Following up from the previous post, here I am back on the Channel KRT podcast to discuss the little-known Frosty sequel “Frosty Returns”! What happens when a studio that isn’t Rankin-Bass tries to build their own snowman with blackjack and hookers John Goodman, Elisabeth Moss, and the Flying Dutchman? You get an odd, not-quite Christmas special with environmental overtones that furthers the divide between snow lovers and snow haters. Come listen to us discuss the inexplicable reappearance of everyone’s favorite snow golem on Apple Podcasts, Podcasts Online, and now on YouTube!
“For I’ll be your prince, and you’ll be my…dwarf.” – The Prince’s tune after receiving a surprise audience
I have a confession to make: I feel like I skimped out on Thumbelina’s origins last month. Had circumstances not prevented me from doing so, I would have done a deep dive into other thumb-sized characters in folklore around the world, how they fed into her creation, and the similarities and differences between them. Well this month’s review isn’t gonna leave the history buffs high and dry, baby. I’m going the full hog with Snow White, one of the most iconic fairy tales with a rich, detailed historical background to match, so strap in!
The Fairest One of All might just hold the record for most variants of her story worldwide. In the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification of folklore, she has a category all to herself! Richilde, Gold-tree and Silver-tree, Myrsina, The Young Slave, Bella Venezia, Bright Star of Ireland, Hajir, La petite Toute-Belle, Der zauberspiegel, Rose-Neige, Lé Roi Pan, La hermosa hijastra, and Anghjulina are but a few folktales from around the globe that retell Snow White’s adventures. Each one shares the tropes common to the story we know (a jealous queen, a magical fairness-rating artifact, multiple assassination attempts, poisoned objects, glass coffins, a prince partly responsible for waking her, etc.) though the details vary. For example, the dwarfs who take Snow White in aren’t always dwarfs, or even miners. Sometimes they’re robbers, sometimes they’re the twelve months personified, sometimes they’re purely magical characters like djinns and dragons!
The biggest revelation one can take away from these retellings, however, is that Snow White usually isn’t menaced by a wicked stepmother but her own mother. Indeed, the German oral tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 had the evil Queen be Snow White’s birth mother, until they revised it seven years later to keep the fable more in line with their patriarchal beliefs. See, Jacob and Wilhelm envisioned motherhood as something pure and infallible. They didn’t want to rock the familial boat by suggesting mothers could be capable of spite and cruelty. So they pinned the queen’s jealousy and murderous tendencies on a figure that was already on the outs with the family unit, one seen as new, unfamiliar and untrustworthy: the stepmother. It also doesn’t help that the Queen is the most proactive character in the story, spinning the narrative that clever women with agency and authority are evil, self-serving and dangerous. Between this, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel, it’s not much of a stretch to say that the Grimms are the source of the evil stepmother/queen stereotype that’s plagued so many narratives and even negatively colors real women to this day.
As for her origins, Snow White and her assorted fair counterparts have roots going all the way back to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One story featured within, the legend of Chione (whose name translates to “Snow”, by the way) is about a woman described as the most beautiful in the land, which earns her the enmity of the goddess Diana and the lust of gods Apollo and Mercury. Apollo visits Chione disguised as an old woman and…has his way with her, as deities do (blegh). One could also draw parallels to Adam and Eve and the infamous apple, if you’re willing to dig that deep.
That’s not the half of it, though. Scholars may have found precedence that the tale of Snow White might be based on actual historical figures. According to German historian Eckhard Sander, young countess Margaretha von Waldeck fits the bill for a real life Snow White. She was renowned for her beauty, raised by her stepmother, her father owned several copper mines that employed child labor (which explains the dwarfs), she had to travel to the next kingdom “seven hills” over for a goodwill mission, and she died tragically young; the rumor circulating the court was that she was poisoned. Another theory that was initially tongue-in-cheek but turned out to have some credibility was that Snow White was inspired by Baroness Maria Sophia Margarethe Catharine of Lohr. Mirrors from Lohr were said to always speak the truth thanks to their high quality, hence the Magic Mirror. One such Lohr mirror that still exists was owned by Maria’s stepmother, Claudia Elizabeth von Reichenstein. Claudia is described as a domineering woman who favored the children from her first marriage. There’s a history of nightshade poison growing in abundance in Lohr, a mining town stood close to there, and the glass coffin may be another nod to the city’s famous glassworks. While there are sound arguments disproving these hypotheses, I find it fascinating that Snow White has taken such root into culture as a whole that historians and folklorists alike are willing to connect the dots between the story and factual occurrences.
