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Comic Book / The Snowman

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"I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day... and it was on that day I made The Snowman."
Raymond Briggs, author

In 1978, English illustrator and artist Raymond Briggs drew a wordless Graphic Novel about a Snowman who comes to life at Christmas titled simply The Snowman. In 1982, it was adapted to a 26-minute animated film for the then-fledgling Channel 4, and became an instant Christmas classic and the favourite Christmas Special for many Britons. It is now shown on Channel 4 every Christmas.note 

The plot is simple: a young boy (officially named James) awakens on Christmas Eve (or possibly New Year's Eve, the dialog free nature makes it hard to tell) to find a thick blanket of snow on the ground around his countryside home. He decides to build a Snowman which comes to life that night when he wakes up in the night (his parents remain slumbering).

After several escapades, including a memorable motorcycle/car ride around the local fields the Snowman reveals another special ability when he flies the boy to a snow-covered northern forest, with the song "Walking in the Air" playing in the background. There, Father Christmas and a large group of other living Snowmen and Snow-women are having a party. Father Christmas gives the boy the gift of a blue scarf with snowmen on it. Then the Snowman flies the boy home. They part ways when the boy goes back to bed and the Snowman remains standing in the garden.

Come the morning, the boy rushes downstairs to bright sunlight, and hurries to greet his new friend in the garden. However, when he gets to the garden, all that remains is a pile of melted snow and a collection of coal and old clothes. The boy wonders if he dreamt it all but then finds the scarf from Father Christmas in his dressing gown pocket, and breaks down in tears... As does the audience.

Most famous for the song "Walking in the Air", which many a choir (and even Heavy Mithril band Nightwish) has sung at some point.

In 1991, a companion film based on Father Christmas was made based on Briggs' other Christmas piece, in which both James and the Snowman make a cameo.

30 years later, a sequel, The Snowman and the Snowdog, aired 24th December 2012 on Channel 4. It follows Billy, who has moved with his mother into the house that James used to live in. At Christmas, he writes to Father Christmas, saying the only thing he wants that year is a new dog to replace his old one that had recently died. In the process, he winds up finding a picture of James and the snowman, and decides to build both him and a snow-dog, who both come to life the next morning.

Not to be confused with the unrelated 2017 film, or living snowmen in general.


  • Animate Inanimate Object: The titular Snowman who magically came to life one winter's night.
  • Artistic License – Physics: At the end, the Snowman has entirely melted, though the ground is still covered in snow, and real snowmen melt much slower due to their lower surface area to volume ratio. Of course, real snowmen can't walk or fly either.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Really, there was no way the boy could have thought the snowman would last forever.
  • A Boy and His X: A boy and his snowman in this case. The boy is an only child and lives in a rather remote area, so the snowman becomes his Only Friend for the night.
  • Fish out of Water: The snowman is introduced to various facets of human life by the boy; mostly played for smiles.
  • Flight: The snowman can fly, and takes the boy with him to the North Pole.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • If you look closely, there is a moment when the snowman is flying the boy home, where he looks off to the East (where he can see the sun rising), and looks back forwards with a grim expression... as though he knows what is coming...
    • When the boy rushes downstairs the morning after flying around with the snowman, the look on the parents' faces say that they know the snowman has already melted, and that the boy will be devastated when he finds out.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: The point of the story is that appreciate your happier moments while you can as they don't last forever. Presumably, even kids have to learn that at some point.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the lighthearted sequence of the boy and the Snowman visiting Father Christmas, the boy excitedly runs outside to find the snowman... only to find out that the snowman melted overnight, leaving the boy to grieve his friend's passing.
  • No More for Me: The boy and snowman fly past a holiday reveler on a cruise liner, who seems to be enjoying a bottle of something strong. The man stares in shock — first at the unusual sight in the sky, then at the bottle in his hand. Unlike most examples of this trope, we don't see him pour the bottle out.
  • No Name Given: The boy in the novel. In the film, his gift from Father Christmas identifies him as "James".
  • Or Was It a Dream?: No, it was not, as James discovers in the animated short when he finds the scarf given to him by Father Christmas.
  • Pajama-Clad Hero: The boy spends most of the story in his pajamas and bathrobe.
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: The "Walking in the Air" sequence showed a pair of penguins living near the North Pole.
  • Santa Claus: Though the sequel identifies him by the more 'British' name of Father Christmas.
  • Scenery Porn: The flying sequence.
  • Silence Is Golden: There is no dialogue from any character; not that it really needs any.
  • Snowlems: The titular snowman can walk, as do the other snowmen.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: The sweet and whimsical story ends with the snowman melting.

