1970's, 2D animation, animals, animated, animated cartoon, animated special, animation, barney, billy dewolf, campfire, cartoon, cartoon review, Christmas, Christmas cartoon, Christmas review, christmas snow, christmas song, christmas special, cop, frosty, frosty the snowman, global warming, hand drawn animation, hocus pocus, holiday special, Jackie Vernon, Jimmy Durante, june foray, karen, kids, mad magazine, magic hat, magician, melting, paul coker jr, Paul Frees, pointsettas, professor hinkel, rabbit, Rankin Bass, santa, santa claus, school, sled, sliding, snow, snowflakes, snowman, snowy, television review, television special, traditional animation, train, tv review, tv special
Well…this is awkward.
When I first wrote this review, it opened with Cynicism saying “Bad news, Shelf. Since you shat on Rudolph last week, Patreon’s taking money AWAY from you. If you don’t say more nice things about this week’s special, we’re going to have to file for bankruptcy.” Just a fun little way of letting you know today’s post is going to be a bit less harsh than the previous one.
But then I checked my Patreon hours after the Rudolph review went up, and the numbers had shrunk substantially.
It actually happened.
A silly one-off joke I wrote to ease you, the reader, into the review, accidentally came true.
It’s like the universe itself is punishing me for daring to not like Rudolph.
Okay, the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated than that, but nobody actually quit being a patron based on my feelings towards Rudolph, for which I am relieved and grateful for. It’s already been sorted out and I certainly don’t hold this mishap against anyone because of events beyond their control.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. If you can’t already tell, today’s holiday outing is Frosty The Snowman.
Frosty, Frosty, Frosty…yeah, not a big fan of this one either.
Frosty, like Rudolph, was another Rankin-Bass special I lost my taste for due to forced overexposure. It’s light on story and character, the animation is nothing to write home over, and we trade a bunch of subpar songs for one song dragged across the entire affair. But I’ll give it this over Rudolph:
- It’s shorter. Slashed right down the middle of Rudolph’s runtime, Frosty’s only twenty-five minutes of schmaltzy bland holiday fare instead of nearly an hour.
- The only jerk in the special is the clear-cut villain, who’s the most fun character in this thing.
- The cheap stop-motion has been replaced by cheap traditional animation. Not much of an exchange, I’ll take any crumbs of hand-drawn goodness I can get these days.
If I may elaborate on the latter, the designs for the characters and backgrounds are kind of interesting. The man behind them is Paul Coker Jr., who also created comics for MAD Magazine, hence why the characters have a bit of a unique geometric aesthetic but are still kind of…weird-looking. Alfred E. Neuman wouldn’t feel out of place among this cast.
The first thing we see is a bevy of snowflakes and our narrator, comedian, and performer Jimmy Durante. Hey, old school Looney Tunes fans, you know any time they make fun of a guy with a big schnozz going “ha-cha-cha-cha-cha”? Yep, this is him. Durante’s career stretches back to the days of vaudeville, but anyone younger than sixty most likely knows him only from this special.
Narrator Durante waxes poetic about how the first snow of the Christmas season is the kind that gets everyone in the holiday mood with peace and goodwill towards men and all that magic. It’s falling on the last day of school before Christmas break, which also happens to be Christmas Eve. I know most schools are cutting down hard on vacation time, but come on. Mine used to let us out at least a couple of days before Christmas. Besides, you’re increasing the chance of the kids getting snowed in the school and missing the Itchy and Scratchy where they finally kiss!
The teacher (played by June Foray, blessed be her name) has a treat for her students: she’s hired a magician, Professor Hinkel, to entertain them. Unfortunately Hinkel’s a worse magician than Criss Angel. Well, at least it’s a better use of the students’ time than learning algebra.
The only entertainment the kids get out of Hinkel’s act is when his rabbit, Hocus Pocus, hops out of control and he chases him around the classroom. Once the bell rings, they trample Hinkel on their way out to play in the snow. Our deuteragonist, Karen, helps some boys build a snowman. Once upon a time, Karen was also voiced by June Foray, but she was dubbed over by another actress in subsequent re-airings and the current dvd release. Why this is I have no idea. June Foray is the patron goddess of voice actresses. What does anyone gain by covering her up?
Karen makes the head of the snowman, “the most difficult part”.
The kids debate for a time over what to call their creation. If you really want to know why most animation from the 70’s deserves to be overlooked, look no further than this group of moppets. They’re bland, overly cutesy stand-ins of what adults who don’t have kids or remember their childhoods think all children are like. Karen is the only one among them who even has a name. The voices are clearly done by grown-ups; one of them also suddenly dips way low in pitch for a split-second (either someone messed with Adobe Audition in post or he hit puberty head-on in that instant). And of course there’s the one weird kid who suggests naming their snowman “Oatmeal”. We don’t talk about that kid.
