Directed by Dianne Jackson
Music by Howard Blake
Based on the children’s book by Raymond Briggs
Iconic and ethereal, this silent animated short film based on the popular 1978 book by Raymond Briggs, is one of the most celebrated facets of Christmas culture - from the nostalgic animation to the instantly recognisable orchestral theme “Walking in the Air”. So what is it about this scriptless and slightly hokey cartoon that has audiences utterly snowballed?
From the outset, there is something dreamlike about Diane Jackson’s short animated film. The setup is simple; a boy playing in the snow at Christmas time makes a snowman, adorning it with some of his own clothes. Soon after, the snowman comes to life and the two of them enjoy an adventurous night of boundless joy, getting into countless hijinks as well as taking to the night skies to the aforementioned song, beautifully sung by Peter Auty. Whilst the premise is relatively linear, the emotional momentum during The Snowman is nothing short of nauseating - but in a good way. The unnamed boy faces a full range of pleasures and dangers in such a short space that only a child would be able to cope with the dizzying effects it must have had psychologically.
Thematically, Briggs’ story has a lot buried beneath the snow - rendering heartfelt commentary on innocence, isolation, freedom and life’s unrivalled recklessness that soon becomes tamed. The fact that the boy gives something of himself to the snowman, which then comes alive, posits a delightful notion that camaraderie and companionship are available to all with a generous character, that truly rewarding friendship will only arrive to those willing to sacrifice for it. Furthermore, the imaginative qualities of the plot, and the escapist feeling of Jackson’s treatment, highlights the universality of The Snowman’s appeal - watchable by any viewer anywhere.
Music has always been essential in silent cinema, as well as in short films where the need to shift pace dramatically can be an immediate requirement. Howard Blake’s tentative and soulful score must be considered as one of the best film scores of all time. From the light plinky plonky moments of light-hearted fun, to the mildly perilous wooded sequence on the motorbike, Blake adds huge depth with his melodies. He also manages to not only keep up with the quickly shifting pace, but control it to some degree, in a masterful display of musical expertise.
Sometimes there are things about Christmas which we can never throw away. And whilst sometimes the short film may seem outdated (this ain’t no Pixar), The Snowman is an example of art defining the form not the time and will live on as a deeply affecting piece.