The Snowman is a 1982 British animated television film and symphonic poem based on Raymond Briggs' 1978 picture book The Snowman. It was directed by Dianne Jackson for the British public service Channel 4. It was first shown on 26 December 1982, and was an immediate success. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and won a BAFTA TV Award.
|Based on||The Snowman|
by Raymond Briggs
|Directed by||Dianne Jackson|
|Music by||Howard Blake|
|Running time||26 minutes|
|Production company||TVC London|
|Original network||Channel 4|
|Original release||26 December 1982|
The story is told through pictures, action and music, scored by Howard Blake, and is wordless, with the exception of the central song "Walking in the Air". The orchestral score was performed in the film by the Sinfonia of London and the song was performed by Peter Auty, a St Paul's Cathedral choirboy.
The special ranked at number 71 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, a list drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, based on a vote by industry professionals. It was voted number 4 in UKTV Gold's Greatest TV Christmas Moments. It came third in Channel 4's poll of 100 Greatest Christmas Moments in 2004. Its broadcast, usually on Christmas Eve, has become an annual festive event. A sequel, The Snowman and the Snowdog, was released in 2012.
The Snowman is a wordless children's picture book by Raymond Briggs, first published in 1978 by Hamish Hamilton in the United Kingdom, and published by Random House in the United States in November of the same year. In the United Kingdom, it was the runner-up for the Kate Greenaway Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book illustration by a British writer. In the United States, it was named to the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award list in 1979.
Iain Harvey, the film's executive producer and publisher at Hamish Hamilton, recalls that the book had initially sold well, but a second print had been less successful with 50,000 unsold copies sitting in a warehouse, which he attributes to the lack of dialogue which prevented it being read as a bedtime story. In 1980 he was contacted by producer John Coates from TVC (Television Cartoons) with an idea of adapting the book for an animated film, for which he gave his consent.
In March 1982, Coates presented an "animatic" storyboard version with a basic piano track by Howard Blake, including an early version of "Walking in the Air" to commissioning executives at the fledgeling Channel 4, a new public service television company which was due to begin broadcasting in November 1982. The director Dianne Jackson had worked with Coates on The Beatles' Yellow Submarine and had mainly worked on short animations and commercials; this was her first time directing a longer animated film. As a result, the experienced animator Jimmy T. Murakami was brought in to supervise. The film was produced using traditional animation techniques, consisting of pastels, crayons and other colouring tools drawn on pieces of celluloid, which were traced over hand drawn frames. For continuity purposes, the background artwork was painted using the same tools.
The story was expanded to fill 26 minutes and include a longer flying sequence which takes the boy to the North Pole and a party with Father Christmas which is not present in the picture book. The animators also brought in personal touches - a static sequence with a car is replaced by a motorcycle ride, as one of the animators was a keen motorcyclist and it was noted by Iain Harvey that this sequence kept "the action flowing after all the fun and comedy of the boy and the Snowman exploring the house and forming a friendship – and what could be better than a midnight run in a snowy landscape". Similarly, although the boy in the book is unnamed, in the film he is named "James" on his present tag, added by animator Joanna Harrison as it was her boyfriend's (later her husband) name. Interviewed in 2012, Raymond Briggs recalls that he thought "'It's a bit corny and twee, dragging in Christmas', as The Snowman had nothing to do with that, but it worked extremely well."
The boy's home appears to be located in the South Downs of England, near to Brighton; he and Snowman fly over the Royal Pavilion and Palace Pier. Raymond Briggs has lived in Sussex since 1961, and the composer Howard Blake was also a native of the county.
The production team contacted Howard Blake early in the production, as they were having difficulties finding the right tone for adapting the wordless picture book. Blake suggested that the whole film should not feature dialogue, but instead a through-composed orchestral soundtrack. He recalls the song "Walking in the Air" was written some years earlier during a difficult period in his life, and the song formed the main theme for the work.
Howard Blake's orchestral score was performed in the film by the Sinfonia of London. The song "Walking in the Air" is sung in the film by chorister Peter Auty, who was not credited in the original version. He was given a credit on the 20th anniversary version.
The song was covered three years later by Welsh chorister Aled Jones in a single which reached #5 in the charts in the United Kingdom. Jones is sometimes incorrectly credited with having sung the song in the film. Blake's soundtrack for The Snowman is often performed as a standalone concert work, often accompanying a projection of the film or sometimes with a narrator (the version for narrator was first performed by Bernard Cribbins in Summer 1983).
"I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snow I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day... and it was on that day I made The Snowman." - Raymond Briggs in the original introduction to the film.
After a night of heavy snowfall, a boy named James wakes up and plays in the snow, eventually building a large snowman. At the stroke of midnight, he sneaks downstairs to find the snowman magically comes to life. James shows the snowman around his house, playing with appliances, toys and other bric-a-brac, all while keeping quiet enough not to wake James' parents. The two find a sheeted-down motorcycle in the house's garden and go for a ride on it through the woods. Its engine heat starts to melt the snowman and he cools off in the garage freezer.
