Rebooting a Masterpiece: “The Snowman” vs “The Snowman and the Snowdog”

12 December, 2016

As the holiday season finally gets underway, it’s time to revisit some fond festive memories as we reflect back on the beloved story of one boy and his unique companion. Initially released in 1982 as a television Christmas special, “The Snowman” has naturally progressed into essential Christmas viewing with its short but devastating tale of momentary magic within the winter season. As the years roll on, multiple generations have come to fall in love with the movie and it’s one that we see referenced time and again during the latter months of the year.

A few years ago the decision was made to revisit “The Snowman” on its 30th anniversary and a team of creative experts got to work upgrading the story in an attempt to fashion a more solid foundation for the visuals. The short film was finally revealed to audiences in December of 2012 and it received a mixed response as viewers started to reflect back on everything they had loved about the original. For most, “The Snowman”  is a perfectly crafted piece of pencil filmmaking, drawn by hand in a series of thousands of coloured sketches, and it’s a film that unfolds in faultless rhythm as every string, every horn, and every jingle corresponds with the images as they come gently to life in a swooping succession of footsteps, dances, tyre spins, and sneezes. While the”The Snowman and the Snowdog” displays similar intentions, it doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

The team behind the reboot are quick to recapture the essence of the winter classic with a high art film score assembled by the finest orchestral and acoustic talent but they take some liberties with the visuals and the story’s basic framework as their bold creative intentions allow the original design to be rendered with the aid of mattes; a modern layering effect which pastes original drawings over a computer-generated backdrop, allowing for more depth and the ability to create CGI snow and more radiant lighting effects.

While “The Snowman and the Snowdog” is still the product of a painstaking animation process, the team’s dedication to making it look unspoiled and clean removes it slightly from the traditional aesthetic established in Raymond Briggs’ picture book. It’s a story crafted with affection and one that conveys a wider visual and narrational scope, and yet the upgrade leaves the story’s rough edges behind during the clean-up process. As a rather traditional Christmas movie with an old-school aesthetic, “The Snowman” is a film made for the nostalgia market and it’s designed to latch onto your soul during childhood with no guarantee that it’ll ever let go. It’s a film that teaches younger viewers about the reality of loss and the fleeting nature of dreams and imagination as it both charms and educates with its subtle take on fun, friendships, and the cycle of life.

As the red-headed James and his frosty friend learn about their respective worlds in a single night of amusement, the pair embark on a dreamy journey into the sky while the film sweeps across giant ice caps and marvels at The Northern Lights. The moment exudes the triumph of a full-blown musical as the score peaks at its highest moments while the film invites viewers into a parallel universe where multi-ethnic snowmen and a cherry-nosed Santa Claus dance with party hats and flutes until the break of dawn. There’s always a sense of tragedy waiting on the horizon, however, as the boy’s snowy companion is not equipped to see the sunrise and this is a moment of intense sadness and learning for the young protagonist.

In a bizarre shift of gear, “The Snowman and the Snowdog” opts out of some of the more hard-hitting material as it panders to the young audience by allowing the snowdog to miraculously transform into a real pup. It’s a moment of genuine magic in a much more idealised and contemporary take on a tale that once held an important life lesson and it doesn’t pack much of a punch for viewers who are able accept the snowman’s demise in exchange for this unnecessary moment of happiness.

Although “The Snowman” does, in its own way, present an innocent and imaginative view of the world as it frequently shuns an adult perspective, the snowman’s infantile fascination is key to the film’s message about becoming accustomed to reality before being able to face up to it. The movie is playful and jolly when the snowman’s plump face appears in a Christmas bauble or when he replaces his nose with different types of fruit, but it’s never irrational in its execution. Where “The Snowman and the Snowdog” cushions viewers with the gift of ongoing companionship, the original adaptation leaves the young James alone to process the good times and the bad as his one and only friend melts into a puddle of sludge.

As a consequence of the creators’ lack of interest in the true meaning of “The Snowman,” the second version goes on to reenact numerous scenes from the original without the presence of a clear subtext. From the house raid to the close-call by the fireplace to the vehicle theft, every element feels rushed and rather arbitrary as the team delights viewers with crisp visuals and beautiful music by leaving the basic themes at the door. Subtlety is also cast aside as the filmmakers proudly showcase an array of diverse characters; a mere add-on to an earlier and much less overbearing attempt made by the creators of “The Snowman” to show variety in the beautiful Christmas dance sequence.

When considered alongside the source material, it’s clear that “The Snowman” still stands tall next to the recent reboot. While “The Snowman and the Snowdog” is undoubtedly well-intentioned and respectful towards its predecessor with its sumptuous imagery and beautiful film score, it’s an idealised and twee interpretation of a story that has much more significance than can be read on a superficial level. Both are magical in their own way but for sheer boldness and nostalgic vigour, “The Snowman” still effortlessly takes the crown.



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