The Snowman (Dianne Jackson, 1982): UK

Reviewed by Richard Feilden.  Viewed on DVD.

I’m going to start this holiday season of film reviews with a film that, for me, is the holidays.  I can remember the year it was released, the stories on children’s television shows about the choirboy who lent his vocal talents to the soundtrack and the excitement with which we awaited its premiere.  That film is the twenty seven minute short, The Snowman.

Based on a book by Raymond Briggs, The Snowman is a deceptively simple tale.  It recounts the story of a small boy who, excited by the snow he discovers outside his window, builds himself a snowman which, late at night, comes to life.  The boy introduces the snowman to his world, and then his frosty friend returns the favor.  Superficially straightforward then, but looks can be deceiving.

Looks are the first thing that you will notice about The Snowman.  In an age of hyper-realistic computer generated animation, The Snowman’s hand drawn images are a welcome change.  Flickering like fairy lights or an open fire as they are redrawn from frame to frame, they carry a charm in their inconsistency which is missing from many more sterile, modern productions.

Something that this film is missing is the spoken word.  Apart from the introduction by the book’s author (replaced inexplicably by David Bowie when the short was shown on American TV) the film contains no dialogue.  Even the soundtrack is wordless, save for the magical flying scene during which choirboy Peter Auty lends his voice to the proceedings.  Reminiscent in this way of this year’s WALL-E, this silent picture feel only adds to the nostalgia that the film manages to evoke.

All this talk of simplicity may have you thinking that this is a sentimental child’s animation and frankly not worth your time.  You could not be more wrong.  True, this is a story of an innocent love and of a child’s ability to succumb to a world of magic and make believe, but it manages to avoid descending into schmaltz quite brilliantly.  It has moments of suspense and surprise and manages to develop its characters over its short, silent running time quite brilliantly.  It also refuses sentimentality by ending in the only way that a tale featuring a snowman can; the final shot might be upsetting for small children – be warned, even the most hardened viewer might find that the room has become ‘a little dusty’ when the credits roll.

My other holiday reviews might take a more tangential approach to the season of good-will, but I have started with the film which my family always ends up watching come Christmas Eve.  My normal, cynical reviews will resume shortly, but for now I commend to you a moment from my childhood.  If you can find a copy, give half an hour to The Snowman.

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