It is as regular as the Queen’s speech and as traditional as leftover turkey sandwiches that continue into the New Year; the original Christmas classic ‘The Snowman’ is now in its 30th year and still entertaining audiences with its timeless charm and memorable style and grace. So it’s no wonder that its success demanded a sequel, but in an effort to keep the story unique author Raymond Briggs would not budge. Thankfully the producer of the original (John Coates) convinced author Briggs that his creations would be once again safe in his hands and the hands of Lupus Films who had the enormous task of remaining faithful to the style of the first film and the memory of John Coates who sadly passed away during production.
The phenomeonal success of the original tale of a young boy named James who creates a Snowman that magically comes to life casts quite the shadow over any sequel. So when a new family move into the same house that hosted that magical Christmas, it must be equal to or better than the original – with thirty years and generations of cherished memories behind it. That’s a lot of pressure on young Billy – the star of the sequels – ‘s shoulders.
Remaining true to a film that is so etched into people’s memories and can be easily described as a national institution is not a task that the team at Lupus have taken lightly, and as a result ‘The Snowman and The Snowdog’ is an astounding achievement. Great care has been taken in order to recreate every element that made the original as endearing as it was: Hilary Audus and Joanna Harrison, who worked on the original, returned to lend their expert opinion, as well as Michael Gabriel and others returning to their tasks that ended just over 30 years ago while being joined by a new team of animators.
Although technology has come a long way since 1982, and I am pleased to say that this outing was created in much the same way the first film was; every frame you see on screen has been coloured in by hand. Robin Shaw, the assistant director told us of the ‘pencil extenders’ that where used during the process so artists could get an extra hour or so out of each pencil, ensuring that the rendering of the films 200,000+ individual frames (and the rendering of blisters on hard working animator’s fingers) continued re-creating Raymond Briggs’ style.
It is this dedication to style that links the first film and the sequel so elegantly and so anyone afraid of CGI special effects ruining childhood memories need not be. Of course style is also evident in the storytelling, which you may agree after viewing actually eclipses the first film. When sequels add extra characters you may be forgiven for tutting and rolling your eyes and assuming that it’s a gimmick or an extra piece of merchandise The Snowdog, however, is the emotional centre of the story which helps Billy come to terms with his own losses, and without the dog’s inclusion the film would just be another outing for the Snowman with no real substance.
Whilst perhaps one of the more memorable parts of the original, the song ‘Walking in the Air’ has been omitted from the sequel, a new song and a new soundtrack accompanying the film has been created by Ilan Eshkeri who takes over from Howard Blake.
Andy Burrows of Razorlight fame and a familiar lineup of muscians including Tim Wheeler from Ash, Dom Howard from Muse and Aristazabal Hawkes from Guilllemots also contribute to the song that takes the place of the tune that Peter Auty and later Aled Jones made famous. Whilst I am certain Ilan Eshkeris’ score is just as memorable as Howard Blake’s, only time will tell if the official single ‘Light The Night’ will have the same legacy as ‘Walking in the air’. It is a bold departure from any expectation that may have been brought about from the need to outdo Walking in the Air, but it fits the feel of the film nicely.
Not many sequels outdo their predecessors, but The Snowman and The Snowdog takes the legacy of the first film and crafts something extraordinary that is just as timeless as the first.
The Snowman and The Snowdog is on Channel Four at 8pm Christmas Eve
You can see more behind the scenes on the official website here