Frosty the Woe-Man

Is man no more than this?

December 8, 2023 – Since I talked about my satanic glee at a wet Christmas earlier on this blog, it snowed again. At first, I took it personally, and I shook my fist at the sky and screamed "Khan!" at the top of my lungs. But then the thin snow covering dissipated by afternoon. That's twice in three weeks that's happened. Like Snow Miser is having a particularly tricky battle with his brother. But this is New England, and at some point it will snow. In which case, I will need to find a way to deal with it. Good thing there's Frosty the Snowman, an animated special that is cynical enough to ice any snow bunny.

Based on a song popularized by Gene Autry in 1950, the same cowboy singer who introduced us to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and wrote Here Comes Santa Claus, the special tells the story of a magic hat that makes a snowman come briefly to life.

Rankin-Bass released this cartoon adaptation of the song in 1969. Narrated (and sung) by Jimmy Durante, with comedian Jackie Vernon voicing Frosty, the story Christmases up the original not-really-Christmas song with Santa and decorations and such. It also gives the story a villain besides the snow-unfriendly sun. An evil, bumbling magician, to be specific.

It seems like a happy story. Frosty keeps his hat. The magician is redeemed. The kids get a new friend. And it ends with Santa in a sleigh. However, if you pay attention to the story in the way that Christmas never wants you to pay attention to its stories, this animated special is an absolute bummer. 

And I love it even more, as a result. 

Because that bipedal bit of white space is a metaphor for all that’s existentially atrocious about the human condition. 

Like most childhoods, his first breaths of consciousness were full of enthusiasm, happiness, and wonder. And then, ten minutes later, everything turned to absolute peril when he realized that the world was an inhospitable place for such as him. Seriously, it was mere seconds and a bit of song refrain between “I am alive! What a neat thing to happen.” To “Uh-oh. Is there a thermometer around here?” It’s like the whole thought arc of the plummeting whale in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Santa. Horrified.

Eventually he did die. Death by greenhouse, in fact. A Sad little puddle reflecting the fiery red, poisonous poinsettias that surrounding him like blindly leering Triffids and mingling with the tiny tears of the little girl who loved him most.

Of course, Santa Claus (who, as you know, speaks a fluent rabbit) saves the day and resurrects Frosty with a mere finger laid aside his nose (so to speak). And that, kids, is why some say we’ve made up God. Because life is short and wretched, and evil magicians want to steal our silk hat souls.

In fact, in the original song, it’s even worse. There is no deus ex machina in a red suit and white beard. “Hurry on his way” is the euphemism used there for the end of Frosty, along with a vague eternal-lifey promise of being back some day.

The film dabbles with the whole problem of evil, as well, believe it or not. Professor Hinkle, the evil magician, didn't want Frosty to exist in the first place, and spent the whole movie trying to off him just as much as the warm weather did. However, had the magician not locked Frosty into the greenhouse to melt, Karen and Frosty might not have known of his eternal Christmas snow-ness after all. Thus, evil plays a part in God’s universal plan. Or, in the words of Professor Hinkle, “We evil magicians have to make a living, too."

And just like that, Frosty becomes the saddest Christmas character of them all for me. Sure, Rudolph got made fun of, but that turned out OK. A prenatal Christ was rejected from every inn in town and had to start his short wretchedness in an animal trough, but he turned out OK, too. Minus the crucifixion bit. Frosty didn’t get a better life. He was allowed the bare minimum. He was allowed to live…sort of. The way he talked about the North Pole, it could easily have been his heaven. It's a place where all his worldly problems are supposed to be solved, after all. So the Santa God-figure appears to take Frosty to the heaven of the North Pole just so Karen and her friends don't have to face the fact that he might not have been more than frozen water, anyway.

That's how I felt at the end, too.

Right, I know. I’m missing the moral of the story. In this case, I guess despite all the metaphysical turmoil on the part of Frosty, his response to it all was, “Let's run, and we'll have some fun before I melt away.” To me, though, the whole “enjoy life while you can” idea is salvage, not solution. Freefall is fun but not worth pancaking on the ground for.

Now when it snows, I hope you interpret all those floating, individually unique building blocks of Frosty as representations of the misery of the human condition.

That's all I've got for Mr. Snowman. Emmet Otter, you're next.