome messaging about the power of a good deed.

I don't want to criticise the hard work of the animators, but I have to ask: what is going on with that crusty, crusty pigeon?! And why on earth did the sweet little girl turn briefly into a potato on the bus!

5th place: Excitable Edgar (2019)

I would die for Edgar. John Lewis created the most loveable and expressive little dragon- eyes brimming with innocence- would not hurt a fly but damned by the fiery outbursts caused by his own good-willed enthusiasm for Christmas. Poof, there goes the Christmas tree! Whoops, melted ice rink! Gut-wrenching stuff.

The Bastille cover made for an untacky backing track, the medieval scenery was sufficiently festive, and the ending landed the same way Christmas dinner does: with a Christmas pud. This hits the spot.

4th place: The Man on the Moon (2015)

An impressively powerful telescope and very robust helium balloon make for a surprisingly touching advert about loneliness at Christmas time. Logic has no place in John Lewis' 2015 offering, but taken as a symbolic message about showing your old Gran she's loved this festive season, it did make me well up.

According to Age UK, almost a million old people feel more lonely over christmas, nearly half of whom have been widowed. This one shows the power of a simple concept, an important message and some well done acting. Even if it did cost £7 million to make and they didn't even leave the planet...

3rd place: The Long Wait (2011)

The Christmas advert that started it all. The 2011 rendition brought back everyone's childhood thrill of Christmas time. There's something distinctly truthful about the way they portrayed that feeling of the lingering stretch of December as a child, the little brother looking concerned in his Gruffolo costume, the boy speed-eating his peas, running past the mince pie and milk and leaping into bed on Christmas eve. And then boom, the emotional crux: it was all about a scruffily-wrapped present for his Mum and Dad. Just lovely.

2nd place: Monty the Penguin (2014)

John Lewis's creative team spent the months before researching Adelie penguins and their distinctive waddles before the creation of Monty. Each movement was based on a reference shot from real footage: the penguin rummaging around for lego is based on how the penguins gather rocks, the splashing around in a London park lake corresponded with footage of actual Adelies swimming in arctic caps. The result is a hyperreal depiction of a little boy's imaginary friend, a penguin called Monty who just wants a penguin pal.

This plays on everything I could have a dreamed of as a child: a real life penguin best mate to sneak fish fingers to and watch Pingu with! Tom Odell's cover of "Real Love" is shmaltzy in the best way, and the fading choral whirls of "it's real love" swell to an emotional peak at the reveal of a new friend for what was a scruffy, over-loved stuffed toy all along.

1st place: The Bear and the Hare (2013)

Set in a snowy forest with woodland creatures, a giant Christmas tree and set to a Lily Allen cover of "Somewhere Only We Know", this John Lewis Christmas Advert has it all. The artists behind the original Lion King get to reignite old-school Disney animation techniques for the first time in years, a talent little used since the advent of digital animation techniques. Each woodland creature is meticulously hand drawn and the miniature woodland sets are all handmade with real pine and moss and tweezer-wrapped presents.

The storyline packs a punch too: the bear has never seen Christmas (!), and the distress of his best friend, the hare, whose ears drop as he retreats for his annual hibernation, is every bit as expressive as the 2D animations we watched growing up. But this year he is awoken to the simple gift of an alarm clock, and his eyes widen at the sight of a glowing Christmas tree for the first time. You can take my bloody money, John Lewis, I guess I'll be buying that gift set after all. This makes me weep every time.

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