Film Advent Calendar – Day 3: The Snowman (1982)

Based on Raymond Briggs’ book, Dianne Jackson’s The Snowman has always been a staple in my Christmas diet ever since I was old enough to operate the TV remote. Seeing David Bowie slinking into frame, his dulcet tones setting the scene perfectly before the haunting piano soundtrack and falling snow make way for the opening credits is a moment of unbridled festive warmth.

The tale is a fundamentally simple one, a child builds a snowman, who promptly comes to life. The two spend a magical winters’ evening together, meeting Father Christmas along the way. Airing almost always on Christmas Eve, this hand-drawn, half-hour masterpiece never fails to enthral, and its ethereal, whimsical score by Howard Blake, with its rendition of Walking in the Air, performed by Peter Auty, NOT Aled Jones. Take heed, pub quiz know-it-alls!

One of the most enduring elements of the film is its silent, timeless narrative which works across all languages, despite the quaint, ‘70s design of the boy and his family, which is quintessentially British.

With two-dimensional animation something of a lost art in 2018, seeing something that is not only hand-drawn but hand coloured (with flippin’ pencil crayons, no less) on acetate over hand-drawn backgrounds is nothing short of astonishing. The classic scene where the boy and Snowman walk through the air (well, technically they’re flying), and every frame of the background is redrawn twenty-four times per second must have been a real task. It truly brings the storybook aesthetic to life and is a hypnotic visual spectacle.

In a scene created especially for the movie, a cinematic reveal to rival that of Nick Fury, The Snowman whisks us to the North Pole to meet jolly ol’ Saint Nick himself. It’s a bloomin’ brilliant nod to Briggs’ other festive book which we wouldn’t see get its own adaptation until almost a decade later in Dave Unwin’s 1991 eponymous short.

An original creation, the 2012 sequel is somewhat slavishly similar to the original, in terms of plot. Boy meets snowman, snowman frolics ultimately becomes goop, you know the drill. Only this time, our child POV avatar, whose parents have taken up residence in the previous family’s home, has a new member in the form of an adorable family dog! Left behind are some of the accoutrements from the previous movie. Boy ’82 has obviously moved on (whether by his own volition or assisted by a group of people in white coats), but come on – where’s the love? You guys spent a whole magical winter’s evening together. You just left that stuff under the floorboards without a moment’s thought. Some friend…

The first film is unflinching in its depiction of death, in a lesson that always felt harsh, but never gratuitous; We don’t linger too long to make the scene feel maudlin or overbearing. The movie leaves us with the sobering image which could easily be a metaphor for a child’s pet or elderly relative, or the all-too-fleeting nature of mortality. The haunting piano reprise of Walking in the Air never fails to melt the coldest of hearts. Oh… too soon?

The Snowman and the Snowdog is a little less ruthless, in that the Boy ’12 is given a brand new dog by the combined magic of the Snowman, the collar, and the ancient Indian burial ground this house is presumably built upon. It is rather sweet, but it does call into question what would happen if the collar was removed…

Both films are usually shown back to back these days. While the sequel is undoubtedly a nice little P.S. to the original, it will never capture its spirit or live up to it. It’s definitely worth a watch; the snowdog is absolutely adorable.

Oh, and don’t bother with the 2017 Michael Fassbender remake, it’s rubbish.

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