Taking a central cultural fixture of your childhood and giving it a makeover has multiple risks attendant, but none more utterly distressing than the prospect of disappointing diehards by tarnishing, or tragically even kamikaze-ing, the shimmering, standalone glory of the original. The creators of The Snowman and the Snowdog, the centrepiece of Channel 4’s Christmas programming, knew its forebear loomed heavy; thankfully, at least Raymond Briggs, the notoriously irate The Snowman creator, had given it the nod to proceed.
The new film involves the additional canine character, but apart from a back-story, the plot follows the 1982 original almost identically. A new boy moves into the old boy’s home, bringing with him a sickly old pooch who soon croaks. Distraught kid then finds a hidden box left by Original Boy containing a photo and all the paraphernalia used to make the snowman, complete with the original dried-out satsuma nose. Snow falls; boy builds snowman. In a tribute, he also decides to build a snow dog (which receives for a nose the old dried-out satsuma). Then snow-beings come alive, play in house, learn hot and cold hazards, fly to North Pole, de der de der de der.
Various authoritative reviews of the 23-minute re-rendering have basically decided unanimously: warm and fuzzy sequel of children’s classic, alas sh*te and unnecessary. As much as I was loath to admit it, I cringed with them some of the way. But on repeat viewing, the general verdict seems harsher than it deserves, and needs rehabilitating a little bit.
If Snowdog is seen, and held up in comparison, as a direct sequel to The Snowman, it falls down any day of the week. It’s not intended to be either: the last time The Snowman creators consciously tried to emulate the original’s success was in 1998, with the much lesser known The Bear. Its minor status testifies to that approach. Snowdog has to be seen as an update; a remake that doesn’t pretend it’s trying to outdo the original story. Hence, the distancing devices. There’s an updated setting (the area surrounding the house has been massively urbanised), new protagonist, and new snowy character.
The new film is based around the ‘Snowdog’. The snowman matters less, because in a way, the snowman’s story doesn’t need revisiting. In the climactic skiing sequence, the snowman crashes out, but that doesn’t trouble us – the final dash between penguin versus Boy and Snowdog shows us where the bonding’s at. Like the Snowman in the 1982 film, the cute frozen pet is the object of greatest emotional investment in this one; the Snowman’s presence simply assures the magic and is a recognisable link to its older cinematic relative. He’s not irrelevant though: the unusually happy resolution is brought back to a sober reflection of loss by his melting, again. Most reassuringly, nothing of merit in the new film intrudes upon the specialness of the 1982 Boy-Snowman association.
About that defining song – yes, it’s not the boy treble tones of Peter Auty; yes, it’s a tad Coldplay. But ‘Light the Night’, written by Andy Burrows, Razorlight’s ex-drummer, was conscious precisely of not trying to be the original: the new setting is “more urban, so the music reflects that”. Despite the initial dismay of my own fresh ears, I found myself being strangely persuaded on third and fourth listening that I could catch myself crooning the tune in a soppy winter moment.
So no, it’s not a good ‘sequel’ – because nothing could be. Yes, there is every possibility it’s “unnecessary”. But it’s a different creature for different times, related but separate, and really, it’s not for us to decide if it deserves to stand. The Snowman and the Snowdog is a product of the 2010s, not the 1980s, and the generational boundary kicks in when it comes to deeming if it soars into either perennial affection or a slot on Dave beside the Wombles’ Christmas single.