Karen settles on Frosty, an acceptable if stereotypical name. They then sway in a circle singing praises to their frozen idol as if they’re worshiping a new god they created. And the song they’re singing is Frosty The Snowman…which means Frosty The Snowman is an actual song in this special’s universe…which means Karen stole Frosty’s name from the song…and no one seems perturbed that the following events correspond directly to the song’s lyrics, right down to Frosty getting his kicks in before he has to go and being halted by a cop…the implications are too much to bear!!
Hinkel pursues Hocus Pocus outside and loses his hat. Karen puts it on Frosty’s head and, as the song goes, there must have been some magic in that old silk hat she found.
I didn’t know this until The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but Frosty’s voice actor, Jackie Vernon, was a comedian – and an amazingly filthy one for the time. I listened to some of his standup and was pretty entertained, particularly when I imagined Frosty saying all those things about sex. Alas, that would also explain why I was doubly disappointed while revisiting this special. Jackie Vernon as Frosty is so…neutered. I get that standard practices of the era wouldn’t allow the subtle adult humor that’s sneaked into most of today’s cartoons, but a great comic can make anything funny with the right timing and ability to turn anything into a punchline. Vernon, however, is given nothing to work with, and his delivery is blasé. Even Hinkel’s voice actor Billy DeWolf got to work in the fuss-y fuss-y fuss-y diction he was known for, and the character is a comic highlight as a result. But when Frosty attempts something resembling a joke, it isn’t funny, it’s cute. There’s only so many times I can take it before my eyes roll over back into my head permanently.
Also, “Happy Birthday”? THAT’S the catchphrase you’re going with, Frosty? I get that you were literally born today, but you’re not supposed to say it to yourself. And he repeats it whenever that hat gets removed then put back on him. Does that mean each time he’s completely rebooted and has to learn everything about the world all over again? It makes wish that when he says that line, someone would follow it up with this:
In order to combat this incessant bit of nonsensical glurge, here are some new coming-to-life catchphrases for our jolly happy soul:
Hinkel witnesses Frosty’s awakening in awe and takes the hat back, intending to use its magic to make himself rich. The kids protest that the hat no longer belongs to him since he threw it away, but he didn’t do that at all. The wind blew it off and Karen was the one took it and gave it to Frosty. If they’re referring to the moment in the classroom where Hinkel denounced the hat and threw it at the wall in frustration, it was in a fit of passion after his magic show went belly-up. He didn’t mean it. The hat was always his, and I’m this close to rooting for him for ridding the world of an insipid arcane abomination.
Oh, and at five minutes, about a quarter into this special, we finally get our opening titles with Jimmy Durante’s famous cover of the theme song. I’m more partial to The Ronettes’ version myself, but this one isn’t too bad.
Hocus, who’s sick of Hinkel’s hokum, sneaks off his head and returns the hat to the children. They revive Frosty, who wonders if he’s really alive. Well, philosophers across the centuries have debated what makes humans “alive”, so I look forward to this in-depth enlightening discussion through the eyes of someone who only recently became aware of their own existence.
…Or we could just devote a minute to Frosty shaking his ass, trying out his new appendages, failing to count and dancing with the kids. Same difference.
See, this is the main problem I have with this special. Most of it is Frosty saying dumb things in a goofy voice and acting like a toddler while the kids cheer and dance around him. It feels like I’m watching an episode of Barney. And I’ve had no desire to watch Barney since I was six.
Also, not to be a downer –
– but Frosty won’t be able to enjoy life for as long as he hopes if he keeps smoking that pipe the kids gave him.
Their fun is short-lived, however, as Frosty quickly feels the rising heat and starts melting. Gee, global warming’s been around much longer than I thought.
The only place in the world Frosty could never melt is the North Pole (at least not for another twenty to thirty years unless we turn things around really fast). The kids parade him to the train station so he can get there ASAP. Frosty marches through the town, shocking all the adults including one pedantic Irish cop who swallows his whistle and presumably chokes offscreen. And here’s another thing that grinds my gears: Frosty already knows what thermometers and train tickets are, but when the cop harangues him, he doesn’t know what lampposts and traffic lights are. If you’re going to make him someone who literally born minutes ago, at least be consistent with the extent of his knowledge!
Karen and Frosty ask the conductor for a ticket, though when they say they don’t have any money, he has a small conniption and refuses them. Understandable, but maybe if they explained that this is for a terminal case then he’d give them a pass. Karen is upset that Frosty is going to melt and acts like he’s a dying friend, yet these two have known each other for less than five minutes. This special’s trying to tell me that they have this deep, beautiful friendship, but all they’ve done is prance around each other and go on a short walk. I don’t buy it for a second.
Hocus finds a train car full of frozen treats that Frosty can hitch a ride on. Karen decides to join them because she’s sure her parents won’t mind her missing without a word for a couple of weeks. Her friends will just tell them she’s gone off with a snowman she just met to find the North Pole and they’ll be ok with it. They’re unaware, however, that Hinkel is hiding underneath their caboose, scheming to reclaim his hat by any means necessary.
The frozen car is fine for Frosty and even for Hocus, but Karen is freezing her little boots off. If only the animators gave her more than just a flimsy coat and some earmuffs. Frosty asks Karen if she’s cold, then stops and says “Now that’s a silly question!”
