"Frosty’s Winter Wonderland: Deluxe Remastered Edition" Leaves Me Cold
Frosty the Snowman is one of Rankin-Bass’s most enduring and successful Christmas specials, so it’s not surprising that someone saw fit to make a sequel. In fact, it happened twice: Frosty’s Winter Wonderland was released by Rankin-Bass in 1976, while CBS produced another special, Frosty Returns, in 1992, without the collaboration of Rankin-Bass. What is surprising is that the latter production is the more widely known one: it has been consistently aired side-by-side with the original and released with it on DVD twice. This is especially annoying because Frosty Returns is not very good. It has its moments, but it’s just not as heart-felt or charming as its predecessor. So I was happy to get the opportunity to watch a restored version of Winter Wonderland. But then I actually watched it, and realized that maybe there’s a reason they opted to let Returns eclipse this one.
This is a really boring special that frankly feels a little lazy. Paul Coker’s design work is still superb–I especially love this version of Jack Frost, a sprightly mischievous elf with the voice of Paul Frees. Minoru Nishida, who also did the background art for The Last Unicorn, practically steals the show with his beautiful backgrounds. And the re-mastering job is excellent, so that everything looks crisp and clear. All that said, there are a few things that go wrong even in the visual department. We meet two more Frosty-like snow-people in this special, and I think the design loses a bit of its allure when you put two similar ones next to it. Andy Griffith (the narrator) is inexplicably made into a very ugly and creepy figure with an annoying habit of suddenly popping up on screen when you don’t expect him. These few problems aside, this is a very good-looking special and if you get it, that should be why.
Because it certainly won’t be for the plot. I began to have doubts about this special right after the opening scene, which has “the children” from the last special (Karen is nowhere to be found, oddly enough) wondering if Frosty will be coming back soon since it’s beginning to get cold again. We then cut to Frosty, talking about how he can go back to see the children since it’s getting cold again. Compare this to the climatic ending of the first special, where Frosty’s declaration to “Come back on Christmas Day!” after almost melting seems heart-felt and poignant. Heck, compare it to the opening of Returns, where Frosty just appears to another child as if he’s a spirit of winter who appears to children with hats handy, instead of just as a talking snowman. And now please realize that the line “Come back on Christmas Day!” was probably meant to carry an implied “…because then you’ll be able to make ‘me’ out of snow again!” with it. And now maybe you see exactly how mundane and disappointing this scene is.
And the rest of the thing follows suit. There are two plot threads. One is about Frosty wanting a wife so he’ll have a companion at the North Pole when it gets warm again (Santa is also missing from this special). The other involves Jack Frost, the imp who creates winter, getting tired of being the Iwerks to Frosty’s Disney, and tries to steal his magic hat. The first story is sort of interesting conceptually, but ends up being really schmaltzy and boring in practice, and the second one–though aided greatly by Paul Frees–makes Frosty kind of look like a jerk. They are both resolved, as is every kind of decision that presents itself here, easily and anti-climatically: Jack Frost turns good at the slightest hint of recognition (making Frosty look like even more of a jerk); Frosty’s wife comes to life when he gives her some flowers made of ice; and it turns out Frosty can live without his hat after his wife gives him a flower.
A lot of material is recycled from the first special–the “Happy Birthday” gag in particular is repeated ad nauseam–but we also get re-treads of the “policeman swallows his whistle” and “kids suggest stupid names for a snow-person” scenes too. In the end this makes me suspect that this special was thrown together hastily as an add-on to the Frosty-franchise.
This DVD is lovingly produced: We even get a special feature about the origin of snowmen and of Frosty himself (a rambling, vague, and uninteresting one, but it’s the thought that counts, right?). But as far as holiday cheer goes you’d be better of sticking with the original, or even the ’92 sequel, and leaving this one alone.