A few weeks back, we introduced a new HuffPost series, Popular Things That Are Also Good. Our aim is to identify a special breed of thing: movies, books, foods, people, or concepts that are not only widely liked, but objectively good. So Justin Bieber and Naxalite philosophy are out -- the first not good enough, the second not liked enough. But ramen noodles? Taylor Swift? In like Flynn. (Gillian that is; this year's noir conversation starter, "Gone Girl," is just the sort of satisfying mental junk food this series was built to document.)
Of course, our selection process is far from objective. From our first installment's pick of Kelly Clarkson's hit song "Since U Been Gone," to this week's season-appropriate, death tinged classic, "The Snowman," we are shamelessly hawking our staff's favorite guilty pleasures. Still, what are comment sections for if not to tell us we're fools? Let us know your gripes, edits, and personal P/G candidates below. But first, pour a glass of eggnog and ready your hankies: it's time to appreciate…[spoiler alert]...
Whisk away with us over elegantly drawn hill and dale to a simpler time. 'Twas 1982, and a new Christmas classic had padded its way into the hall of public opinion, much to the dismay of its originator. A self-described "miserable git," Raymond Briggs, author and illustrator of The Snowman, among other original fables, took offense at the Hallmarkification of his creation -- a wordless picture book about a boy's brief fling with a snowman. Briggs penned the tale of doomed friendship at the bleakest point in his life, soon after the death of his parents and wife. "The idea was clean, nice and silent. I don't have happy endings," he went on record saying years later, about the book that would inspire the movie. "The snowman melts, my parents died, animals die, flowers die. Everything does. There's nothing particularly gloomy about it. It's a fact of life."
This brings us to the most foundational reason for the goodness of The Snowman.
As the law of children’s book states: the darker, the better. The Snowman, for all its pastoral charm, is fundamentally a story about death, as Briggs has strained to make clear. It’s "The Lion King" of Christmas classics, not the "Antz." The Hans Christian Andersen version of The Little Mermaid, not Disney’s. Even in the glossy film version of Brigg’s tale, the story is not forced into a shape that would sell well in a souvenir shop. Watching the credits roll on the sight of a boy and his melted friend, there are only two reasonable thoughts to have: “I know how that feels,” or “So this is what’s coming.”
There are #nowords...
Recall the darkness law of children’s lit? There’s a bylaw attached about simplicity. The simpler, the better -- or at least, the hardier. Not only is The Snowman impervious to the changes of time, knowing English is not a requisite to enjoying it. The plot relies on a total of zero lines of dialogue, so kids and adults from Adelaide to Azerbaijan can tear up on cue.
...except during the song whose charms you cannot deny.
Midway through the 20-minute film, something incredible happens. The boy and his nighttime snowfriend lift up off this mortal realm and soar off into the snow-blurred sky. The next few minutes are taken up by a scene that combines all the greatest tropes of a Disney flight sequence with none of the slick familiarity. Onlookers gape from earth, questioning their level of champagne-sozzledness. A whale flips her tail at exactly the right moment. Best of all, an ethereal soundtrack scores the whole thing -- the operatic song written for the movie, "Walking In The Air" -- which went on to become an unlikely chart topper on its own strength.
David Bowie is a fan.
There’s no better ambassador between kids and adults than the Thin White Duke (see: The Labyrinth). Bowie filmed one of the film’s several introductions, for the BBC airing that’s become a holiday tradition in England. The segment, which involves an almost alarmingly straight-faced Bowie pretending to be the boy in the film, basically deserves its own installment in this series. Maybe in 2015?