An Animated Dissection: Frosty’s Winter Wonderland
Most American children, before they reach the age of 10, are quickly indoctrinated into that past time of watching televised holiday specials. In my day, such yuletide favorites included A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman.
One thing I found surprising was that in 1992, a non Rankin-Bass sequel to Frosty was released upon the world, called Frosty Returns. While the networks touted this as a sequel to the 23-year-old original production, I cocked an eyebrow in surprise.
“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Frosty already HAS a sequel.”
Yes, that’s right. Somehow, for reasons I’ve never been able to understand, many quickly shut up about the 1976 production, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland. If it hadn’t been for The Disney Channel (yes, the once good ol’ reliable Disney Channel of the 80’s/90’s), I’d have never know this production existed. Though in another sense, it feels almost like an alternate universe Frosty production.
The title of the 1976 short has to do with how the song Winter Wonderland is worked into the plot. I guess they figured they could only do so much with the original Frosty the Snowman song before they were sick to death of it.
Aside from a few cameos, the group of children and the environment seem totally different. Karen, fickle magician Mr Hinkle, and Hocus-Pocus the rabbit, are all MIA. So, just what happened with Frosty during the Winter of 1976? Well, that’s what I’m here to summarize for you.
As snowflakes fall over a small, nondescript town, we see numerous children building a snowman, and singing the familiar song about Frosty. As we see them place a straw hat atop a snowman’s head, many are sad that this snowman isn’t going to come to life. One of the kids remarks that only the real Frosty could come to life.
One should also note the animation style here looks a bit ‘cheaper’ than the 1969 special. The line art is quite garish at times, and it appears that the animation company is the same Japanese studio that did animation on Rankin Bass’ 1974 production, “Twas’ The Night Before Christmas.”
As the kids wonder if Frosty meant what he said in his song (“But he waved goodbye saying don’t you cry, I’ll be back again some day”), our nondescript narrator walks by. This time, Jimmy Durante has been replaced by “Mr Mayberry” himself, Andy Griffith. For some reason, the artists have cluttered up Griffith’s ‘face’ with so many lines, he looks a little more scary than endearing.
We then cut to the North Pole, where we find Frosty (voiced again by Jackie Vernon!), who in the years since the first cartoon, has gained a yellow and orange scarf around his neck. We never know just how long he’s been up at the North Pole, as Frosty wonders when ‘some day’ will come for him to return. It is then that a newspaper blows into his view, and an article in The City Times, declares that the city is a winter wonderland.
This random city newspaper is all the incentive Frosty needs to declare that ‘some day is today!’ Going into his ice house (yes, Frosty has his own dwelling in the North Pole), Frosty sits down and writes a letter to the kids. It appears he writes it on a piece of ice with an ink pen, and sends it in a standard postal envelope to the kids. Who and where he addresses it to…well, that’s us grown-ups thinking too hard.
The kids are overjoyed that Frosty is coming back (though in a sense, I still wonder about that first group that was there when he came to life), while the narrator then starts to hint at the topic of the episode, claiming the kids have a special surprise for Frosty.
“You’ve heard the old familiar tale, of how Frosty came to life,” rhymes the Narrator. “But did you know the story, of how Frosty, took a wife?”
As if to back up this tale, we see the kids making a remarkably well crafted snow-cake, with a miniature Frosty and a female version atop it. So, the kids are planning to set Frosty up? Sure looks that way, folks!
We next see the kids having fun with Frosty, as our narrator watches them. However, we are soon introduced to our ‘villain’ of the piece, Jack Frost (played by Paul Frees, who voiced Santa Claus in the first Frosty special). Jack doesn’t seem at all happy that the kids favor Frosty over him. He manages to get several of them to listen to him, but even though Jack tells how his powers make winter happen (and even have the power to give the kids snow days from school!), the kids still find Frosty to be more fun. Yes, even back then, logic was thrown out in favor of what was ‘cool and hip’ (a talking snowman trumps the ability to allow you to stay home from school?). It is then that Jack hits on a way to make the tables turn in his favor: he’ll take Frosty’s hat away, and that will be the end of our snowman.
We then cut to the evening, with Frosty and the kids in a horse-drawn sleigh going out to the skating pond (yes, the town’s parents allow their kids to skate in the dark. Hope those ‘thin ice’ signs are well-illuminated). As Frosty sings a few verses from Jingle Bells, the kids note him singing ‘one-horse open sleigh,’ when there are two pulling theirs. “Oh, I could never count,” replies Frosty. Yes, part of the twisted logic of Frosty: he can write a letter to the kids, but he has trouble with numbers.
As the kids and Frosty skate, Jack shows up nearby, and aims his North Wind at them. It ends up blowing off a silk hat on one of the horse’s, and Jack catches it, thinking he’s got Frosty’s hat. Jack happily rushes off, thinking his ‘problems’ are over.
The next day, a few of the kids are about to leave Frosty and go have dinner with their family, when they notice he’s in a rather dour mood. Frosty claims that he loves having fun with the kids, but grows sad when they leave him.
