A Christmas Tradition: ‘Walking in the Air’ with ‘The Snowman’

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snowman2This review first ran in 2006 and has somehow evolved into a holiday tradition. As I unpacked my collection of snowmen for the coming holiday, my carefully wrapped musical plush Snowman emerged,much to my delight. Everything else was dropped as I sat in the living room, pulling the cord that triggered a music box version of the film’s hit song: Walking in the Air.  

As more recent holidays unfolded, I found myself sharing this joy with my two great-grandsons, Brayden and D.J. Last winter, as my three year old, great grandson Brayden walked through the mall with his  mom, he stopped short, and began looking around.

“Where’s meme?” he asked. ” “
She’s not here,” his mom said. “
But that’s the Snowman music.”

This 30 minute film is a joy. It’s a Christmas gift idea for the child all of us, and a reminder of just how good animation can be. From my introduction to it in 1988, it has grown into two films, the original and a sequel — The Snowman and the Snowdog. I reprint this review, with an updated video clip. Enjoy.

I can’t recall how many copies of The Snowman I’ve bought over the years, but it’s been quite a few. I usually end up giving them away to children who watch and are captivated by its’ magic. And then I buy another copy.

To the uninitiated, The Snowman is a delightful, animated short film about a young boy, James, who builds a snowman that springs to life as midnight chimes. It has only a few lines of introduction at the beginning; the remainder of the film is a symphonic soundtrack that follows their adventures, first as Snowman explores James’ world, putting on pants with suspenders, trying on hats, discovering a music box and the dangerous warmth of a fire. James and his fantasy creation dance across the floor of the house before heading outside, where the he and Snowman, in his mossy green hat and scarf embark on a journey north, racing through the forest and flying through the sky to a magical gathering of snow people in the far, far north.

The artwork is a palette of soft colors, gentle curves and feathered edges. The movement is soft at times, buoyant and bright at others.

This Oscar winning short animated film (1982), created and written by Raymond Briggs, was directed by Diane Jackson, has brief narration by David Bowie and includes the song Walking in the Air, sung in by Peter Autry . It runs a mere 26 minutes, sans dialogue, but its magic, its’ enchantment, are timeless.

Watching The Snowman has become a Christmas tradition. It is available as a film (videotape or DVD), and as a musical soundtrack. The Snowman has quietly grown into an industry, with Snowman paraphernelia of all kinds available in stores and online. I have it on videotape, on DVD, and audio track as well. And every winter, a softly stuffed snowman, with its own pull cord that provides a few moments of enchanting music, emerges from hibernation to rest on my pillow, or somewhere highly visible in my living room, where he stays until spring.

The sequel, The Snowman and The Snowdog is a 2012 animated short film. It is the sequel to The Snowman, and was created to mark the 30th anniversary of the original short film. The Snowman and The Snowdog is dedicated to John Coates (the film’s producer, who died in September 2012) and features a new song called Light the Night by former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows.

The story begins similarly to that of The Snowman, at the house where James, the boy from The Snowman, used to live. Once situated in the open countryside, it is now located in a bustling housing estate.

On a summer day a young boy named Billy and his mother arrive at the house, which they have just moved into. Billy helps his elderly dog from the removal van and they enter the property. As autumn arrives it becomes apparent that Billy’s dog has died and one can see the family burying him in the back garden. With Christmas approaching Billy writes to Father Christmas in the form of a hand-drawn picture; the one and only thing he asks for is another dog. In his excitement, at the prospect of posting the letter, he stumbles over a loose floorboard in his bedroom and beneath it discovers some toys and a small box tied with tinsel. Within the box he finds a photo of James and the Snowman along with the original scarf, hat, coal lumps and an old dried up tangerine (once the Snowman’s nose).

It’s a testament to the quiet beauty and enchantment of this film  (and multiple playing at my house) that my then three-year-old grandson, while shopping with his mom, stopped short in the mall and pointed up. “What is it?” his mom asked.  “Meme’s “Snowman,” he replied, looking around as the song played on the audio system.

In the midst of the flash, splash, action and noise of modern toys and audio/visuals deemed fit for Christmas giving, and hyped in all the major markets, pause for a moment and consider the giving a child, or an entire family, the simple beauty of The Snowman. It really is a gift worth giving.

— Christine Anne Piesyk, Editor

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About Author

Christine Anne Piesyk has been a journalist for more than 45 years. Her credits include positions as Editor in Chief, Managing Editor, Staff Writer specializing in education, leisure living, food and arts and entertainment. She was co-producer, writer and on air persona for the Entertainment Review for 25 years. In "retirement," she finds herself working on online websites and as a book editor. In her other life, she is a costumer in her daughter's company, Gemini Dream Designs.

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