25 Days of Christmas: ‘The Snowman’ is full of beautiful, bittersweet wonder

 

Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.

The catch: They will swap roles as Rick takes on reviews of television Christmas specials and Kate takes on Christmas movies. Today is day 24.

The Snowman (1982)

Written by Raymond Briggs (book)
Directed by Dianne Jackson

What’s it about?

On Christmas Eve Night, a boy’s snowman comes to life and the two go on an adventure.

Review

Based on the picture book of the same name, The Snowman is a wordless animated short that is explores, in 27 minutes, children’s relationship with Christmas, and by extension, innocence. The plot is simple- a boy makes a snowman and, at midnight, it comes to life. The two horse around outside and the boy shows the snowman around his house before they go back outside and the snowman flies the boy around the world, eventually taking him to a snowmen party, where he meets Santa and his reindeer. The two return home and the boy scampers inside so as not to be discovered out of bed by his parents. When he wakes, he wonders if it was a dream, but is reassured by the presence of a scarf given to him by Santa. When he looks outside, however, he sees his snowman has melted.

There are a few changes from the book to the film which have a significant effect on the story’s message and tone. All of the Christmas references in the film are original, from the tree inside the boy’s house to Santa and the scarf. The flight, while included in the book, is limited to the immediate surroundings of the house, implying that the entire event is a dream, as the boy isn’t shown anything he hasn’t already seen. This contrasts the film, where the events are proven to have occurred, making the loss of the snowman far more significant. The snowman is easily a stand in for childhood innocence and the magic of Christmas, which is now out of the boy’s reach, though he’ll have wonderful memories of his trip forever.

The film mirrors the boy’s progression from youthful innocence to bittersweet wisdom in several ways. The color palate begins much warmer, as the two play in the house, surrounded by yellows and reds, before becoming increasingly cold and blue as they soar through the sky. The score matches this as well, with playful, light melodies and rhythms at the beginning before, “Walking in the Air”, an original, beautiful but haunting minor song, begins as they fly. More than anything, it’s the decision to end the film on an image of the boy mourning his snowman rather than a happier note, for example, him finding the scarf, that cements its somewhat melancholy feel.

The animation style matches the book perfectly and several quick freeze frames may be recognized as particularly memorable pages. There are a few sequences that are particularly visually striking, including the leg of the flight that takes the duo through the aurora borealis. The colored-pencil style gives a sense of motion to even the static elements of the frame, as well as connecting it to the basic drawings so many of us put up on our refrigerators as kids, and this simple approach is a great choice for what is, on the surface at least, such a simple story. This is a quiet, unassuming film for any audience- younger viewers will appreciate its whimsy and fun; older viewers will appreciate the window back to their childhood. Whichever category you fall into, The Snowman is a Christmas treat worth looking for.

How Christmassy is it?

The main character hangs out with a snowman and meets Santa. On the Christmas movie scale (1=Brazil, 5=A Christmas Story), it gets a 5.

You May Like It If…

You like the book, silent shorts, or childlike wonder and adventure.

Other observations:

Though it was nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar in 1982, The Snowman originally was created for and aired by the UK’s Channel 4.

Final thoughts:

The Snowman is a beautiful, bittersweet look at children’s relationship with innocence and Christmas.

Kate Kulzick




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