It’s been synonymous with Christmas for years, but how much do you really know about Raymond Briggs’ timeless animation, ‘The Snowman’?
It wasn’t even originally about Christmas
The animation classic is based on the book by Raymond Briggs, released in 1978, but there are some wholesale differences between page and screen. For starters, the book has no mention of Christmas whatsoever, it’s just a simple winter’s tale. There’s no Christmas tree in the boy’s house and the Snowman doesn’t take him to visit Father Christmas, instead preferring to watch the sunset with him. The festive elements were added for the Channel 4 TV adaptation in 1982.
‘Walking In The Air’ is not sung by who you thought it was
By far the most iconic element of ‘The Snowman’ is the hauntingly beautiful song ‘Walking In The Air’, written by Howard Blake. It’s a popular misconception, but the angelic little choirboy voice singing the song is not Aled Jones (pictured) – it was youngster Peter Auty, who was paid £300 but never credited due to a last minute rush to release the film. Jones didn’t first sing those immortal four words until three years later, when the song was re-released thanks to a Snowman-themed ad campaign by Toys ‘R’ Us (Auty’s voice had broken).
It was nominated for an Oscar
We all know The Snowman is a beloved family favourite, but did you know it was also an awards darling too? ‘The Snowman’ was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 1983 Academy Awards, although it eventually lost out to a Polish short film called Tango, created by director Zbigniew Rybczynski, who went on to direct music videos for The Pet Shop Boys and Mick Jagger. ‘The Snowman’, however, did go on to win Best Children’s Programme at the 1983 Baftas. In your face, ‘Danger Mouse’!
It has an alternate intro featuring David Bowie
The original movie had a charming introduction by Raymond Briggs, describing how his hometown was once swamped with snow like the town in the story. However, once released in America, Briggs wasn’t deemed starry enough, so a famous face was roped in to present an alternate opening: none other than David Bowie. The chameleonic pop legend faces the camera and tells a story about a scarf similar to the one bequeathed by Father Christmas in the film. Presumably Iggy Pop was busy.
There is an even rarer alternate intro
For the 20th anniversary broadcast in 2002, Channel 4 commissioned a brand new introduction: an animated intro featuring Raymond Briggs’ own Father Christmas. The jolly red fat man recounts the tale you’re about to watch from his own point of view, and was voiced by comedian Mel Smith. After Smith’s death from a heart attack in 2013, Channel 4 reverted back to the original Raymond Briggs opening introduction.
The boy with no name
In Briggs’ original book, the young boy in the story isn’t given a name – the tale is entirely wordless after all. In the Channel 4 adaptation, however, the boy was given a name, simply because one had to appear on the gift tag of his present from Father Christmas. It was decided that his name would be ‘James’ after the boyfriend, now husband, of Joanna Harrison, one of the animators. Harrison went on to write the 2012 follow-up, ‘The Snowman and the Snowdog’.
The boy appears to be from Brighton
It has been noted – and later confirmed by lifelong Sussex dweller Raymond Briggs – that the boy in ‘The Snowman’ appeared to leave in South Downs, near Brighton. You can tell because when he and the Snowman eventually take flight, they appear to fly directly over the Royal Pavillion and can see the Palace Pier, which should be instantly familiar to anyone from that region. ‘Brighton’ is also pictured on his present (see above).
Snowman’s shared universe
Thought Marvel invented the concept of different movie characters inhabiting the same space in different films? Think again: the Raymond Briggsverse pulled this trick 30 years ago. Another Raymond Briggs TV adaptation was made in 1991, combining his two Father Christmas books, ‘Father Christmas’ and ‘Father Christmas Goes On Holiday’. In it, Father Christmas attends a snowman party like the one seen in ‘The Snowman’ – and yes, he even meets the boy and his Snowman. ‘Father Christmas’ suggests the party is an annual event, as he comments “Glad you could make it again; the party I mean, not your snowman!” meaning James must have returned with the Snowman a year later.
There’s a Snowman video game
Someone somewhere thought a near-wordless adaptation of a picture book would be a great candidate for a videogame, and so ‘The Snowman’ was released on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 in 1984. Released by publishers Quicksilva, it was a platform game à la Donkey Kong in which you had to guide the boy around a series of ladders, avoiding flames and sleep monsters and collecting snow with which to build a snowman. It was not very good.
There’s also a Snowman stage show
‘The Snowman’ lends itself more to the medium of theatre than it does the videogame, so the fact there’s a ‘Snowman’ stage show, that has played at Dublin’s Peacock Theatre every year since 1997, is no surprise. What is surprising is the liberties it takes with Briggs’ story. The first half is largely the same, with the Snowman coming to life and taking the boy on a magical adventure. The second half, however, introduces brand new characters into the mix, including The Ice Princess and Jack Frost.
It’s all about death
Author Raymond Briggs told The Independent that one of the reasons he wrote the story was to introduce children to the concept of mortality. “I create what seems natural and inevitable,” he said. “The snowman melts, my parents died, animals die, flowers die. Everything does. There’s nothing particularly gloomy about it. It’s a fact of life. I don’t have happy endings.” You can say that again…