Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jack Frost (1979)

Jack Frost is one of the later Rankin-Bass stop-motion specials, and as such represents a trade off. The animation is far more refined than most of the more famous specials: the movement is far more fluid and natural than Rudolph, Year Without a Santa Claus, or Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, for example. However, the special is missing any of the charm that made those work, which is probably why this hasn't endured in the same way.

I think a lot of the blame goes to the concept of the narrator, a groundhog named Pardon-Me-Pete, who drains the energy from the special every second he's on screen. Say what you will about the best Rankin-Bass specials, but there's a sort of fairy-tale mythology they seem to inhabit. Pete just doesn't belong in that world, and he kills any chance this might have had to gain some gravitas. And it does try: the story used in Jack Frost is actually structured as a sort of tragedy, with the main character having to sacrifice his chance at happiness for the sake of those he loves. There are themes of growing up and sacrificing dreams for the greater good, ideas which could have delivered some emotional punch.

But all of that is basically laughed off or ignored altogether. The story is there, but the emotion isn't: it's as though the producers had a grand idea that fell apart when they realized they might depress children if they went through with it.

So, instead of a grand tragedy or even a decent drama, we get a bunch of crappy musical numbers. Somewhere, buried in this mess, was an ambitious idea, but it never floats to the surface.

As always, Rankin-Bass delivered some cool designs. The King of the Cossacks has some great steam and clockwork servants, and the immortal winter sprites, while nothing significantly different than what we've seen in other specials, are well imagined.

But, in the end, I just found this too boring to recommend to anyone who isn't a diehard Rankin-Bass fan. There's some great animation, sure, and one sweet line at the end, but it just feels too timid to actually rise above the myriad other specials.

There's a reason this one's mostly been forgotten.

If you need to see it for yourself anyway, you can pick it up on DVD.

1 comment :

  1. Watching this presently... at work. This is what happens when the boss leaves you unsupervised on a Friday at Christmastime.

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