Frosty and Hocus disembark to find a safe warm spot for Karen. Hinkel leaps off the moving train and tumbles down the hillside in some of the derpiest falling animation ever. It’s the one time I laughed out while watching this special, so thanks for that, Rankin-Bass.
Karen’s condition grows worse along with the snowy weather, but Frosty won’t stop to make a fire, even though it’s cold enough that he won’t melt if he starts one and moves away from it in time. Grow some snowballs, man. They conveniently come across a grove full of animals decorating the trees and Hocus alerts them to the poor girl’s plight. Together they build a small fire that saves Karen from ending like Jack Torrance.
Frosty maintains a safe distance as he wonders what to do next. Hocus suggests seeking Santa Claus’ help to bring Karen home and carry Frosty to the North Pole. It’s a Rankin-Bass special, they’ve got to work in Santa as a deus ex machina somehow. Hocus leaves to find him. Hinkel blows out Karen’s campfire to lure Frosty out and snatch the hat, but Karen jumps on to the snowman’s back and they go swiftly sliding down the snowy hills.
Frosty and Karen find themselves by a greenhouse full of holiday plants. He willingly risks melting some more so he can carry her inside for some warmth. But Hinkel finally catches up to them and traps them in, knowing it’s only a matter of time before Frosty’s gone for good and the hat is his once more. Luckily, Santa flies overhead and Hocus informs him of his friends’ danger. Surely Santa’ll be able to save Frosty in time!
Then, to drive in the sadness, we get Jimmy Durante singing a sad, slow version of the theme song with flashbacks of everything we saw ten minutes ago. They’re aiming for The Snowman levels of depression, but the visuals are all things we could rewind to in a matter of seconds. Plus there’s still a few minutes of the special left. Frosty’s clearly in the middle of his Disney Death. And yep, Santa tells Karen that Frosty is made of some kind of special enchanted Christmas snow which means he’s got a Get Out Of Death Free card and then proceeds to magically reconstitute him.
So let me get this straight – this special, this entire 20-minute holiday-themed distraction for the kiddies revolving around an idiot savant snow golem…is supposed to be some kind of Jesus allegory?
No, seriously, think about it: He’s born not of natural reproduction but from pure virgin…al white snow, his laid-back loving attitude brings attracts the most innocent of children to his side, his enemy is a master of the dark arts (albeit an incredibly pathetic one), he’s snubbed by cynical adults who believe there’s no place in the world for someone caring and optimistic like him, he sacrifices himself to save humans (well, A human) from death, and is resurrected shortly after. So all hail our frostbitten savior?
…No. No hail. I’ve seen this sort of parable carried out by better talent than this. Frosty is a mentally-deficient child-endangering manchild, and if this allegory was intentional, then it barely captures the dignity and charm of freaking Donkey Ollie.
Before Santa places the hat back on Frosty, however, Hinkel shows up to demand it one more time. But he backs down when Santa vows to never give him any more presents for the rest of his life. I thought Santa only gave gifts to children, but I guess he makes exceptions for fellow magic users. Hinkel gives us the best face in the entire special when delivered this ultimatum.
Santa allows Hinkel one more chance at redemption and sends him home to do the old Bart Simpson punishment of writing lines, promising that he might get a new hat if he proves he’s changed his ways. That’s an awful lot of leniency granted to someone who just committed second-degree murder, but it’s a Christmas special, whaddaya gonna do? Santa returns Frosty’s hat to him, he spouts his catchphrase, everyone dances for a bit, and Santa and Frosty drop Karen off at home…on the roof of her house.
The credits play over an umpteenth reprise of the titular song and Frosty declares from Santa’s sleigh that he’ll return next Christmas Day. Oh good, gives me plenty of time to stock up on flamethrowers.
Frosty The Snowman is pretty meh as far as Christmas specials go; heck, even as far as Rankin-Bass specials go, despite the fact that he’s considered part of their holy trinity of holiday classics. Not that you’d know it from its earlier releases – look at the cover for the VHS tape.
There are plenty of Rankin-Bass fans I know who adore Rudolph but look down their noses at Frosty, so it’s nice to see I’m not alone in that regard; yet given the choice between the two specials, I’ll take Frosty for its truncated length, no horrible morals disguised as heartwarming holiday lessons, and easy riffability. Watch it if you’ve run out of holiday fare to distract the little little kids, or if you and a group of friends get drunk and want to have fun giving Frosty the MST3K treatment.
Thank you for reading! Though I highly doubt anyone who’s read this review will want to give me any money after poking holes in this untouchable holiday classic, please consider supporting me on Patreon if you’re able. Patreon supporters receive great perks such as extra votes for movie reviews, movie requests, early sneak-peeks and more! If I can hit my goal of $100 a month, I can go back to weekly tv series reviews. As of now, I’m only $20 away! Special thanks to Amelia Jones, Gordhan Rajani and Sam Minden for their contributions!