When it comes to modern iterations, though, the Disney film is the one that obviously stands foremost in the public consciousness. It’s inspired nearly every adaptation going forward since 1937, and Faerie Tale Theatre’s is no exception…
When I made my list of favorite Mickey Mouse shorts, I had a hell of a time combing through his filmography for what I considered “real” Mickey cartoons. This is because a good many films in the mouse’s oeuvre have the supporting characters like Donald Duck and Goofy quickly steal the spotlight from him. And that’s not the only thing they took: as more characters were ingrained into the Disney canon and Mickey was reduced to being a bit player in his own features, the scrappy traits that once endeared him to the public were siphoned away to his costars. And what was left for him once the childlike curiosity, playfulness, brash temper, big heart and fierce determination were gone? What kind of personality could Mickey cultivate for himself into when there was no personality left?
By the late 40s and early 50s, everything that made Mickey enjoyable was scrubbed away into a bland, neighborly squeaky-clean corporate-friendly icon. He was good for selling merch, but his cartoons suffered severely for it. Mickey was paired up with his faithful dog Pluto to keep things more interesting, though that resulted in him getting far more to do than his master. I always thought Pluto worked better as a supporting role rather than the main star, so I’ve never been crazy about the Pluto shorts or these in particular because…well, let’s look at a comedic dog and master duo done right:
Wallace, for all his mechanical ingenuity and good nature, is more than a bit of an idiot. Gromit is vastly smarter and is capable of expressing a variety of relatable emotions despite never uttering a word (though that has less to do with him being a dog and more due to the fact that he has no mouth). Whenever there’s trouble (usually of Wallace’s own making), Gromit steps up to the plate and the two always manage to work past their shortcomings together to save the day. They may not always be on the same level as each other, but their camaraderie and the situations they get into certainly make for an entertaining time.
As for Mickey, he may have been a lot of things in his prime, but he certainly wasn’t stupid. So seeing the resilient rodent who sailed steamships, conducted his way through storms, battled giants, saved kingdoms, slayed dragons and controlled the very cosmos have his IQ substantially lowered just so he could play second fiddle to his pet…well, it feels downright insulting. Pluto’s Christmas Tree was the second-to-last short made before Mickey’s thirty year-long retirement, and it’s a prime showcase for all the problems that come with his extreme flanderization, right down to the fact that his name isn’t even the one that’s in the title.
Ah, back to stop-motion animation. After dealing with Frosty’s nonsense I’m unsure as to whether or not I missed it.
Like most iconic fictional characters, Santa’s been the subject of many origin stories. My personal favorite is The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn, which combines his saintly origins with interesting tidbits about his modern portrayal and a ton of fun historical fiction (he’s helped shape events like Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, and instead of elves he has a boatload of historical figures gain immortality to help him including Leonardo Da Vinci, Theodore Roosevelt and Attila The freaking Hun! It had me at hello!) Of course, Rankin-Bass had to do their own spin on the Santa mythos (not for the last time either as one of their final specials was based on L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus) and they did it by combining it with their tried-and-true method of basing it off a holiday standard.
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.
“YOU HATE FROSTY TOO, YOU MONSTER?!”
“I didn’t say THAT!”
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.
And now we come to the final piece of Walt Disney’s original animation trifecta, Fantasia, and it’s one I’m both anticipating and dreading. Fantasia isn’t just one of the crowning jewels in Disney’s canon, a landmark in motion picture animation, and second only to Snow White in terms of influential music and storytelling in the whole medium, it’s one of my top three favorite movies of all time. Discussing it without sounding like an old history professor, a pretentious internet snob, or a hyper Disney fangirl is one hell of a daunting task.
“Did someone say hyper Disney fangirl?! I LOVE Disney!!”
“I thought you only liked Frozen.”
“Well, DUH, Frozen is my favorite, which makes it, like, the best Disney movie ever! But Disney’s awesome! There’s a bunch of other movies I like that are almost as good!”
“And Fantasia’s one of them?”
“Yeah!!…Which one is that again?”
“The one with Sorcerer Mickey?”
“Ohhhh, you’re talking about the fireworks show where he fights the dragon!”
“No, that’s Fantasmic. I’m referring to Fantasia. Came out the same year as Pinocchio? All done in hand-drawn animation…has the big devil guy at the end?”
“THAT’S where he’s from?! Geez, that’s some old movie. Why haven’t I heard about ’til now?”
“Probably because you spend twelve hours a day searching for more Frozen GIFs to reblog on your Tumblr.”
“Ooh, that reminds me! I need to go post my next batch of theories about the upcoming sequel! Toodles!!”
“Thanks. Another second with her and I would’ve bust a gasket.”