And what a better way to start off on the topic of Christmas specials with one of the most well-known Christmas specials of all, Frosty the Snowman.
Produced by Rankin/Bass, aka the people who cranked out a bazillion other really memorable Christmas specials that crop up on cable whenever December strikes, Frosty the Snowman is a fondly remembered special that ranks on many people's favorite holiday specials' list, partly because the animators took the easy way out and created something that already had its plot laid out in the form of a song. Oddly, when I brought this topic up around my fellow peers, the answer was always the same. They remembered liking it, but no one could ever give me a single description of any scene that happened in the film. Everyone just remembered a singing snowman, a magic hat, and kids that would dance around their hideous animated golem. I mean, geez, the special runs at a full thirty minutes. There has to be something.
So thus, I began my mystical journey. I desperately want to figure out just what exactly is so special about this special. Like a Tim Burton-designed skeleton, I'm going to desperately try to figure out the meaning of Christmas by performing experiments on this beloved children's classic.
Without further ado...
Availability: On Blu-Ray
The instant I fire this puppy up, I am bombarded with the spirit of Christmas. Waves of nostalgia hit my prone, defenseless body and I can't help but smile as I hear the classic music from my childhood. Rankin/Bass just has that effect on me.
...but the moment our narrator shows up and I start to see the actual quality this special is going to bring me, instantly the cartoon shows some age. Because when our Brooklyn native of a narrator talks, you can clearly see that his mouth is on a separate cel, giving him the illusion that he is not a man, but rather a magically animated ventriloquist dummy. I like to imagine that, nine years after this special was over, he starred in a horror film with Anthony Hopkins.
And I might as well point this out. The narrator is Jimmy Durante. If you don't know who he is, then maybe you should put down the Michael Bay movies and watch some black and white films, you philistine.
...or just watch any Looney Tunes cartoon that references a man with a big nose that says ha-cha-cha, since even the classics love their pop-culture references.
|"I will kill you in your sleep."|
We watch as this shower of magical Santa juice turns everybody merry, and is even able to make dogs friendly towards the mailman and for beleagured fathers to suddenly be able to put up with their crappy families, it's just that magical. And what makes this snow even doubly awesome is because it's the snow that's falling right before a school lets out for Christmas break. I'm pretty sure the weather doesn't care about the public school system, but okay, I'll buy it, creepy reanimated dummy. Just don't hurt me or those poor innocent kids.
|That's a pretty short dress for snowy weather, teacher.|
...and is it me, or is this scene kind of mean-spirited? The very first thing we see and learn about this character is that he absolutely sucks at his job even though he really wants to succeed, his own rabbit won't obey him and treats him like a joke, and people heartlessly laugh at his failure. He doesn't act like a jerk during this scene so it comes off as "Hey, look at this loser! Laugh!". That's dark.
|The only reason he's still smiling is because he overdosed on antidepressants before performing.|
Finally, in a fit of frustration, Hinkle just gives up and throws his hat away from him while shouting about how useless it is (so the teacher just stood there and let a man have angry outbursts and throw things in front of her students?), his rabbit runs off with it, and the kids later trample him in their rush to leave school. Some Christmas party, am I right? I wouldn't be surprised if these kids later turn to drugs.
|So if he's Professor Hinkle, does that mean he teaches at a local university and performs this job as a hobby?|
I do love how, while the kids vomit word salad all over the place, one of the kids just kind of coasts along in the foreground on a sled, somehow disobeying both the laws of inertia and the laws of physics. Truly this is a Christmas classic!
|How you can tell that this was animated in a place that doesn't snow: None of the kids are wearing pants.|
And someone get that little girl some pants! Her earmuffs and mittens aren't going to do her any good if her dress is at waist length.