Seeing a picture of the arctic on a packet in the freezer, the snowman is agitated and takes the boy in hand, running through the garden until they take flight. They fly over the South Downs towards the coast, seeing the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Palace Pier, and north along the coast of Norway. They continue through an arctic landscape and into the aurora borealis. They land in a snow-covered forest where they join a party of snowmen. They eventually meet Father Christmas along with his reindeer; he gives the boy a card and a scarf with a snowman pattern. The snowman returns home with James before the sun rises and the two bid farewell for the night.
On Christmas Day the following morning, James wakes up to find that the snowman has melted, leaving only his hat, scarf, coal eyes, tangerine nose, and coal buttons in a pile of melted snow. James kneels down by the snowman's remains while holding his scarf, mourning the loss of him.
The original introduction on Channel 4 features the author Raymond Briggs walking through a field in rural Sussex describing his inspiration for the story, which then transitions into the animated landscape of the film. The film's executive producer Iain Harvey had received interest in the film from U.S. networks and for a VHS release. However, he noted that "in the US programmes were sponsored, and to be sponsored you needed a big name". Various names such as Sir Laurence Olivier and Julie Andrews were suggested, but a request for a rock star led to David Bowie being involved. He was a fan of Briggs' story When the Wind Blows and later provided a song for its animated adaptation. In the sequence, Bowie was filmed in the attic of 'his' childhood home and discovering a scarf in a drawer closely resembling the one given to the boy towards the end of the film.
To celebrate the film's 20th anniversary, Channel 4 created an alternative opening directed by Roger Mainwood, with Raymond Briggs' interpretation of Father Christmas recounting how he met the boy. Comedian Mel Smith reprises Father Christmas in this opening. This version is also cropped to fit a 16:9 widescreen format. Channel 4 used this opening from 2002 until Mel Smith's death in 2013, after which they began using the Bowie opening, which in turn returned the film to its original 4:3 aspect ratio.
The film was nominated as Best Short Film, Animated at the 55th Academy Awards in 1983. It won a BAFTA for best Children's Programme (Entertainment/Drama) in 1983 BAFTA Awards 1983, and was also nominated for Best Graphics. It won the Grand Prix at the Tampere Film Festival in 1984.
In the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, a list drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, based on a vote by industry professionals it was listed as #71. It was voted #4 in UKTV Gold's Greatest TV Christmas Moments. It came third in Channel 4's poll of 100 Greatest Christmas Moments in 2004.
The Snowman was originally released on VHS in 1982 by Palace Video. It has been re-released various times by Palace and later PolyGram Video, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment UK after Palace went out of business.
The Snowman was re-released in 2002 as a DVD special edition and again as a DVD and Blu-ray 30th anniversary edition in the United Kingdom on 5 November 2012 by Universal Studios Home Entertainment UK. The 2002 special edition peaked at No.3 in the video charts. The 2012 home video release includes four extra features: a "Snow Business" documentary, "The Story of The Snowman," storyboard, and the introductions used throughout the film's first 20 years. The film re-entered at No.14 on the UK Official children’s Video Chart on 11 November 2012, eventually peaking at No.5 on 16 December 2012 based on sales of DVDs and other physical formats.
The Snowman and the SnowdogEdit
A new 25-minute special titled The Snowman and the Snowdog aired on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve 2012 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original short and of Channel 4. Produced at the London-based animation company Lupus Films, with many of the original team returning, the sequel was made in the same traditional techniques as the first film, and features the Snowman, a new young boy named Billy and a snow dog flying over landmarks and going to another party.
The idea of a sequel had been resisted by Raymond Briggs for several years, but he gave his permission for the film in 2012. Howard Blake was one of the few crew members not asked to return; he was allegedly asked to "send a demo", which he refused citing the success of the original score. The film instead features a largely pop-music orientated soundtrack featuring a song called "Light the Night" by former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows and incidental music by Ilan Eshkeri.
The Snowman has been made into a stage show. It was first produced by Contact Theatre, Manchester in 1986 and was adapted and produced by Anthony Clark. It had a full script and used Howard Blake's music and lyrics. In 1993, Birmingham Repertory Company produced a version, with music and lyrics by Howard Blake, scenario by Blake, with Bill Alexander and choreography by Robert North.
Since 1997, Sadler's Wells has presented it every year as the Christmas Show at the Peacock Theatre. As in the book and the film, there are no words, apart from the lyrics of the song "Walking in the Air". The story is told through images and movement.
Special effects include the Snowman and boy flying high over the stage (with assistance of wires and harnesses) and 'snow' falling in part of the auditorium. The production has had several revisions – the most extensive happening in 2000, when major changes were made to the second act, introducing new characters: The Ice Princess and Jack Frost.
- Granpa, Dianne Jackson's second animated film for Channel 4, with music by Howard Blake.
- Father Christmas – Briggs' earlier two works Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes on Holiday were combined into a film which was released in 1991. It features the snowmen's party at the North Pole from this film, about a year or so after this film's events. The young boy and the snowman from this film are seen in the background during this segment.
- The Bear – another book by Raymond Briggs which was also adapted into a 26-minute animated version and like this film was conveyed through music and action.
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