One girl says that what would cheer Frosty up, is if he had a wife. “What a great invention,” remarks Frosty.
The next day, Frosty presides over the construction of his snow wife, from body size (“kind of chubby and plump”), to her height. Everything from blue beads to an old mop, and even a pink apron are used to dress her up.
Then, like in the first special, the kids take turns trying to name her. Names thrown out include everything from Cleopatra, to Corn Flakes (a throw-back to one boy considering the name ‘Oatmeal’ for Frosty in the first Holiday special). Frosty then hits on the perfect name: Crystal. It is then that a new problem arises: how to bring Crystal to life.
Some assume that ‘a ladies hat’ will do the trick, and use a bonnet from one of the sleigh’s horses. However, once it’s tied on Crystal’s head, nothing happens.
The story then cuts briefly to Jack Frost, many miles away. It is then that Jack realizes that he got the wrong hat, and intends to go back to get the right one. This scene ends with Jack’s eyes glowing red, while he cackles and the music plays an upbeat melody. That’s Rankin-Bass for you: always peppy and jolly, even when it comes to plotting the demise of a living snowman.
Back in the main story, Frosty is still sad that Crystal has not come to life. Making a bouquet of frost flowers, he places them in her left hand, and the love and care that he put into making them brings Crystal to life (complete with her saying “Happy Birthday!”). In a strange bit of dialogue, Frosty wonders what kept Crystal from coming to life all day. Her reply is that she ‘thought he’d never consider giving her flowers.’
So, her ‘soul’ was trapped in some strange Christmas-y limbo until she got what she wanted? For that matter, could this be the same place Frosty goes to when his hat flies off, and he becomes a regular snowman? Are there ‘dead snow-persons’ wandering around, just waiting to be brought to life? Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Frosty and Crystal then happily run around the countryside, with Crystal happily proclaiming they’re going to have a wedding! Wow. She’s only been alive for less than a few minutes, and she’s already getting Frosty set up with the ol’ snowball-and-chain (hey, that one was too easy to pass up).
But just then, Jack Frost appears, and blows Frosty’s hat off, making him an inanimate snowman. As Jack happily dances around with the magic hat, proclaiming ‘No more Frosty,’ Crystal addresses her inanimate fiance.
I guess in this world, snowpersons can hear other snowpersons, even when they are inanimate. Crystal pretty much says that Frosty can’t be gone.
“You have a wife,” she tells her fiance, “except for the formalities, that is.”
She then fashions a snow flower, and places it on Frosty’s chest where it would normally go on a Groom’s lapel. She then gives Frosty a kiss…and this brings him back to life! Yes, the power of love has nullified the ‘old silk hat’ of the classic song, and Frosty seems to be alive for good (well, until Spring thaw).
Needless to say, Jack is upset that his plan backfired, and chucks the ‘magic’ hat back at Frosty who catches it.
Frosty and Crystal, in the cold of the night, make their way to the local town, shouting out to the kids that it’s time to have their wedding. The kids eagerly awaken (it must be well past midnight), throw on their winter wear, and rush outside. Of course, not a single parent or adult is there to see these walking/talking snowmen, and it seems the parents have all slept through their kids getting out of bed and rushing out into the night to serve as witnesses to a snow-marriage. Will wonders never cease?
The kids rouse Parson Brown (as referenced in the song Winter Wonderland) from his sleep, and he shows up to meet Frosty and Crystal. Not only is he not wearing anything to bundle up against the cold night air, but the meeting of real life snow people doesn’t phase him in the least. The only thing he finds ‘wrong’ about the whole situation, is that he is able to only (legally) marry real people, not snow people. The kids and their friends are at first dejected, until Parson Brown solves their problem: If they wish to have snow people marry, they need…a snow parson!
So, the kids quickly build a snow parson. Dressing him in a waistcoat, spats, and glasses, he almost resembles Parson Brown. They even use the Parson’s hat, but this does nothing. “A parson’s not a parson unless he holds The Good Book in his hand,” proclaims Brown. Taking his copy of The Bible, he places it in the snow parson’s hand, and he comes to life (with another cheery “Happy Birthday!”), albeit speaking in the same voice as Parson Brown(!?). So, that’s it then. With this episode, we’ve just cancelled out completely, the power of magic hats established in the first special. Items to bring snow people to life seem like portkeys in the Harry Potter universe: they can now be anything! We’ve seen snow flowers, a snow wife’s kiss, and The Good Book work their magic.
Jack has been watching this, and quickly attempts to put an end to the festivities by conjuring up his Northern Wind. It is then that Crystal sees him and addresses him. Getting him to stop his wind, she and Frosty ask (even though Jack pretty much attempted to ‘off’ Frosty) if Jack will be their Best Man, as they want their festivities to be ‘wintry.’
Jack accepts, and everyone cheers. With this acceptance, Jack quickly forgets about his previous intentions to off Frosty. The ceremony then begins, with Andy Griffith singing parts of the song Winter Wonderland. We then get a couple small images of Frosty and Crystal by a crystallized fire, and then…them playing with snow-children and a snow-dog.