|"Hi, Karen! We both have the same character model but with different colorations!"|
I will give the kids some credit, even though I'm still having trouble figuring out how his limbs would stay in place. That is one awesome, if slightly naked, snowman. I'm a little jealous now, because whenever my family went up into the mountains for the holidays, my snowmen would end up looking like misshapen, lumpy messes that contain just as much dirt as snow. I'm sure if I brought one of them to life, they'd scream wordlessly and thrash about in ungodly agony until the sun puts them out of their misery.
|The kid in the middle is putting the carrot on.|
...and now I kind of wish I lived in a place that gets snow, because now I want to make a snowman with a Batman mask and utility belt. It won't be the snowman my household needed, but the snowman that it deserved.
|Geez, kids. You're not adopting a new pet. It's a freaking snowman. This is not a big decision you have to make!|
|The children in this community are easily amused.|
...wait, the Frosty the Snowman song actually exists in a universe where there is an actual Frosty? That means the kids know what's going to happen. Somehow that makes this scene even worse.
|Awww, they started their own cult and everything. That's so cute.|
Uh, then it's not "the old silk hat they found" anymore. Now it's "the old silk hat they stole". There's a big difference.
|"I'm going to steal something from that guy I laughed and booed at! Aren't I precious?"|
And, now that the terrifying monster has sentience and the ability to move, he shouts "Happy birthday!" because, technically, he did just get born. So does that make all of the children his parents?
I feel bad saying this, but this scene is creepy. Maybe it's the look on Frosty's face when he says "Happy birthday". Or maybe it's the fact that I can't help but wonder if the magic hat also gave him like snow joints and snow organs so that he'd be a working organism capable of performing complex tasks. Would smashing Frosty's head reveal that he has a brain made out of snow? Does he have water flowing through a snow circulatory system? The fact that his mouth is red, meaning that he has tissue with blood in there, only raises further questions.
|"Children. Children are what we require."|
What makes this even worse is the fact that Frosty only says a couple lines before a wind blows the hat off his head and he changes back to a normal snowman, essentially losing the soul he just received. So basically they see Frosty get born and then die right in front of them, all in a span of about ten seconds. If that doesn't lead to intense mental scarring, I'm not sure what will.
|This can only end in tears.|
And where did Hinkle even get the hat anyways? He seems reasonably surprised that his hat is magic, as if he too has grown to accept the fact that he's a failure. Did he make the hat, or did he buy it at a magic shop, preferably one of those creepy, isolated, horror movie magic shops that contains eldritch tomes and possessed dolls? Because if he bought it, he can just point the kids in that direction and get them out of his hair.
|"Kid, you've opened a spiritual portal to unfriendly entities. I'm taking this hat away |
before you summon something murderous."
|"If you ask for the hat again, the rabbit dies."|
Kind of related, but this movie kind of reminds me of how much I absolutely hate children characters in this era of cartoons, because geez, these kids are ganging up on him with their bland adorableness. I mean, sure, Hinkle's a jerk and the wind did just kill a sentient being, but you know what? He said that "this hat belongs in the garbage" line in a fit of frustration after the children were booing at him, everybody in the classroom was laughing at him, and his own rabbit couldn't respect him. Just because they've got cute little big-headed designs and one of them said "Oatmeal!" doesn't mean they're right.
Rest assured, Hinkle Finkle Tinkle is going to pull some incredibly dickish stunts to make us go on the children's side, but right now, my support is for him. And I'm not sure what that says about me when I watch a Christmas special and I'm rooting for the bad guy. I'm so getting coal in my stocking.
|In my defense, who wouldn't root for a man with a mustache that fabulous?|
...and just what kind of soul is transferred to Frosty when that hat's on his head anyways? Is it a pre-existing soul and he's really the reincarnation of either Michael Keaton or a serial killer? Or can that hat just spontaneously generate life? Since it's a Christmas special, the only explanation we're going to get is either "Jesus", "Santa Claus", "Happiness", "Love", or "Christmas spirit", so don't expect them to actually explain the inner workings of Frosty in fine detail.
|It'd be kind of funny if, in her rush to hug Frosty, she accidentally knocks him over and destroys him.|
...wait, huh!? Oh, okay, so the title sequence is in the middle of the cartoon, without any rhyme and reason to its insertion. Smart thinking there, Rankin/Bass.
