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Traditional fare Spiced up

Roald Dahl, Walt Disney and the Teletubbies are among the Christmas TV highlights. Elaine Saunders reports on festive viewing

There's something about a family Christmas that brings out the traditionalist in all of us - who decorates the tree, when the presents are opened, who washes up - all of it follows a time-honoured pattern. And the television schedulers are also slaves to ritual; movies, comedies, "specials" of familiar programmes dominate the small-screen again this year.

For the tinies - and those students who can be bothered to get up early enough - there are Teletubbies adventures with a Christmas flavour on most days over the holiday period. Times vary, and so does the slot from BBC1 to BBC2, so do check - and be warned that 6.25am is not too early for the little tinkers to be cavorting across our screens. However, they are having a lie-in on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, to a near-civilised 9.40am.

Animation has had a bad press recently, but the best of it offers superb entertainment for all ages. The Lion King is a good choice for Christmas Day (Disney Channel, 4-5.30pm); music from Elton John, the voices of James Earl Jones, Rowan Atkinson and Jeremy Irons, combined with a strong story-line make it one of Disney's most successful cartoons. This is its first small-screen outing.

Then there's The Snowman (Christmas Eve, Channel 4, 7.30-8pm) which you'll have seen countless times, but the ethereal song "Walking in the Air" still sends a shiver down my spine.

For those who prefer child characters with a wicked streak, two Roald Dahl adaptations are being shown: The BFG (Christmas Day, Disney Channel, 1-2. 30pm) and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Christmas Day, BBC1 11am-12. 35pm). Dahl remains the best-selling children's author today, and the films have been praised for not sanitising his stories.

A new animated feature, Father Christmas and the Missing Reindeer (Christmas Eve, ITV 10.05-10.35am) features the voice of David Jason as a careless Santa who has mislaid one of his reindeer at the crucial moment - will he be able to find it in time to be able to deliver all those presents?

Another new offering, this time a drama, is The Canterville Ghost (Boxing Day, ITV 3.30-5pm). Based on Oscar Wilde's lively tale of an American family moving into a crumbling castle inhabited by the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville, it has a stellar British cast - Ian Richardson, Rik Mayall, Donald Sinden and Pauline Quirke among them.

For those who like to look at well-honed bodies doing silly things to each other in front of an enthusiastic crowd, The Gladiators have a Christmas celebrity challenge (December 27, ITV, 6.15-7.15pm). And there's no escaping the Spice Girls: they feature in a documentary on ITV on Christmas Day (3.10-3.55pm) and a look behind the scenes at the making of their new film (Christmas Eve, Channel 5, 5.30-6pm). That other example of girl power, the ballerina, is on display in a Royal Ballet Double Bill (Boxing Day, BBC2, 7.10-8.25pm), with appearances by Darcey Bussell and other stars of the company.

Blockbuster movies this year include Forrest Gump (New Year's Day, BBC1, 9-11.15pm), starring Oscar-winning Tom Hanks as the slow-witted but warm-hearted hero. Then there's the jolly, live-action version of the cartoon series The Flintstones, starring John Goodman (Mr Roseanne) as Fred (Boxing Day, BBC1, 6.35-8pm) and Hook! (Boxing Day, BBC1, 1.35-3.50pm). Hook! is Steven Spielberg's version of the Peter Pan story: Robin Williams is an adult Peter who must reclaim his youthful self while searching for the lost children; Dustin Hoffman is the villain and Julia Roberts Tinkerbell.

Over on ITV the winsome Macaulay Culkin is in Home Alone 2 - Lost in New York, encountering again the bumbling villains from the original Home Alone film, and the first in the series of the many Superman films is being shown on December 29 (ITV 3.10-5.40pm).

On December 27, nature-lovers can enjoy a night of indulgence, (BBC2 6.30pm-12.30am), and there are programmes on the Asian elephant (December 21, Channel 5, 8-9pm) and the wolf (New Year's Eve, BBC1, 8-8.45pm), plus a Pet Rescue special (December 22, Channel 4, 8-8.30pm).

Diana: The Weekend the World Stood Still looks back at the extraordinary outpouring of emotion following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales (New Year's Eve, ITV, 4.10-5.40pm). The Trouble with Diana (December 21, Channel 5, 7-8pm) examines the sometimes difficult relationship she had with the royal family, and a Princess Diana Special (December 28, ITV, 8-9pm is a celebration of her life and work.

Finally, I've heard lots of people say that the Time Team is the best thing on television. While their fans eagerly await the new series there's a special on December 28 (Channel 4, 8-9pm). Tony Robinson and the amiable archaeologists review the past five years of frantic digging and give updates on the various sites they've investigated over that period.

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