Original Airdate: December 24, 1982
James is a young boy left largely alone in his countryside home during a a winter of epic snowfall. One day he builds a snowman for companionship, and as luck would have it, the thing comes to life! The two engage in lighthearted mischief until the sentient creature of compacted condensation eventually flies the boy to the North Pole for a party he’ll never forget.
The Snowman is one of the few Christmas specials created in my lifetime that still gets significant play damn near every year here in the states. But more impressively, it has never abandoned its Christmas Eve time slot on the UK’s Channel 4 since it first aired back in 1982.
The air? They’re walking on it
Even when viewed from an animation landscape dominated by computers, the hand-drawn care and craft put into this Holiday favorite is evident right from the introductory zoom, which seamlessly take us across miles of snowy countryside and into the bedroom of our star – excuse me, co-star.
Go back to bed, second fiddle!
One of the ways in which The Snowman distinguishes itself is by being one of the only Christmas specials I can remember that contains no dialogue, so as to remain faithful the wordless 1978 book by Raymond Briggs.
Instead, this story unfolds through lavishly animated sequences directed by Dianne Jackson (credited with The Beatles’ character design in Yellow Submarine) and an immensely evocative score, composed by Howard Blake, that pleasantly punctuates the squiggly, crayon fluidity occurring onscreen.
The original book cover and a popular figurine produced in 1985
Though it isn’t altogether “wordless,” mind you, and that’s where history has buried The Snowman’s goofiest trivia tidbit! The Snowman originally aired with an uber-brief, live-action intro featuring author Raymond Briggs himself, who sets the stage before the scene dissolves into animation:
“I remember that winter because it brought the heaviest snows I’ve ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long. And in the morning, I awoke in a room filled with light and silence. The whole world seemed to be held in a dreamlike stillness. It was a magical day. And it was on that day I made The Snowman.” – Every line of spoken dialogue!
Short, personal, and close to perfect. However, following several initial Briggs-introduced airings of The Snowman in the US, a few years later Americans were greeted by an all new introduction from none other than Ziggy Stardust himself: David Bowie?!
Odd choice… but it’s still BOOOOWIE! Click here to view the entire sequence.
On The Snowman’s 20th anniversary in 2002, UK viewers received another updated introduction from British comedian Mel Smith, which I assume was done to accommodate wide screen televisions. Still, it seems a little unnecessary…if for no other reason than that there’s really no point in updating the timeless. People tune in to see something familiar, something traditional. You’ve already managed to strike a chord with viewers year after year, so what’s the point?! NEEEERD RAAAAGE!!!
Sort of like a Calvin and Hobbes who don’t question authority
With no catch phrases, licensed music, or celebrity appearances you could say that The Snowman is nearly impossible to date. It’s a stone-simple tale of a boy and his imaginary friend that should have no trouble appealing to television viewers of all ages, especially when wrapped in the shell of the Christmas season. Besides, you’d think if they were going to adapt anything to modern times, it’d be the scene where James and Snowy steal a motorcycle!
Note: DO NOT CUT THIS!
Barring a little Grand Theft Auto (they returned it!), the boys spend the bulk of the 26 minute special engaging in childish hijinks, until Snowman experiences a bit of homesickness while playing unattended in an unlocked freezer (again, no edit please!). And that’s when things get batshit beautiful:
The Snowman takes young James by the hand and they zip over mountain tops, oceans, and several other landmarks I’d presumably recognize if I’d ever been to England.
It’s truly a gorgeous sequence thanks to the breathtaking floating camera effects generally not associated with televised animation of the day, and the hauntingly sweet song that accompanies the flight, entitled “Walking in the Air.” I could try and describe it with more incoherent babble, but you wouldn’t you rather just watch it?
Each and every scene of the pencil-etched serenade is astounding to behold, but this especially is one of those TV moments that never fails to give me goosebumps year after year.
The fact that none of the other attendees bothered to bring a human shows we have a ways to go in snowpeople relations
James and the Snowman land at what we can assume to be the North Pole, with a gaggle (I can say that because they flew in formation) of other snowmen in tow, just in time for the Christmas party to end all Christmas parties!
These snowmen ’bout to set it off!
And if reanimated clumps of weather drunk off their asses weren’t enough to delight the kid in all of us, James gets to meet the one and only Santa Claus…
You’ve all fantasized about it!
…who then chauffeurs James around the arctic shindig of hard partying snowmen as the guest of honor! And if that weren’t enough to send the 10-year-old inside you into a jealous rage, Mr. Claus even introduces him to a couple of reindeer before giving him his Christmas gift early!
TRIVIA: The name tag on that present is how we know the boy’s name
Oh, a scarf… The very same one you saw Mr. Bowie wearing above. But if you think flying all that way to the North Pole in your pajamas for inexpensive winter wear is a bit of a letdown… well, then you probably also forgot The Snowman’s ending.
I was too lenient on Christ yesterday so 0 out of 5 Crosses! (He’ll get over it.) Whatever your belief in the man, can’t we all agree that until the savior adopts a better wardrobe, he is utterly ill-equipped to survive in an Arctic climate?
Big Time Amazing! It’s quite humanizing to see the big guy cutting loose the day before a horrendous shift. Plus, his first appearance makes for one helluva climax!
Wow! Our first 5-Baller! Though I doubt many of you will dispute me. If you’re my age, you’ve probably seen it a hundred times. If not, you can probably remember Nickelodeon running short infomercials for The Snowman on VHS year round. That shouldn’t really qualify it as more spirited, but for the purposes of this blog, it sorta does…
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Support the site!)
The Snowman is available on DVD with the David Bowie intro listed as a special feature, although many people have complained that the disc does not in fact include it. I can’t imagine that should hamper your enjoyment, but you’re free to continue looking since there are about a thousand different versions available. The book is a fine expensive choice, and I never knew that plushie existed so I bought it immediately.