But as long as it has snowflakes and a credit to Jimmy Durante, I'll be okay with it.
|And there we go.|
Uh, no, Jimmy Durante. If I see someone lose a hat in a blizzard and I pick it up, that doesn't make it mine, no matter what black magic it contains and what miracles it performs. I know I'm harping on this one plot point ad nauseum, but I've had quite a few of my belongings stolen from me just because I left them in an art class, and this line of thinking sounds dreadfully close to the "Finders, Keepers" philosophy. The kids may be cute, but they were thieves, Frosty is stolen property, and if they took this case to court, the judge and jury would be on Hinkle's side. End of story.
|I wonder if Jimmy Durante had a creepy, awkwardly colored face muzzle in real life.|
Also, I like how the children can be found still standing around, staring sadly at Frosty, none of them even moving a muscle. Hinkle Pinkle had time to casually saunter around town and look around in some shops, so these kids were staring longingly at their hideous deity for at least an hour or so. And in shorts, no less. Where the hell are the parents?
|This is clearly a time before handheld videogames.|
|Is this the real life? |
Is this just fantasy?
...and vampires and some zombies can talk, juggle, sweep, and count to ten. Doesn't mean they're alive. Frosty could be a member of the undead and we just don't know it until he starts to infect the children with his ice zombie virus and Karen's skin starts transforming into snow.
|So if Frosty has a mouth and an ass, does that mean he can digest food and go to the bathroom like a normal person?|
...does Frosty even have a soul right now? They never come out and say "soul", but it's downright terrifying to think that this creature can talk, move around, and think, but only contains emptiness within his frozen heart.
|"All knees will bow for Frosty. The world shall be mine!"|
I'm not sure why this is the piece of animation that they use, to be honest, because this is one of the more disjointed and ugly pieces of animation in this special, with Frosty caught in a weird, jerky looping piece of animation while the kids basically slide around the screen like wide-eyed amoebas. But just look at their smiles! They're having such a good time in their low-budget production!
|Meanwhile, all of their parents are wondering where they are, since school let out four hours ago.|
...or, because he's so fat and can't kick his smoking habit, even dancing in place has completely winded him and he's about ready to have a heart attack. Either one works.
|"Kids, Uncle Frosty needs to lay down. All that singing was bad for my blood pressure."|
...I'm pretty sure the North Pole is not the only place where he won't melt. There's plenty of other places on Earth where it's cold all year round. Or hell, just find a decently-sized meat locker in town. That way he can stay local and continuing delighting his cultist followers way into the summer months.
And how come they have to do this now? There's still plenty of snow on the ground! It's the day before Christmas, for crying out loud! He can stay in town for at least a whole month until you have to move him anywhere!
|"You want to take me to the North Pole? You're kidding, right?"|
I also wonder how Frosty feels when he's walking around and stepping in snowman guts.
|Accept Frosty into your hearts as your Lord and Savior, or else he'll murder your children.|
And guess what, even though half the town is horrified, no one actually does anything about it. No one tries to save the children, and no one breaks out a shotgun or a pitchfork in a brave attempt to slay the demon. Everybody's just terrified to the point where they just accept that those kids are goners.
|Yes, when I see a walking snowman, I too like to grab my ass and fall to the floor.|
How does the parade of snow worshipers deal with this? By walking away after confusing the policeman with an existential debate on whether snowman could possibly know about traffic lights if they were just born today. I hate to imagine what would happen in this town if there was a real crime.
|"We have indecent exposure laws in this town, you know!"|
They never actually get their tickets, but I guess that's a good thing, because the last thing I need to sit through is a little girl and a snowman spending several days on trains, making transfers and having to endure screaming babies and people with colds. And just think of the comments they'd get from the other passengers. I wonder if it's considered racist if you make snow puns in a snowman's direction.
