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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Special Edition - Frosty The Snowman

One of the best things that I always liked about the month of December is the child-like innocence that people experience. It doesn't really matter whether you're five or ninety-five. I believe that the holidays tend to bring out the need to find joy in simple things.

But while it is true that people can find the joy and magic of Christmas at all ages, I think that when we're children, it just seems as though that magic is most concentated.

But why is that?

I think it's because when we're kids, we don't see Christmas traditions as being work. We only see it as being fun.

One of the many activities that I used to partake in when I was younger was building a snowman out in the middle of our backyard. Growing up in Canada, there was usually a lot of snow to be found on the ground (well...usually, as this winter's been depressingly mild), so building a snowman came easy.

All you had to do was make three gigantic snowballs of varying sizes (keeping in mind that the wetter the snow, the better it worked), and stack them one on top of the other. Then you could decorate the snowman with various household items. We'd grab an old hat and scarf, and drape them on the snowmen, grab a carrot for his nose. Find a couple of rocks for the eyes, pebbles for the mouth. If we could find some under the snow, we'd stick branches in the side of the snowman for his arms. And it looked really great.

Though as a kid, I didn't know that building a snowman was such hard work. When I was a kid, my parents did the more difficult parts, which included stacking the snowballs on top of each other. All I did was dress the snowman. Of course, I think they enjoyed helping me build the snowman because they saw how happy I was when the snowman was finally completed.

And I think that's a great thing for us all to learn. That sometimes Christmas and the holiday season can be fun for people at any age as long as we're able to give our time towards people who need it. Because as we know, the Christmas season is for giving. And, as much as my family can sometimes drive me crazy, I know that they were true givers.

Today's blog topic deals with a famous snowman. A snowman that was first immortalized in song, first recorded by singer Gene Autry in 1950.

A snowman that would end up getting his own holiday special almost two decades later.

Frosty The Snowman debuted on December 7, 1969 on CBS. Produced by Rankin-Bass (a name synonymous with holiday specials), the holiday special remains a holiday staple for children all over the world. It is one of the most beloved Christmas specials still screened today, and was recently ranked #4 on TV Guide's Top 10 Holiday Specials list.

For Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, Frosty the Snowman was a first for them. Prior to Frosty, their previous efforts utilized stop-motion animation. This special used the more traditional cel animation. The reason? The creators of the show wanted the overall feel to resemble a Christmas card. Paul Coker Jr., who worked as a greeting card designer and did artwork for MAD Magazine, was hired to design Frosty and all the other characters in the show. The show was animated by Japanese company Mushi Production, spearheaded by Osamu Dezaki, and writer Romeo Muller (who also had worked on Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer) worked on the storyboard for the half hour program.

The voice cast of the special was filled with quite a few heavyweights at the time it was produced. Jackie Vernon was cast as the role of Frosty, and I might add that he did such a good job with the role that I can't imagine anyone else even attempting to play Frosty. I know John Goodman and Bill Fagerbakke both played Frosty in future Christmas specials, but to me, Jackie is THE Frosty. Jimmy Durante was cast as the narrator of the show.

Here's some trivia for you all though. Initially when the show was first broadcast in 1969, the voice of Karen was done by veteran voice actress June Foray (who you probably know best from Bugs Bunny cartoons where she played Granny). The following year, however, most of Foray's dialogue was replaced by an uncredited actor. It's still unknown as to why Foray's work was removed from the special just one year later, but one common theory is that there was a controversy over royalties and/or copyrights. It could also be because Foray was under contract with Warner Brothers, and by working for Rankin-Bass, it could have been a breach of contract. At this point, it's hard to say why this was the case.

Most of you know how the story goes. Frosty comes to life after putting on a magic hat, and he laughs and plays with the neighbourhood children every Christmas season. In this special, we learn just how Frosty ended up getting that magic hat.

It all started off when a magician named Professor Hinkle visits an elementary school. It's the school where Karen and her friends attend, and their teacher has a special surprise for her class. What she had hoped was for her class to be entertained by a little Christmas magic performed by Professor Hinkle and his sidekick bunny, Hocus Pocus. But, needless to say, the magician bombed, and the performance was a disaster.

Shortly after that, school let out for the day, and Karen and her friends decide to build a snowman. Once the snowman was completed, the group of kids struggle to come up with a name. Rejected suggestions? Christopher Columbus and Oatmeal.

Karen ends up deciding the name. Frosty.

The snowman is almost completed, but they notice that the snowman is lacking a hat. Fate intercedes as the group finds a discarded hat lying around. Turns out that the hat belonged to Professor Hinkle, and that it was the same one he used to perform his magic tricks. The kids welcome their good fortune and put the hat on Frosty's head...and well...this happens.

Of course, before that scene aired, Professor Hinkle attempted to take the hat back from the snowman, but Hocus Pocus, in what was probably an act of rebellion against his master, puts the hat back on Frosty, which lead to the scene above.

