Directed By: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Starring: Jackie Vernon, Billy De Wolfe, Jimmy Durante
Trivia: This special marked the first use of traditional cel animation (as opposed to stop-motion animation) for Rankin/Bass in a Christmas special
Confession time: I was never a big fan of 1969’s Frosty the Snowman. I mean, it’s OK. It has some nice music and tells a decent story, but back in the day, when December would roll around and I’d peruse the TV Guide to see what Christmas shows were going to be on, I never got all that excited when I saw Frosty among the listings. To me, it was always a “second tier” Holiday special, which is how I continue to view it to this day.
It’s Christmas Eve, and a classroom full of kids are sitting in school, waiting for the final bell to ring so they can go outside and enjoy the freshly fallen snow. Not even Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe), a magician brought in by their teacher as a sort of Christmas present, can keep the kid’s attention (besides, as magicians go, Professor Hinkle is pretty rotten). Once school is dismissed, a group of friends, including young Karen (June Foray), build a snowman, which they name “Frosty”. After decorating their new creation with a pipe and some coal for his eyes, they put on the finishing touch: a discarded top hat that a few minutes earlier belonged to Professor Hinkle (who threw it away in disgust). To everyone’s amazement, the hat proves magical after all, bringing Frosty the snowman to life (voiced by Jackie Vernon). After having fun with his new friends, Frosty realizes the temperature is rising, and tells the kids he has to head to the North Pole to keep from melting. Karen, who’s grown very fond of Frosty, decides to go with him. But someone else is tagging along as well: the ornery Professor Hinkle, who, now that he knows it’s actually magical, wants desperately to retrieve his hat. In need of assistance, Frosty and Karen receive a helping hand from the animals of the forest and even Santa Claus himself, but will Frosty make it to the North Pole in time, or will he melt before he gets there?
One of the strengths of Frosty the Snowman is its narrator, Mr. Jimmy Durante, who along with relating Frosty’s and Karen’s story also gets to sing the title song (which is still my favorite rendition of this particular tune). As for the animation, it’s nothing special but it’s good enough (unlike other Rankin / Bass Holiday shows, Frosty the Snowman features traditional animation as opposed to stop-motion). Even still, Frosty always leaves me kinda cold (bad pun intended). To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time wondering why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that Frosty doesn’t feel like a Holiday special to me. Yes, it takes place on Christmas Eve, and Santa makes a cameo appearance, but ultimately, Frosty could have just as easily taken place in January or February (yes, I know they say it was “Christmas Snow” that helped bring Frosty to life, but if that’s the case, why does he revert back to a normal Snowman whenever the top hat falls off?). Shows like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town all have that Holiday vibe. For me, Frosty never did; it was always more a wintertime fantasy than it was a Christmas one.
Again, I don’t dislike Frosty the Snowman. It’s a fine piece of children’s entertainment. But if I were to compile a list of my all-time favorite Christmas programs, you can be sure Frosty the Snowman wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of it.