Also, I think they copied this scene in Don Bluth's Anastasia.
The girl is sad that they couldn't cheat their way out of a three thousand dollar ticket and says that she doesn't want Frosty to melt. In fact, she's so sad that she hugs Frosty and, at one point, buries her face in his crotch. Hey, great idea, kid. Thanks to your body heat, now Frosty's snowballs are going to melt twice as fast.
|"Aw yeah, that's the stuff."|
As you can imagine, this is a town filled with kids that are not going to make something of themselves when they get older. I'm pretty sure when Karen is sixteen, she'll be in a youth detention center for to her compulsive kleptomania, buying moonshine from Oatmeal Kid.
...wait, train that's heading to the North Pole? I'm pretty sure there was a book and later a motion capture film starring Tom Hanks with that same subject.
|So no one on that train sees the giant moving snowman heading in their direction...|
Remember this girl's face, viewers. She is definitely going to appear on the back of your milk carton if she's okay with taking train rides with complete strangers, especially if they're strangers that like to run around naked while surrounded with children.
Incidentally, I'm sure those grocers enjoyed having people sit on their products for an extended period of time.
|And it was Frosty's best birthday ever.|
...so basically, these kids drove this man to insanity. Thank you, movie. I love this kind of plot development in my light-hearted Christmas specials, just as much as I love to see elves misuse their love of dentistry to alter a yeti's behavior through teeth-pulling.
|"They will drown in their own blood!"|
...although I should look on the bright side. At least this special will never beat The Snowman (the 1982 British classic) in terms of sheer soul-melting depression.
|"Maybe child endangerment and kidnapping wasn't such a smart idea..."|
Between this and Hinkle just totally losing his marbles, I'm going to come right out and say that this is an incredibly dark cartoon for something that begins with kids dancing and singing around a snowman. I remember seeing this as a kid, but I honestly never remembered this part. And, judging by the content, I probably had intentionally blocked this scene from my memory as a coping mechanism. I just remember Frosty being a jolly happy soul, not hypothermia and Frosty coming to grips with the fact that he accidentally murdered his closest friend! Where is this in the song!?
|You could say he's a cold-blooded killer.|
And how the everliving hell did he manage to survive riding upside down underneath a train with no protection from the elements for several hours without looking the least bit fazed by the experience, while Karen's at death's door? Magicians are tough, man.
|All he wants for Christmas is a neck brace and a replacement hip.|
...not buying it, cartoon. I'm sorry, but just because they're this close to the North Pole doesn't mean that squirrels, owls, and deer would suddenly adorn random trees with ornaments and tinsel.
And where the hell did they even get the decorations anyways?
|Even squirrels celebrate the birth of Jesus.|
|So they can stand on their hind legs, decorate a tree, buy Christmas ornaments, |
and build a campfire, and yet none of them learned English. What.
Frosty then consults Hocus (because the rabbit followed them for some odd reason) on who they should get to help them with this predicament, and they brainstorm through a couple ideas like a creative team trying to figure out what their next product is going to be, all while the story just kind of chugs to a stop. I like how the plot point now is "Frosty screwed up so badly that he endangered one of his friends and he needs someone else to help fix his mess for him". Own up to your failure, Frosty!
|You know what this special needs? Karen trapped in the woods for weeks and |
having to rely on her survival skills in order to keep herself alive.
...yeah, out of nowhere, the cartoon is like "Oh, Santa Claus! Oh course!" as if the writers wrote themselves into a corner and needed a deux ex machina to help save the day. But what do you expect? It's a Christmas special. Woodland creatures are decorating trees, kids can just board a train to the North Pole, adults are absolutely useless save for the bad guy, and a giant snowman is having a complex conversation with a magician's traitor rabbit while showing off the fact that he has incredibly articulate digits on his snowy hands. By now, Santa Claus coming out of nowhere is to be expected.
