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Toonhound presents...






  Short British Films &  TV Specials

      The Snowman 

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 The Snowman   (1982)
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producers:  A Snowman Enterprises
                        production for Channel 4,
                        made at TVC London
     animation:  2D animation
        run time:  24mins

    "I remember that Winter, because it brought
     the heaviest snow that I'd ever seen..."


    One Christmas, a young boy called James builds a snowman in his back
    garden and is amazed to discover that his creation comes to life...

    What can one say about this classic film? - It's based upon the picturebook
    by Raymond Briggs, and animated by TVC London, under the stewardship
    of John Coates. And frankly, it's faultess. The production team bring the
    tale to life with impecable skill. The retelling features a spoken introduction,
    new scenes, a song, and a wholly new encounter but it remains brilliantly
    faithful to its source. Briggs' soft-crayoned panels come to life, frame
    by mesmerizing frame. And they do so wordlessly. You see, like the
    book, the story is told without words or dialogue. Every event and
    emotion is thus relayed through action and music. What's more, it's all
    handmade here, folks, in an era devoid of digital effects and computer
    enhancements, and it's precisely why the film continues to beguile and
    delight, a quarter of a century after it first premiered.

    The story is oh-so simple. James' snowy friend gets a tour of the house
    and garden. He sees how the boy lives, has some fun with the everyday
    objects in the boy's strange world. In return, the Snowman takes James
    aloft with him on a fantastic night flight through the snow, over the hills
    to the sea and beyond to... well... there's no desire here to spoil all the
    surprises in store for those who haven't seen this film. But it must be
    asked, is there anyone out there who hasn't yet seen this?
    After its premiere in 1982, this BAFTA-winning film became a tv regular
    on Channel 4, during the festive season. Much like the Queen's Speech
    it has since become part of the very fabric of Christmas, here in the UK,
    much like the Rankin Bass films which are broadcast in America.

    Oh, yes. And we have that song and score."Walking in the Air" was
    written independently of the film by composer Howard Blake,
    but when the producers discussed the possibility of a tune for their
    toon, well, it fit the bill perfectly. Indeed, Blake's whole score fits the
    bill, as he embellishes each onscreen action with a musical flourish,
    a hanging note, or a dancing follow-on to the next scene. Little wonder
    it's been ably adapted into a popular stageshow. As for "Walking in the Air",
    the song was an instant chart hit - albeit through curious circumstances.
    And that tune, and the dizzying aerial sequence which it accompanies
    are simply unforgettable.

    Similarly, there is the ending to consider. Painfully sad for some,
    yet so uplifting for others. If you really haven't seen this, you should
    steel yourself for a tear or two - be they of joy or sadness. The film
    is a rollercoastrer of excellence, lifting the viewer up high before
    dropping us like a stone into the icey cold. Raymond Briggs and TVC
    have teamed up again, in the intervening years, and their further
    collaborations have all been equally well made and presented and
    and they've been applauded abnd celebrated around the world.
    And yet... the combination of story and technique here just can't
    be surpassed. What happened at TVC two decades ago was
    utterly unique... like that first winter snowflake... a fleeting,
    wonderous thing that we can never quite replicate...


    David Bowie rembers The Snowman...

    Opening salvo

    Over the years, there have been three different introductions attatched to
    this classic film. 

    Raymond Briggs voiced the original, which features live-action footage of
    of a fellow trapsing over a ruddy Winter field towards a wild copse.
    But the American broadcasters wanted a famous face on board, so in 1983,
    David Bowie popped up in a new beginning. He was filmed in a musty attic,
    perusing his childhood mementoes, donning the scarf that features in the
    film, and recalling the time he enountered the Snowman.

    In 2002, however, in celebration of the film's twentieth anniversary, TVC
    went back to the studio to create and animate a third introduction.This one
    features Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas getting cosy in his living
    room and settling down in front of the tv, just in time for a screening of
    the film. The little intro was animated using the same techniques as the
    original, and plays nicely off the film's status as a fixture in the
    Christmas tv schedules....

    But you know, The Hound still prefers that original. It has an intangible
    quality. It's understated, and the words are spoken by the author himself.
    It's as if the story - well - it's like it really happened...

    Snow joke

» The story takes place in the author's own backyard, so to speak.
        James' house is in the South Downs, where Mr Briggs lives in real
        life, and James and the Snowman fly south to Brighton which is indeed
        just a snowy flight away from the author's house...

» James wasn't given a name in the original book. Instead, he was "named"
        by animator Joanna Harrison. She was dating a chap called James at the
        time of production, so she added his name to the label of the present
        the little boy receives from Father Christmas. And the name stuck.
        Oh, and Joanna went on to marry her James too...

» In a change from the book, the Snowman and James take a wild ride
        on a motorbike (they sit in a car, in the original). Animator Hilary Audus
        was a bit of a biker herself, at the time, so she added her own numberplate
        to the machine!...

» That song. Oh, you know. That song. It's too often attrributed to Aled Jones.
        But he originally recorded it for a ToysRus commercial, which was repeated
        ad-infinitum (sorry) at the time the film premiered, and it later garnered a
        release as a single. The track was a hit, and Aled and the Snowman
        became forever entwined. Meanwhile, the choirboy who sang on the original
        soundtrack was left off the film's credits. So step forward Peter Auty. He
        sung that song first. And he finally receieved his proper credit on the end
        of the film when it was spruced up for its twentieth anniversary, in 2002.
       Now there's one for your Pub Quiz...


