The sequel to the silent Christmas classic The Snowman is set to air this Monday, more than 30 years after the original's premiere. The Snowman was nominated for an Academy Award and is broadcast annually throughout Great Britain. Occasionally shown with an incongruous introduction by David Bowie, it tells the wordless story of a young boy whose snowman comes to life and take him on a series of adventures, only to melt into nothingness by the dawn of the next day.
It is a beloved holiday tradition; for many children of the 70s and 80s it was the first program they ever saw that addressed death and loss. Now there is a sequel, and it has a dog in it, and it is called The Snowman and the Snowdog, which says a lot about the kind of film it is likely to be.
It may be a very good sequel, of course. It may perfectly recapture and even improve upon the spirit of the original film, as well as the award-winning book by Raymond Briggs it was based upon. But there is something inexpressibly sad about an attempt so many years later to revisit such a perfectly self-contained story. Every detail of the production process seems more devastating than the last.
The original artists have returned from retirement:
Eight people who worked on the original film are working on The Snowman and the Snowdog. 'We had to get a few of them out of retirement,' Fielding says. 'A lot of the others hadn't used drawing skills like this for years because now they are all drawing on tablets straight into the computer – and we've trained some new people up as well.'
Hobbled and hoary-eyed old men, veterans of a thousand campaigns, were roused from their beds in order to redo The Snowman, but this time with a dog in it. Time and technology have advanced without them; the pencil sits less firmly in their aged hands than it did before. No matter. There is work to be done.
Many of them are drawing alone, at home, possibly in the dark, without light or companionship to warm them:
Lupus has employed 78 renderers in total; many are working externally because there is not enough space at the studio. 'They come here to collect a folder of drawings and take them away to colour in at their own studios or at home,' Fielding says
Or on the street, or in a breadline, or in the woods. Where they find shelter is of no importance. Completing the work is all that matters. Only then will they be released from their decades-old oath.
The original author, Raymond Briggs, was against the idea of a sequel for years:
There has been talk of a sequel to The Snowman since it was first shown 30 years ago. John Coates, its producer, was always keen; Raymond Briggs, on the other hand, never wanted another film. 'After the first film was a huge hit and nominated for an Oscar [in 1983], everybody said to Raymond, "Let's make another one",' Deakin says. 'At the time he said, "No, no, no, I don't want to. That's it. The snowman melts at the end of the story and that's the end of it."'
The grave must be emptied. Death must be denied. The magic must be recaptured, by brute force if necessary. The snowman has died, but he cannot rest.
He was talked into it:
It was Coates who persuaded Briggs (now 78) that there should be another film made with his blessing. 'John spoke to Raymond, and I think he [Briggs] is more of a softie in his old age,' Deakin says. 'He could see that it could work and John said we'd get the old team together again.
An old men was persuaded to compromise, then called a "softie" in the national press. The old team is together again, but the time is out of joint.
This is the nicest thing Raymond Briggs could bring himself to say about the project:
Briggs, 78, has said he is keeping "a polite distance" from the sequel, but added: "An awful lot of the old team are being re-assembled to make it, so that is good. I am not grumpy at all about it."
"I am not grumpy," he continued, "I am not sad. I am not at all disheartened by this latest attempt to pretend we are not all pitching hopelessly fast toward the grave in perfect darkness. Perhaps the snowman did come back from the dead with an adorable dog with socks for ears. Isn't it pretty to think so."
This is what Raymond Briggs had to say about The Snowman five years ago:
Did he ever consider ending it differently, happily, even, to avoid upsetting his young readers? "No, no, God no," he says, a look of revulsion flickering across his face. "I don't believe in happy endings. Children have got to face death sooner or later. Granny and Grandpa die, dogs die, cats die, gerbils and those frightful things - what are they called? - hamsters: all die like flies. So there's no point avoiding it."
It gets worse:
Coates died of cancer, aged 84, three weeks ago, but the team takes solace in the fact that he was able to see the trailer.
Let them take solace where they can at this point. How they manage to drag themselves into the studio and pick up a pencil in an act of defiance against the forces of entropy is an existential mystery. This, too, deserves respect.
The boy, too, is gone:
'A few things have changed since The Snowman,' Deakin explains as we go upstairs to see them at work. 'It is set in the same house, but 30 years later'...The story is essentially the same, but a different little boy has moved into the house. At the start of the film you see the boy – 'who is called Billy, but he is never referred to by name,' Deakin says – moving in with his mother and a rather elderly pet dog.
What happened to the first boy, who met and loved and lost his only friend in perfect silence? There are no answers. He may have died; he may have grown up and moved into a new house and forgotten everything that happened that day. He may be lurking in the woods. He may be the new Snowman. No one knows, or if they do, they are not telling.
They said there's "an elderly pet dog." Which means, of course:
'We start the film on a downer,' Harrison continues. 'There is a death very early on.' Soon into The Snowman and the Snowdog, the dog dies. Consequently, when winter comes and it snows, Billy is inspired to build not only a snowman but also a snowdog to replace the pet he has lost.
There it is.