|"I'm a giant snowman. Your argument is invalid."|
I realize I sound like I'm sympathizing with Hinkle here, but it's really unsettling how he went from just being a jerk and a loser to being totally flipping deranged. He was clearly driven to this point of insanity (just compare this Hinkle to the Hinkle at the beginning of this special; the difference in sanity is almost palpable), and he's not going to leave until he has Frosty's icy blood staining his white magician's gloves.
|In fairness to Hinkle, his worst enemy is a giant snowman. That'd make anyone a little nutty.|
...how the hell does that make sense, Jimmy Durante? You can't just pull random powers out of thin air and expect me to be okay with it just because snow was involved! That's like saying that I'll be able to glide effortlessly down a hill made out of meat and bones because I'm made out of meat and bones. Also, eww.
By the way, you can tell that this special was animated by people who never touched snow in real life. Holding a snowball in your bare hands for too long hurts. I can't imagine the frostbite Karen's receiving on her bare legs when she's riding Frosty like that.
|We're walking in the air|
We're floating in the moonlit sky
This sounds like a bold move from Terrifying Living Snow Creature, like he's being all noble and sacrificial in the name of his friend, until you realize that just earlier, we saw him stay far away from a campfire. Frosty knows heat is bad and there were plenty of ways to get Karen in the greenhouse without actually walking in himself. So really, instead of looking like an awesome friend, he just looks inconsistent, like the writers needed a good reason to kill him off (spoiler alert) without resorting to something violent like Hinkle using a flamethrower. Even though Hinkle with a flamethrower would instantly make this special my favorite thing in the world.
...and why is that greenhouse unlocked? The narrator mentions poinsettias, so it seems really strange that the person growing those very profitable and very fragile crops would leave the greenhouse unlocked, allowing some asshole to come and steal his livelihood. People are too trusting in the North Pole.
|Oh yeah, there's no way this could go wrong.|
I love the faces this man pulls, by the way. If you watch this special closely, you can actually pinpoint the very moment his sanity crumbles into a thousand pieces, the very moment where he's suddenly okay with killing a sentient being out of pure spite. Hinkle McSprinkle's just one catchy villain name and a city away from metamorphosing into a full-blown supervillain and having either Superman or Wonder Woman take turns punching him in the face. We have seen his origin story, after all.
|Don't worry, Hinkle. I've heard Arkham's lovely this time of year.|
Santa, as you know, speaks a fluent rabbit.
Santa, as you know, speaks a fluent rabbit.
Pardon my French, but WHAT. Why would Santa need to know how to speak rabbit? That's like the weirdest power you could ever give to anyone ever! Did he take a Rabbit Language class during college after making a dare with the Tooth Fairy? Or does he need to know that language on account he's a good friend of the Easter Bunny and wants to look like a better business partner? What the everflipping hell, Rankin/Bass? There's deux ex machina and then there's this!
|Santa Claus also knows ventriloquism, speed-knitting, underwater demolition, genetic engineering, |
is able to beat Metal Gear Solid 4 with his feet, and can burp "Hungry Like the Wolf".
And here's a cheery thought. Karen got to watch her friend slowly melt in front of her eyes. She got to see every last suffering moment take place in front of her and she got to hear every last dying scream Frosty belted out while every part of his body was reduced to water. I wonder when the moment was that Frosty left this world. Was it when his head melted, or did she get to see his heart fail and then see his lifeless corpse hit the floor and then turn to slush? Either way, she's going to be in therapy for the next 50 years.
|"It was his last day until retirement!"|
|Frosty the Snowman, killed in Vietnam.|
And if you make a Frosty out of completely different snow, would he retain the same personality or would he be a completely different Frosty? Is there a certain type of snow that can make a jerk snowman as opposed to a kinder, gentler one?
|"You know, I probably could've helped you out when you were in the forest, nearly dying of hypothermia, |
but there was no way to wrap a generic speech about Christmas around that experience."
