Why I still love ‘The Snowman’

‘We’re walking in the air / We’re floating in the moonlit sky / The people far below / Are sleeping as we fly.’

37 years after it was first broadcast on Channel 4, The Snowman is still a much-loved seasonal TV tradition in the UK. A 27-minute animated tale based on and expanded from Raymond Briggs’ 1978 picture book, it has a special place in the hearts of many people. I’m one of them. I must have watched The Snowman 100 times. While I’ve outgrown most of the things I liked as a child, I still find this one enchanting.

There are several elements which make it such a success. The dreamy quality of the animation, rendered by hand in pencil crayon. The magical story of a boy whose snowman comes to life. The excitement of waking up to a thick blanket of snow (now quite rare, at least where I live). That ‘Walking in the Air’ sequence as the snowman and boy soar over the British countryside and on to Scandinavia, over the swelling sea and arriving at the North Pole. Most important of all is the music. There is no dialogue or voiceover, so the sound is key to the atmosphere, emphasising the comedy moments, the tension, the magic.

I always get so involved in the story that I totally forget what’s coming, which explains why I feel devastated by the ending every time. It’s a cleverly simple ending – I don’t know how else it could end – but it still leaves me in need of a hug. My DVD version has David Bowie (a fan of Briggs’ work) introducing the tale, putting on a blue scarf patterned with snowmen, as if he was the boy in the animation, who by the way is called James (it’s on the label of the parcel given by Father Christmas). Regarding the scarf, I always found it a disappointing present. Poor James is at the North Pole – couldn’t he have gloves too? And a hat? And also something fun, in addition to the practical things? But to his credit, James is happy with what he’s given. If he’d have preferred a BMX bike and a Lego train set, he keeps quiet about it. And of course, it’s often noted that children used to be happier, with less material wealth.

I will never tire of watching The Snowman. It will always be magic.

Low-resolution poster sourced from Wikipedia.

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