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 animated in a 26 minute 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 Four every Christmas.
The plot is simple: a young boy 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 the 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.
In 1991, a companion film based on Father Christmas was made based on Brigg's other Christmas piece, both James and the Snowman make a cameo.
30 years later, a sequel The Snowman and the Snowdog aired 24 December 2012 on Channel Four.
- 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.
- Cool Bike: The one the snowman and the boy take for a midnight ride.
- Dances and Balls: Father Christmas hosts a large party for international snowmen.
- Dark Reprise: "Walking In The Air" is heard after the snowman's death.
- Digital Destruction: In 2002 it was "restored"... by 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.
- Fish out of Water: The snowman is introduced to various facets of human life by the boy; mostly played for smiles.
- Foreshadowing: 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.
- 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...
- 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 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.
- Also applies to the ending of The Snowman and the Snowdog. 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: The "Walking in the Air" sequence showed a pair of penguins living near the North Pole.
- Played with again during The Snowman and the Snowdog with the downhill sled race against a skiing penguin.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Snowdog. He's adorable!
- 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, but not that it really need 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.
- Tragic Keepsake: The scarf from Father Christmas.
Tropes found in the animated short:
- Adaptation Expansion: Many scenes were added to the film that weren't in the Graphic Novel.
- Christmas Special: Britain's most popular, where it is far more famous than the similarly themed Frosty the Snowman.
- Death by Newbery Medal: Nominated for an Academy Award.
- 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 his impending death, he is not afraid, but hugs the boy goodbye and peacefully waits for his fate - with a beatific smile on his face.
- 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".
- 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 it 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.
- No More for Me: A reveler on a cruise ship sees the boy and the Snowman flying by and decides he's had too much champagne.