Tropes found in the animated short:

  • Absurdly Elderly Mother: A father in this case. James can't be that old, and yet his father has dentures in a glass beside his bed.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Many scenes were added to the film that weren't in the Graphic Novel. For example, the original didn't have anything to do with Christmas. This added in scenes featuring Father Christmas at the North Pole.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: Both the Raymond Briggs intro and the David Bowie intro imply that the boy in the story is their younger self.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Returning South from the North Pole, James and the Snowman fly over what is recognisably Brighton Pavilion, which is close to Raymond Briggs' home in East Sussex but being on the South coast is not on a route between anywhere in Great Britain and the North Pole, especially as they approach it from the sea.
  • Author Appeal: A couple of changes and additions were made because of the appeal for the crew.
    • The motorbike scene was added in, replacing a static scene with a car from the graphic novel, because one of the animators was a keen motorcyclist.
    • The boy is Named by the Adaptation after Joanna Harrison's then-boyfriend James (later husband).
    • The film places the location in the South Downs of England, because composer Howard Blake is a native of the county.
  • Cool Bike: The snowman and the boy take a motorcycle for a midnight ride.
  • Dances and Balls: Father Christmas hosts a large party for international snowmen.
  • Dark Reprise: A somber piano and string rendition of "Walking In The Air" is heard after the snowman melts, and runs throughout the end credits.
  • Digital Destruction: In 2002 it was "restored" being cropped from 4:3 to 16:9. The vandalized version was broadcast every year up to and including 2012. In 2013 they reverted to the old version.
  • Dramatic Curtain Toss: The reveal of the motorbike, from under a big, black tarpaulin.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The Snowman sees the sun rising in the east, and knows that he will inevitably melt away when it comes. Knowing of what will happen in the morning, he is not afraid, but hugs the boy goodbye and peacefully waits for his fate - with a beatific smile on his face.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The gift Father Christmas gives, reveals that the boy's name is James, and he lives in Brighton.
  • The Glomp: James shakes hands with the snowman first when saying goodbye, but then runs back and gives him a big hug.
  • Ill-Timed Sneeze: Narrowly averted; James and the snowman are playing in James' parents' room when the snowman starts to sneeze, but they manage to get out of the room before it can wake the parents.
  • Leit Motif: As the cartoon is mostly mime and music, the music closely matches what is happening visually.
  • Medium Blending: Starts off with a live-action shot of Raymond Briggs reading the opening text (seen at the top of this page) before switching to the animation.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: Except for the brief opening narration, and the song "Walking in the Air".
  • Named by the Adaptation: The boy is unnamed in the original book, but in the animated version, the tag on Father Christmas's gift for him reveals that his name is James.
  • Narrator:
    • Via a brief live-action prologue. It's Raymond Briggs in the original broadcast, David Bowie in subsequent rereleases. (The latter was what Americans saw when HBO ran the special annually in The '80s, but all VHS and DVD versions use the original intro.) The 20th anniversary release featured an animated intro with Father Christmas (voice by Mel Smith) recounting how he met the boy.
    • An audio version had an optional narration by Bernard Cribbins.
  • No More for Me: A partygoer on a cruise ship sees the boy and the Snowman flying by and decides he's had too much champagne.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The scarf from Father Christmas. The animated short's live-action prologue with David Bowie as an adult James reveals that he's kept it for all these years as a memento of the snowman.
  • Unconventional Food Usage: The eponymous snowman goofs around in one scene, replacing his nose with various fruits. When he is relaxing in the freezer, he places a bag of frozen peas on his head.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The snowman tries on both the father's clothes, as well as mother's hat and make-up.

Tropes found in The Snowman and the Snowdog:

  • Bittersweet Ending: The sequel's ending is a little more uplifting than the original; the snowdog, that was made in the memory of the boy's recently deceased dog, becomes a real dog thanks to the gift from Father Christmas. However the snowman has melted come morning, just like in the original, and never comes back.
  • Loose Floorboard Hiding Spot: Billy stumbles over a loose floorboard in his new bedroom. Looking under it, he discovers a picture of James (the protagonist of the original film) and the Snowman and some of the stuff used to create it. It's left unclear why James chose to store this stuff underneath the floorboard, however.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: After the Snowdog's transformation into a real dog, the boy took it in... only to see it missing when he wakes up. He ran downstairs in a panic, and - to his relief - found it at the back door wanting to go outside.
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: Played with again with the downhill sled race against a skiing penguin.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Snowdog. He's adorable!
  • Shout-Out: The boy has a poster of Fungus the Bogeyman on his wall, another character by Raymond Briggs.


Video Example(s):


The Snowman

The sweet and whimsical story ends with the snowman melting...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / SuddenDownerEnding

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