Friday, December 7, 2012

Frosty the Snowman (1969) - Jimmy Durante Narrates a Joyful Tale

Frosty the Snowman: "The Hat is Mine! It's Mine, All Mine! Hahahahaha!"

Frosty the Snowman 1969
"Frosty the Snowman" is available on DVD.
"Frosty the Snowman" (1969) is one of only four 1960s animation holiday specials still shown every year on one of the major television networks (the others are "A Charlie Brown Christmas" "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"). Of the four, this is the least known, and can come as a pleasant surprise to children who have seen the others. Jimmy Durante narrates this Rankin/Bass special half-hour special, which in many ways has the look and feel of a holiday greeting card.

Children building Frosty the Snowman 1969
This is the way to spend the school day!
In the story, school children, bored with studies and their inept magician teacher, go out to build a snowman. They take great care putting him together and name him "Frosty" (Jackie Vernon). They spot their teacher's supposedly magical top hat being brought out by the teacher's pet rabbit, "Hocus Pocus," and put it on Frosty. The snowman instantly springs to life, exclaiming "Happy Birthday" for no apparent reason.

A smiling Frosty the Snowman 1969
What a wonderful smile!
Their teacher, Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe), demands the hat back now that its magic is working. The children refuse because removing it from Frosty's head would kill him. While they celebrate Frosty coming to life, Hinkle plots how to steal his hat back. The children, sensing the temperature rising, begin to wonder how to get Frosty to a colder climate so he won't melt.

The children, Hinkle and Frosty the Snowman 1969
Good variety in the animation in this classic.
One of the children, Karen (June Foray), loves Frosty, so she agrees to take him to the North Pole. The children sneak the two (along with Hocus Pocus, who has become their friend) on a refrigerated train headed north. Hinkle follows, but he falls off the train. Karen and Frosty continue toward the North Pole hoping that Hinkle won't find them. Unfortunately, Karen becomes very cold as they near the North Pole, so Frosty sends Hocus Pocus to get Santa Claus to take her home in his sleigh.

Hinkle and Frosty the Snowman 1969
Hinkle looks a lot like Dick Dastardly.
Hinkle then shows up again. He has a fight with Frosty, but the snowman evades Hinkle and carries Karen to a greenhouse where she will be warm. Hinkle sees his chance and traps Frosty inside the hot building. Frosty starts to melt while Hinkle gleefully shouts "As soon as Frosty melts, the hat will be mine!"

Karen in Frosty the Snowman 1969
Karen is drawn to perfection.
Santa (Faul Frees) shows up and finds Karen crying over Frosty, who has melted into a puddle on the floor. He confronts Hinkle, who still wants his hat back regardless of Frosty's situation, and they try to reach an agreement that will let Frosty live.

Karen, Hocus Pocus and Frosty boarding the train in Frosty the Snowman 1969
The trio board the train to the North Pole.
The real key to this holiday special's appeal is Jimmy Durante's narration. He punctuates everything with his nasal voice and manages to make the mundane seem dramatic. The story itself is unexceptional, and without his presence, this half-hour show would have been long forgotten. His singing is as distinctive as his voice acting, with a rhythmic staccato that is impossible to duplicate. If you remember this show from your childhood, it likely is because of Durante singing "Fro...sty da snow... man" in his impeccable accent.

Hocus Pocus and Karen with Frosty the Snowman 1969
Frosty carrying Karen, Hocus looks frazzled!
June Foray, a legendary voice actress who voices young Karen, worked with Durante on his radio show, and, as of 2012, remains very active in voice work. She was one of the founding members of ASIFA-Hollywood, a society that promotes animation. Her parts in "Frosty," unfortunately, have been mostly re-dubbed by others over the years, but that is still her singing.

Karen crying over the puddle of water in Frosty the Snowman 1969
This is such a sad moment!
Traditional cel animation is used, unlike the stop-motion used by Rankin/Bass for "Rudolf." It is fairly unexceptionable but still looks beautiful. As with most Rankin/Bass animation, it was done in Japan, by Mushi Productions under the overall supervision of producer Arthur Rankin Jr. The dialog is notable for a few lines that flowered over time into generic catch-phrases, such as Hinkle exclaiming, "The hat will be mine!" It is, of course, customary now to rub your hands together and smile maniacally while saying that (replacing "hat" with your own object of desire).

Santa with the others in Frosty the Snowman 1969
Santa looks better with his cap on, I think.
Unlike the other seasonal shows, this one is a real tear-jerker. The main character, Frosty, actually melts away to nothing before your eyes. Very young children might not understand this, or it might leave a bad taste in their mouths, no matter how much they protest otherwise. Even though Frosty does come back, the image of a puddle of water on the floor that used to be their friend will remain with them.

Santa driving Frosty through town in Frosty the Snowman 1969
Santa and Frosty take a victory lap.
There are several sequels that are also worth watching: "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" (1976), "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July" (1979), and "Frosty Returns" (1992). They may be worth finding if you want to make it a "Frosty" evening!

Below is a series of clips from "Frosty the Snowman" accompanied by the classic song.


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