Sometimes, the best stories don’t need to be heavy with dialogue to get its point across. The action, it turns out, speaks for itself.
When I was planning my writing schedule for December, I was thinking of three holiday-themed specials that I remembered seeing as a kid that probably don’t get the nostalgic article treatment this time of year. What I came up with was last week’s article about the time licensed toys saved Christmas (and Archie Bunker was Santa Claus), one special yet to be named (next week’s article), and today’s animated holiday special, which probably is only well known if you’ve ever seen the book it takes its adaptation from.
That story, my friends, is a wordless, but music-filled, animated adventure based on a picture book called The Snowman.
I remember that winter, because it brought the heaviest snow I’d ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long, and in the morning, I awoke 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 that I made the Snowman. – Raymond Briggs, The Snowman (original introduction)
Based on a 1978 picture book of the same name by Raymond Briggs, later adapted for British Public Service Channel 4 in 1982. In the original special, a short narration plays over a man walking towards the woods, telling the story of how he came up with The Snowman, complete with narration and live action by Briggs himself. When there was interest in a release in the United States, David Bowie (yes, that David Bowie) was cast in the brief introduction, who finds a scarf in the attic of his childhood home, and sets the stage for the story of that magical day.
The Snowman is the wordless story of a boy’s (named James) fantastical journey in the skies at Christmastime with the Snowman he built (and that magic brought to life), proved to be successful, and didn’t need words to convey the beauty of such a journey. Instead, through symphonic music, the story is laid out.
James awakens to a beautiful blanket of snow, and excitedly prepares to go outside to play in it. He spends the day (between necessary breaks, of course) building the perfect wintry friend, a Snowman, complete with coal eyes, carrot nose, a hat, scarf, and a smile drawn on with James’ finger.
He is so excited about his new, albeit inanimate, friend, that he chooses to sit at the window all night and look at him. During a fitful night of sleep, James sneaks a peek out the window at midnight, only to be shown the most magical thing – his Snowman is brought to life!
After showing the Snowman his home, his parents, and taking a little trip on a motorcycle, the Snowman takes James into the sky (as “Walking on Air” plays under the sequence) and to a Snowman party deep in the woods. Once there, he is greeted by Santa Claus, and treated to Snow Musicians, treats, and dancing, among Snowmen (and Snow Women!) built by children…and brought to life by Christmas magic.
After seeing Santa’s reindeer, and getting a scarf from Santa, James is taken home by the Snowman, to whom he bids farewell.
James wakes up in the morning, excited about the prospect of seeing his new friend again…only to find his friend is no more.
I forgot about that part, and wow, that is sad.
Encountering The Snowman
When I was in elementary school – I think sixth grade – we watched The Snowman during Library time. I remember the book from school, and enjoying the animated adaptation, but like many things, it found its way to the back of my mind, buried by, well, everything else that was probably more important to twelve-year-old me.
That is, until about fifteen-plus years later, when I was watching one of the Nostalgia Critic’s Commercial episodes. It was in one of those episodes that the long buried memory of the story of a boy and his magical Snowman, and the journey they take together, pushed itself into my consciousness. And it isn’t even a commercial for a product sold in the United States, but one sold in the United Kingdom.
“Scotland’s ‘Other National Drink'”
IRN-BRU is a carbonated soft drink manufactured in Scotland, and often referred to as “Scotland’s other national drink” (the other being whiskey), by A.G. Barr, or Barr’s, of Glasgow. It is sold throughout the United Kingdom, as well as parts of the world where there are significant communities of people from Scotland. It has been around since 1901, and its advertising has been deemed controversial at times. One such commercial, while not deemed “controversial,” certainly had an interesting approach to the story of The Snowman. The commercial also had the distinction of being the first Christmas commercial for the company, and was produced in 2006.
The song in the commercial, a take on the original special’s “Walking on Air,” tells the tale of the journey with the Snowman, and the winter friend’s desire to try the boy’s IRN-BRU. The song conveys the boys annoyance, telling the Snowman to “get his own.” That insistence (and the response it gets) continues for the entire commercial, until the Snowman finally gets sick of the boy’s response and just…
Oh, you need to see it to believe it.
I laughed way harder at the Snowman’s response than was probably appropriate.
Gone was the gentle happiness and innocence of the young boy from the original cartoon, and in its place is this modern-day boy with a smirk and a taunt, teasing the wintry friend with his can of IRN-Bru.
He got what he deserved.
Serves that little brat right – he taunted the Snowman with his Irn Bru the entire time, and in song insisted he “get his own.”
So of course, I thought “man, what a creative advertisement!” and that it was so funny and such an appropriate response, while maintaining the charm of the source material.
And then I found out there was a sequel. As in, I found out today (the day I’m writing this) that it existed.
The Quest for IRN-BRU…The Sequel!
“Snowman – The Sequel” was produced for IRN-BRU in 2018, a followup to the boy being dropped into the snow in Edinburgh, and the Snowman taking off with the prized can of IRN-BRU.
You knew the boy was ok after the original commercial, but what happened as a result of the Snowman’s actions toward the boy?
Why, allow IRN-BRU to show you what happens when a Snowman drops you out of the sky!
So, Santa’s a bit of a jerk. Or he just REALLY likes IRN-BRU.
Children of Scotland, take note when you leave out cookies for Santa this year. He wants IRN-BRU, not milk.
…as long as you leave Santa IRN-BRU.
And quit teasing Snowmen!
And Now, You!
Have you ever seen The Snowman, looked at the book, or watched either of the IRN-BRU commercials inspired by the the story? Did David Bowie’s appearance in the “American” version surprise you too? (Mind you, that’s the version I saw as a kid.) Share your thoughts in the comments. As always, I appreciate your stories and feedback!
Allison’s Written Words continues its countdown to Christmas, with ten days and counting!
Have a great day!
The Snowman is one of my moms favorite movies, I haven’t seen it in years. I never even knew about the IRN-BRU connection, I might have to watch it again. I just watched another wordless cartoon movie called The Illusionist (2010) that was really good and I highly recommend. Great article, I’m going to have to see this movie again and refresh my memory.
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I remember the David Bowie introduction so vividly, probably because as an adult, I’m surprised that it was David Bowie. As a 12-year-old, I wouldn’t have noticed.
I remember watching the original American production because I was a David Bowie fan (I was 19 or 20 when it came out) … and being utterly charmed by the watercolor animation.
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