A Chilly Reception: Revisiting Frosty the Snowman

Is old Frosty overrated? Cal revisits a festive TV favourite. 

Although general perception of 1969’s Frosty the Snowman seems to suggest that it’s a beloved Christmas classic, this 30-minute TV special is astonishingly undeserving of such a reputation. It’s a moderately clever expansion of the song of the same name, but this Rankin/Bass-produced slice of Yuletide animation lacks the suitable qualities to make it a holiday mainstay. Frosty the Snowman is dangerously drab, occasionally awkward, without a worthwhile message, and lacking in heart and comedy. It has a few charms, but it has not aged gracefully.

As the story opens, it’s Christmas Eve and several children are building a snowman together. The kids affectionately name the snowman Frosty (Jackie Vernon), and he comes alive when the hat of incompetent magician Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe) is placed atop Frosty’s head. But when Hinkle realises the hat’s true power, he seeks to reclaim his property. Meanwhile, the weather starts to warm up, so Frosty needs to reach a cold climate before he melts. Thus, Frosty and his friend Karen (June Foray) set off to the North Pole, with wacky bunny rabbit Hocus Pocus also in tow.

Frosty the Snowman‘s story is a tad difficult to get involved in. You see, Hinkle is portrayed as a two-dimensional villain, but the magic hat did rightfully belong to him, who purchased it and who therefore owned it. Thus, Frosty the Snowman seems to be advocating theft to its target audience of young children. Perhaps this is over-analysing what is essentially just a disposable cartoon to be watched and enjoyed at surface level, but the movie failed to work as simple entertainment for this reviewer. A big problem is that the picture tries too hard to pander to kids, leading to rushed, out-of-place emotional moments. For instance, Frosty ostensibly melts during the climax, but this fails to gel with the picture’s established light-hearted tone. Not to mention, the emotional note is not allowed to sink in – instead, it’s abruptly and jarringly broken. The result feels incredibly clumsy.

Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. were responsible for several classic Christmas television specials, most notably Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But for Frosty the Snowman, the pair eschewed their stop-motion animation techniques in favour of traditional hand-drawn animation, and the results are disappointing. The animation is very dated, with noticeable jumps and jerks in character movement. Frosty the Snowman looks generally dull and ugly as well. While the character designs for Hocus and the titular Frosty are fairly good, the rest of the characters look rather crude and stiff. On the other hand, though, the vocal performances are uniformly good. Narration by Jimmy Durante (in his final role) provides a bit of quirky charm, while De Wolfe and Vernon submitted lively, rich performances as Hinkle and Frosty, respectively. Foray is also fine in the role of Karen, though she’s not as memorable as her co-stars.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Frosty the Snowman is that it lacks a message. 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! commented on the commercialism of Christmas and reiterated the true meaning of the season, while Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer delivered the perpetually relevant message that perceived societal misfits should not be discriminated against. Alas, there’s nothing lying underneath Frosty the Snowman‘s cold exterior. It’s baffling that this movie is held in such high regard.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • June Foray provided the voices of Karen, the Teacher and the other children. However, starting with the third airing of the special, most of her recordings as Karen and the other children were replaced with the voices of actual young children. Her voice can still be heard in subsequent airings of the special in some of the other children’s dialogue. No changes were made to the credits, so the actual child voice actors remain unknown and uncredited. Foray’s voices can be heard on the Rhino Records soundtrack.

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