    Walking with The Snowman

    Are you ready for a midnight flight?

    The Snowman's magical flight takes us up and away with him and
    James, circling the lad's house before they head south. They pass over
    another small town, with several more snowmen and snowwomen in the
    gardens, who are encouraged to join our friends aloft. Together, they
    cross the South Downs to Brighton, on the south coast. We see them
    fly over the golden palace that is Brighton Pavillion, before encountering
    Brighton Pier, jutting out into the waters of the Channel.

    It's here that the other snowfolk depart and our duo bank east. They
    pass a steaming cruise liner into the North Sea, whereupon they
    turn north for the Winter coastline of Norway, hugging the coast all
    the way to their destination.

James and The Snowman - "Walking in the Air"

    On the way, they're spotted by a young girl who really should be
    sleeping like her sibling, in the bed beside her. Then they bank out to
    sea and encounter a whale. And next... well.. they appear to encounter
    a colony of misguided penguins, on an iceberg. Presumably, these
    southern chaps are merely lost, so we can ignore their intrusion
    upon our journey!

    Father Christmas resides somewhere further north still, in a place
    where we can see the Northern Lights. Certainly, he's no further
    north than - say - the northern locations of Tromso or Hammerfest,
    because his home stands on land, midst a forest of tall fir trees.
    Though the Arctic islands of Svalbard remain a possibility, they
    don't have trees - or rather, anything taller than a few inches!

    After their knees-up with the other snowmen and women, and
    a bit of present-giving, our duo fly south once more, and it looks
    like they take a route that passes over Sweden. As they pass over
    a coastal town we can clearly see a building identified as the
    "Kung Karl Hotell". Now, the Hotel Kungkarl is a very real hotel
    found in Stockholm...

    Oh, but the clocktower they pass tells us it's 6:10, and we've moved
    on already. Brighton Pier approaching once more. James' house is
    mere moments away now, but it's intriguing to see that green traction
    engine, sitting in a field so close to home. Does it have any biographical
    reference? And there's a labrador too - poor fellow, shut out in
    the cold like that... Still, we're home again. Our wonderful Winter
    flight has come full circle...


     1983 BAFTA - Best Childrens Drama
     1984 Tampere Short Film Festival - Grand Prix winner

     + nominated for Best Short Film at the 1983 Academy Awards


     Mr Briggs & Mr Coates
     John Coates and Raymond Briggs have collaborated several times
    since those Snowman days:

    1986 When the Wind Blows

    1991 Father Christmas

    1998 The Bear

    2001 Ivor the Invisible


     See also
       Gentleman Briggs
     Toonhound's fan-site dedicated to all things Briggsian...   


     The Snowman on DVD

     In the UK the film is available singularly, with extras, or as part
     of a TVC double-bill...

     UK DVD
The Snowman special edition
                Region 2 / film + extras / Universal / Nov 2007

     UK DVD The Snowman/Father Christmas
                Region 2 double bill / Universal / Nov 2007


    based on the book by Raymond briggs

director:                  Dianne Jackson         
producer:                John Coates
    sup. director:           Jimmy T Murakami
    exec producer:         Iain Harvey
    music composed
     and conducted by:
    Howard Blake

                                  "Walking in the Air"
                                  sung by Peter Auty
                                  lyrics by Howard Blake

    storyboard:             Dianne Jackson, Hilary Audus,
                                  Joanna Fryer
    animation:              Roger Mainwood, Dianne Jackson,
                                 Alan Ball, Dave Livesey,
                                 Eddie Radage, Hilary Audus,
                                 Arthur Butten, John Offord,
                                 Joanna Fryer, Tony Guy
    flying sequences:    Stephen Weston and Robin White

    backgrounds:          Michael Gabriel, Paul Shardlow,
                                 Tancy Barron, Joanna Fryer
    design sup:             Jill Brooks
    snr renderers:         Rebecca Barclay, Jan Skelsey,
                                  Lucy Humphries
    key renderers:         Mike Adams, Isobel Radage,
                                  Frankie Coventry, Claire Walding,
                                  Michael Heywood, David Baillie,
                                  Millie McMillan, Anne Goodall,
                                  Amanda Severne, Francis Mosley,
                                  Alison Atkins, Jenny Rodwell,
                                  Vicky Emptage, Theresa Wiseman,
                                  Carol Hughes, Glen Whitting
                                  and our thanks to the many other artists
                                  who contributed to this film

    prod co-ord:            Roland Carter
    checkers:                Steve Colwell, Vanessa Clegg,
                                  Anne Kotch, Elaine Koo,
                                  Russel Murch, Hester Coblentz
    editor:                    John Cary
    snr cameraman:      Peter Turner
    cameramen:            Roy W Watford, Chris Ashbrook
    music engineer:       John Richards-CTS Wembley
    orchestra:               Sinfonia of London
    colour:                    Rank Film Laboratories

    20th Anniversary intro

    directed and animated by Roger Mainwood
    with the voice of Mel Smith as Father Christmas


      On the web

      The Snowman
      The official home for James and the Snowman...
      Illuminated Films
      Iain Harvey is now a producer at Illuminated films...

      Roger Mainwood
      And here's Roger's place...

      Howard Blake
      Howard has his own home online too...

      index »    previous »   next » 

© Snowman Enterprises Ltd / F2007