Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Snowman (1982)

Just as Americans return time and time again to seasonal specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Rankin Bass shorts, for audiences in the UK it just wouldn't be Christmas without The Snowman. Originally shown on Boxing Day in 1982, the first Christmas broadcaster Channel 4 was on the air, it's been reshown every year since. Based on the picture book of the same name by Raymond Briggs, it's as big a part of British Christmas as crackers, tinsel and cheesy Christmas songs.

It's a simple story set on a snowy Christmas, when a young boy builds a snowman. To his surprise, it magically comes to life at midnight and the pair experience a night of wonder and adventure, ultimately flying off to meet Father Christmas himself.

If you grew up with this, it's hard to separate it from the warm and fuzzy feelings that surround beloved childhood memories. Even with the nostalgia goggles removed though, this remains a beautiful piece of work. Visually it's as close to Briggs' illustrations as would have been possible at the time (and on a limited budget). There's a lovely pastel quality to the short's look that captures the original illustrations. The animation is -unavoidably- a little dated but it's still got undeniable charm.

The earlier part of the film, where the Snowman struggles to comprehend the human world, has some classic fish-out-of-water moments. Like the film as a whole, the humour is very gentle and understated, the very opposite of the brash style employed in so much that makes up children's entertainment.


The film's centrepiece however, is easily the iconic flying sequence. The Snowman and the boy taking to the sky and fly over the English countryside is  a stunningly realised piece of traditional animation. UK audiences will even be able to notice recognisable landmarks such as the seaside town of Brighton's distinctive domed Royal Pavilion and pier. Accompanied by the equally iconic song (and subsequent chart hit) Walking in The Air it's a moving and unforgettable sequence.

In just 27 minutes, the short does a wonderful job of getting you to invest in the relationship between the boy and his chilly chum. However, it's hard to imagine then that if this story was devised today that it would end as it does- with the closing moments giving it a heartbreaking bittersweet twist. In retrospect it gives the film extra resonance for adult audiences, evoking as it does the fleeting nature of childhood.

All the more impressive is that this is all done without a single line of spoken dialogue. It's true that music plays a big part but the story is told entirely with the visuals. This is only fitting since the original book it was adapted from was similarly dialogue free.


At heart though, this is just a simple timeless story, beautifully told and a testament to the enduring power of traditional animation . It's not hard to see why it has stood the test of time and become such an institution. The Snowman has been a cherished festive treat by many for a long time now, and will almost certainly continue to be for many years to come.

The Snowman is available on DVD in the UK and US, and is streaming on Hulu (US only)




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