Last year around this time, we looked beyond the clay as we examined that children’s classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This year, it’s the Man in White’s turn. We turn our attention from Burl Ives to Jimmy Durante as we search for the true meaning of Frosty the Snowman.
What were Rankin-Bass and the creators of Frosty trying to tell us?
Don’t Trust Magicians
Professor Hinkle, the villain in Frosty the Snowman, is a struggling, incompetent magician. He’s also a child-hater and a murderer.
His character betrays not just a distrust of magicians, but a distrust of magic itself and other pagan supernatural beliefs. There’s something very Puritan, something very witch-burning, about the subtext of Frosty. The central conflict is Christianity vs. paganism, and the same fear, xenophobia and paranoia that led to the Salem witch trials permeates the special. While the protagonists just want to have fun and celebrate life and Christmas, Professor Hinkle states his desire to be a millionaire magician. And we all know how that turns out.
Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30
Even more so than in Charlie Brown cartoons, it’s clear in Frosty that adults are the enemy. Hinkle is the most obvious example, but there’s not one adult in the whole half hour who comes off well. Adults are either obstacles or hapless boobs. Usually both. Everyone from the whistle-swallowing traffic cop to the uncharitable train ticket-taker to the grumpy teacher manages to stand in the way of the kids and their search for joy. Moreover, while Hinkle is indeed a mustache-twirling villain, the kids’ treatment of him in the classroom is unneccesarily cruel, as Nothing But Cartoons points out. And while Santa Claus may be an asshole in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, here he’s a condescending, ineffective figurehead who is far too lenient on Hinkle.
Life is Fleeting
Hey kids! Want to learn about death? This is a great place to start. Almost as soon as he comes to life, Frosty starts sweating — and tells Karen and the rest of the kids that red thermometers are bad for snowmen. Karen wants to get Frosty “someplace where you’ll never melt.” She begins a quixotic quest to bring Frosty to the North Pole and its promise of eternal cold. Aww. Karen. What a nice dream. Unfortunately, your nice dream is about to be crushed in one of the cruelest moments in children’s television history:
Yep. That’s Karen, sobbing over her friend’s corpse. Guess what, Karen? There’s no such thing as someplace where you’ll never melt. We all melt. Sometimes due to murder by evil magician, sometimes not. But we all melt. Merry Christmas!
…but Salvation Awaits. Maybe!
Like I said, this is a Christian screed. And after Frosty is slaughtered, we are fed a ridiculous line of bullshit by Santa Claus. Namely, that because Frosty was made of Christmas snow, he can always be brought back to life. In fact, he’ll be back every December! It feels fake in the moment, even without thinking about what that myth represents. And it should be a cold comfort at best to Karen that Frosty is dead but only kinda.
The Writers Were On More Than Just a Jesus High
Check out this section of Durante’s opening narration:
I suppose it all started with the snow. You see, it was a very special kind of snow. A snow that made the happy happier, and the giddy even giddier. A snow that’d make a homecoming homier, and natural enemies, friends.
Ummmm….what kind of snow are we talking about here, exactly?
If the writers were enjoying some extra-curricular activities while penning the teleplay for Frosty, that might explain some of the inconsistencies with which snowman intelligence is depicted. On one hand, Frosty can speak fluent English, knows what thermometers and the U.S. marines are, and can juggle. On the other hand, he can’t count to ten and doesn’t know what a lamppost is. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! Frosty is either the mental equivalent of a turnip-truck-felled newborn, or he is imbued with knowledge from our collective subconscious the moment he comes to life.
Professor Hinkle is from Boston
Don’t believe me? Check out the scene when Frosty and Karen jump off the train early, leaving him on board. He shakes his fist at them and screams, “No fay-ah! No fay-ah!” Sound like anyone else we know?