Frosty the Snowman

Frosty the SnowmanSynopsis: When Frosty the Snowman comes to life, he must weather a storm of adventures and the dastardly plans of an evil magician before he can find safety and happiness at the North Pole. An original holiday classic from the team that brought you Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.

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Frosty the Snowman 7.5
eyelights: the clean, sharp art. the catchy original tune.
eyesores: the nonsensical foley work. the poor lip-synching.

“I suppose it all started with the snow. You see, it was a very special kind of snow. As any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic that comes with the very first snow, especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow…  Well, something wonderful is bound to happen.”

‘Frosty the Snowman’ is animated film loosely based on the classic holiday jingle. It was directed and produced by famous duo of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr., who had already made a splash with ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy’. This time, however, they decided not to make it in stop-motion animation.

Rankin/Bass wanted to make the show look a little bit like a Christmas card, so they decided to do it in traditional cel animation, hiring a greeting card artist to design the characters and backdrops. This would be a rare outing for them, and they would return to stop-motion animation for their next holiday treat, ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town’.

‘Frosty the Snowman’ is a half-hour adventure that has Frosty and his friend Karen try to get him to the North Pole, because Frosty thinks that this is the only place that he won’t melt. Their efforts are being hampered by Professor Hinkle, an evil magician whose hat has accidentally given Frosty life – he wants his hat back at all costs.

For about 20 minutes, following Frosty’s “birth”, we are treated to one’s average family cartoon, with our hero and heroine overcoming all sorts of minor hurdles. There is also the standard slapsticky humour, courtesy of Professor Hinkle and his rabbit Hocus Pocus. And let’s not forget the few obligatory musical numbers, which were passable.

Frankly, I remembered nothing of it, aside from Santa’s intervention at the end – and even then my recollection was sketchy at best. It was like watching it for the first time, really, and I quite enjoyed it – even if it was a little simple from a plot standpoint. There was a pleasant, entirely innocuous and even magical quality to it.

In particular, I enjoyed the look of the piece:  The character designs and the animation were actually pretty good for 1969, with clean, well-defined lines and fluid motion. They put as much detail into as was appropriate at the time – considering  that TVs were often still in b&w and mostly never bigger than 20 inches wide. Very nice.

Where it falls apart, from a production standpoint, is with the audio:

For starters, the sound effects could be really bad, sometimes not having anything to do with what was happening on screen or being ill-fitting (ex: at one point, a character tumbles in the snow and it makes the sound of pots and pans!).

Secondly, the voice-work didn’t always match the animation – the lip-synching was off. To make matters worse, the voice of Karen was redubbed by a different actress in 1970 (for reasons unknown) and the new vocals don’t fit the rest.

Still, despite these technical blunders, ‘Frosty the Snowman’ remains a wonderful little film for the young and young-at-heart. It’s not a great television special by most standards, but as a kids’ short it totally works: their attention span and ability to deconstruct detail being limited at best, this fairy tale fits the bill beautifully.

It’s no wonder that it’s been a Holiday staple ever since.

Post scriptum: ‘Frosty the Snowman’ was so popular that it spawned many sequels, most -but not all- of which were made by Rankin and Bass. Although they have all been released on home video, due to various rights issues, they have never been collected together in a ‘Frosty’ boxed set.

Date of viewing: December 9, 2013

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