I might as well bring this up. If Karen's friend is dying from the heat and that greenhouse is made out of glass, then why didn't she try to break a way out? Frosty's made out of snow; a little bit of glass shards aren't going to hurt him. Way to fold under pressure like a cheap suit there, Karen.
|Santa Ex Machina!|
|I love the look on Santa's face. He knows this man is unwell.|
So, in other words, Hinkle has been receiving gifts from Santa way into his forties, when I've stopped receiving gifts since I was 18. And I never even tried to kill anyone. How is this fair?
|"So we're not going to take the man willing to commit murder to prison?"|
"Nah, not giving him any gifts seems like a way more fitting punishment."
Oh, and at one point during this scene, an empty can actually pops in existence just in time for Hinkle to kick it in pure sadness. Gotta love a world that willing to provide props for physical humor.
|"Don't make me do to you what I did to Chanukah and Kwanzaa."|
...he leaves her on top of an ice-covered roof, on a house that looks at least three stories tall, meaning that if she slips and falls, she could easily break her neck and die. Wow, Santa's a bit of an asshole in this special.
|And then her family discovers her lifeless, broken body on the front porch on Christmas morning.|
Oh, and Hinkle's good now, I guess, because during the credits, we see him walking around town with a brand new hat. Fastest change of heart ever.
|"No one even cares that I locked some girl up in a greenhouse at the North Pole!"|
Oh, and I just want to point this out. Here is the list of crimes the main characters commit this special:
Karen: Theft, freighthopping, trespassing.
Frosty: Theft, freighthopping, trespassing, child endangerment, emotional and physical child abuse, jaywalking, child kidnapping, reckless endangerment, criminal battery (his cold body wasn't helping Karen's hypothermia), indecent exposure, contempt of cop.
Hinkle: Freighthopping, murder (debatable, considering Frosty could be argued that he's not really a person).
Okay, one crime stands out above the rest (Hinkle was totally the one doing the most villainous act) but I'm kind of pissed off that Frosty doesn't receive any punishment at all from the big man himself. So basically you can endanger the life of a child and get away with it, just as long as you have a song named after you, but god forbid you melt a snowman or else children everywhere will hate your guts. What a delightful Christmas classic.
The Moral of this Cartoon
Committing murder is not the best way to get your magic hat back.
And if a snowman suggests that you stow away on a train to the North Pole with him, for the love of god, please say no.
This didn't age too well, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it.
I think this is one of those films that kind of picks up speed once it gets actual conflict. When it's just kids frolicking in the snow and being bummed out that their snowman can't talk anymore, it's kind of boring, but somehow the hypothermia and the insane evil magician gives it that punch it really needs. It's decently filled with enough Christmas cheer and it certainly is cute, so it has that going for it too.
But compared to the other Rankin/Bass specials, this isn't particularly memorable. Frosty the Snowman is better remembered as a holiday icon than he is as an actual character, and watching this, I can totally see why that is. I just know that Rankin/Bass can do better holiday specials. The animation isn't anything to write home about (although again, this is from the 60's), there's an entire group of children but only one of them actually exists as a character, and Hinkle is never really threatening. Even in the climax, I was never openly concerned for Frosty and Karen.
Plus I know this was made in a different time, but I kind of wish that someone would acknowledge the fact that Frosty was recklessly irresponsible when it came to Karen. It could've been a nice little dimension to Frosty's character that he tries to do things with good intentions but ends up ruining things, but no one says anything about it beyond "Oh, a kid's freezing to death".
But at the same time, I really like the simplistic designs. I forgot to mention this earlier, but the character designs were done by a veteran artist of MAD Magazine, and he really knows how to make appealing designs. Not the most fluid stuff, and the choices in clothing really make no sense, but the poses and the characters really read and everything's delightfully cartoony.
Still, this is one of their weaker specials. Please don't kill me when I say this, but this is a special I'm not going to be seeing every Christmas. Rankin/Bass can do better, there were better holiday specials before it, and there are certainly better holiday specials out now.
But hey, it's good for a nostalgia rush at least.