The Snowman
directed by Dianne Jackson
(Columbia TriStar, 1982)

I've finally found a kids' holiday video to rival The Grinch, and the two couldn't be further apart in theme or style.

The Grinch appeals to my Grinchy response to the periphery around the holiday season: The crowds! The Muzak! The marketing of toys before Halloween!

But The Snowman, a 1982 production for Britain's Channel 4, reminds me how much I miss being a child at Christmas.

Based on the book of the same name by Raymond Briggs, The Snowman has everything I loved then, and still love, about winter and the awe that surrounds the best holidays, minus the wind chill and bitter cold.

And, for parents of small children, there's an added bonus: Viewing The Snowman over and over may not tax your patience like some chldren's videos. There's a brief bit of narration at the beginning (sounds like actor Alan Rickman), but the rest of the half-hour story is told without words, just with a lovely little orchestral theme that echoes in variations without getting mind-numbingly redundant. The only exception to the music-only rule is one song with lyrics, "Walking in the Air," that comes with a magical flying scene.

The animated short's story is simple, but it doesn't get babyish in its effort to make things understandable to its younger viewers. It's smart enough to know that the youngest believers don't need to be talked down to.

The Snowman begins with leap-out-of-your-bed astonishment one morning when little red-headed James wakes to find the world outside has turned white overnight. Tumbling outside, he soon hits upon the idea of building his own friendly snowman, with an apple nose, slouchy hat and old scarf tossed around his neck. That night, checking on his snowman at midnight, James sees him come to life.

And James, who, like most children, spends most of his days getting things explained to him, suddenly gets to be the tour guide, showing the snowman all the wondrous things that fascinate children: the electric lights, the faucets, dentures and music boxes.

The snowman reciprocates. After a moonlit motorcycle ride through the forest, surprising the owls and foxes who usually rule the night, the snowman and James begin to soar through the air -- over beachside Brighton, then higher over the frozen north to a special party, with a special star.

Through it all, The Snowman never loses its sense of innocent adventure or its delight in discovery. The animation is the same as the book's illustrations, a washed, pencilly kind of feel, and the angles of flight and travel are wonderfully dreamlike and three-dimensional. Tucked into many scenes are little details that reward all those parental repeat viewers with some new insight.

Be warned. The ending may cause a few tears unless you can explain where the snowman disappeared to without causing more tears. But there's a lesson in that ending, too.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001

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