For a few moments anyway, Frosty seemed to have fun with his new found friends, and all was well. Until the temperature started to rise, and Frosty began to feel uncomfortable. He realizes that if he doesn't get to somewhere colder, he would melt away completely, and nobody wanted to see that happen.  The children decide that the best place for him to be is at the North Pole, and this leads to a parade through the downtown streets where he gets into his famous confrontation with the traffic cop.

Of course, once the kids get to the train station, they come across a dilemma. How can they get Frosty on a train when they don't have enough money to buy a model train, let alone a train ticket? A solution presents itself in the form of a train car carrying frozen desserts. Frosty could chill out in the car, and make it to the North Pole without shedding an ounce.

It's here that Karen and former magician assistant Hocus Pocus decide for whatever reason to hop on the train along with Frosty to keep him company. Nevermind that Karen is hopping on a train essentially by herself. Nevermind that she seems to have the outlandish belief that she'll make it back home before dinner despite not having a way to get back home once she makes it to the North Pole.

Then again, maybe the story is set in the Yukon territory in Canada. Who knows, really?

What Frosty, Karen, and Hocus don't realize is that Hinkle has stowed away on the same train. Hinkle wanted his hat back. He didn't care whether Frosty came to life or not. Knowing that his hat really was magical, and knowing that his career as a magician was on the line, he knew that he had to get that hat back at all costs.

What Hinkle didn't count on was the fact that sitting in a frozen box car for an extended period of time with nothing more than a red jacket on can make young girls freeze. Poor Karen just couldn't take the cold, and Frosty was forced to take Karen and Hocus off the train in an effort to get her body temperature back up to normal.

It's here that Frosty's congenial nature seems to work to his advantage. Knowing that Karen could very well freeze if she wasn't kept warm, he convinces a group of forest animals to build a fire for her. This seems to work temporarily, but Frosty knows that he can't leave Karen in the cold weather for long. With a suggestion from Hocus, Frosty gets it into his head that maybe they could ask Santa for help (while at the same time taking credit for the idea, annoying the poor bunny).

Hocus volunteers to hop down the path towards Santa's residence, but as soon as Hocus leaves, Hinkle pops out of hiding and immediately puts out Karen's campfire. Frosty and Karen are forced to flee the scene, and somehow end up near a greenhouse filled with Christmas plants. Frosty decides to put Karen inside the greenhouse to keep her warm, even going inside the house in hopes of keeping her warm. Karen didn't think it was such a good idea, but Frosty insisted.

Sadly, Frosty should have listened to his friend, for Hinkle arrives on the scene and locks the greenhouse door, trapping Frosty and Karen inside the hothouse. By the time Hocus finds Santa and arrives at the greenhouse, it seems as though it is already too late.

I'll tell you...I'm now in my thirties, and that scene with Karen crying over her melted friend still gets to me even now. Truly one of the saddest moments I've ever witnessed in a Christmas special. And this is even after I watched Nestor: The Christmas Donkey!

It seems as though Frosty is gone forever...or is he? Turns out Santa has something to tell Karen. When Frosty was 'born', he was made with Christmas snow, and everyone knows that when something is made with Christmas snow, it never truly melts away. Not completely. For when a gust of cold wind blows inside the greenhouse, it magically freezes the puddle and the puddle turns into a snowman again! All that was needed now was the hat that brought Frosty back to life!

Of course, Hinkle makes one last-ditch effort to get the hat back once more, but one thing that people should realize is that you should NEVER attempt to do naughty things right in front of Santa...because Santa will tear you a new one! In fact, Santa makes a promise that if Hinkle lay one finger on that hat that he would be permanently removed from Santa's Christmas list for the rest of his life...well, unless he writes out how sorry he is to Frosty a hundred-zillion times.  That's the last we see of Hinkle for a while, it would seem. Meanwhile, Frosty is brought back to life again, and Santa takes Karen back home on his sleigh. Karen is sad to say goodbye to Frosty, but Frosty makes her a promise that he will return again on Christmas Day.

And I'm sure that Frosty has kept his word every Christmas since.

Frosty has had a few sequels come out since then. In 1976, the special Frosty's Winter Wonderland was released, once again with Vernon playing the voice of Frosty. I wish I could have more to tell you about this one, but I've never actually seen it myself. Same deal goes with the crossover special Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, released in 1979.

Then in 1992, Frosty Returns debuted on CBS, this time with John Goodman as the voice of Frosty (as Vernon had passed away in 1987). It was an okay special, but nothing really worth writing more than a paragraph about. Frosty was also resurrected by actor Bill Fagerbakke in The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, which was a straight-to-DVD release back in 2005.

Still though, with all the Frosty specials that have aired over the years, the original one is the best. Where else can you find a special that has friendship, love, Christmas magic, and happy, smiling faces?

For Frosty the snowman, was a jolly, happy soul. With a corn-cob pipe and a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal.

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