However, the vision doesn’t last long before we return to reality, and the snow parson finishes services. It should also be noted that the snow parson then disappears, forever. Whatever happened to him, we never know. Maybe Parson Brown took his book back, leaving the snow parson trapped in a hellish limbo, upset that he was only created for one purpose, with no chance for a normal life like Frosty or Crystal. Now that I think of it, aren’t Frosty and Crystal living in a state of snow-sin since they’ll have no way to go to Church on Sunday?
The narrator then returns, and explains that the snow couple, Jack, and the kids continued to have fun into the new year. But when April comes along, the temperature begins to get warmer. Crystal feels they should head to the North Pole, but Jack Frost claims that with his powers, winter and the fun they are all having will never need to end!
So, Jack messes up weather patterns just so he can stay in the kids and the Frosty’s good graces. Needless to say, none of the parents or other adults in the town have any spine (they’re as bad as the Junctionvillians in Twas’ The Night Before Christmas), so they foist the responsibility of setting things right, on Parson Brown.
Brown explains that with winter still going on, life cannot blossom and grow, claiming ‘nature made a promise’ to these plants that they would bloom and blossom one day. Brown’s ‘guilt trip’ is just the ticket, and Frosty, Crystal, and Jack decide to head back North…but not before going on a little skating ‘parade’ through town, to the tune of the old Frosty the Snowman song, albeit now including Crystal in its lyrics.
It’s here that we finally see the adults. And as can be expected, there are several who react in surprised shock. What, you mean a small town like this, you hadn’t heard of the walking/talking snow abomination and his bride who consorted with the Imp of Winter and attempted to lock you in a frozen hell-hole of despair forever? Yep, this is a Rankin-Bass production: nobody don’t know nothin.’
Most sequels have a small cameo or reappearance by a supporting character, and we finally get one. Who is it? Karen? Professor Hinkle? Hocus-Pocus the rabbit? Nope. We get…the Traffic Cop.
Addressing Frosty, he claims that he isn’t surprised anymore (and by the sounds of his voice, they got that whistle out of his throat). Crystal introduces herself, and the couple and the kids continue on their way. It is only after they’ve left, does the shock of ‘a snow wife’ hit the officer, and he swallows this whistle too! I guess we can hope that next year, the couple won’t be showing up with snow-children and a snow-dog.
Down at the train yard, Frosty, Crystal, and Jack Frost board a train headed north (looking just like the same one from the first episode), and take off, with the kids waving goodbye. Once Jack Frost is gone, the spring thaw hits. The kids swim in the lake among the greenery and flowers, and the narrator (now wearing a ranger’s hat and outfit) appears before us.
He goes on to explain that though the ‘winter wonderland’ is now only a memory, it was a good memory, and those can never die. The narrator then goes on to say that the first snowflake will fall once again, and as if by magic, one hits his nose, and high above him in a tree, we see Jack Frost.
Jack gives a hearty blow, and the world becomes a winter wonderland again. Yep, screw you summer and fall, those trees and flowers had their chance to grow, best to kill them all off in the prime of their ‘youth.’
The final images show the kids, the Frosty’s, and Jack playing on the frozen pond.
“May all your winters be wintry,” proclaims the Narrator.
“And frosty too!” chime in Frosty and Crystal, before we see everyone laughing in the snow, oblivious to the fact that a snow parson is trapped in limbo, and they’ve messed up the seasons by denying Summer and Fall to occur. Ingrates.
And that was Frosty’s Winter Wonderland. While not as ‘messed up’ as Rankin-Bass’ ‘Twas’ the Night Before Christmas,’ it has some charm to it. Even so, it never quite reaches much of an emotional peak like in the first special, when in Professor Hinkle’s mad desire to get his hat back, he traps Frosty in a greenhouse, causing him to melt into a puddle of water.
As far as narration goes, Andy Griffith exhibits plenty of that down-home charm to his voice, but as can be expected, he’s no Jimmy Durante.
One does have to also wonder, why Rankin-Bass saw fit to make a sequel to Frosty after 7 years. Then again, they also did a couple sequels to their stop-motion classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in the 70’s.
Speaking of Rudolph, the nasally-empowered reindeer would also cross paths with the Frosty’s in the 1979 stop-motion production, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. Christmas in July would also be the last ‘official’ Rankin-Bass television special for these characters, and also the last time Jackie Vernon would voice Frosty.
Speaking of Vernon, his vocals for Frosty in Winter Wonderland seem a little ‘stilted’ compared to his readings for the original short. It almost seems that Shelley Winters as Crystal got the more emotive pieces of the snow couple.
In the end, one question that will still probably never be answered, is why this sequel was swept under the rug in favor of many other shorts from the Rankin-Bass film library. Maybe it had to do with rights, or possibly, someone got upset at these re-written lyrics that are sometimes used in place of those about building a snowman to resemble Parson Brown:
In the meadow we can build a snowman,
and pretend that he’s a circus clown.
We’ll have lots of fun with Mister Snowman,
until the other kiddies knock ‘im down!