For so many, the holiday season just isn’t the same without a visit from The Snowman. The beloved animated special tells the story of a young boy who builds and befriends a snowman, all without any dialogue. Earlier this week, Raymond Briggs, the author, illustrator, and creator of The Snowman, passed away. He was 88 years old.
Born in 1934, Briggs pursued a career in painting and illustration. His work would make him popular among both children and adults, earning numerous awards along the way. In 1978, he would publish The Snowman, which told its story entirely through the illustrations and without any text. According to Briggs, he was inspired to create the book after working on his previous book Fungus the Bogeyman. After two years of working on slime and muck, working on something clean was a refreshing break.
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The animated adaptation of The Snowman premiered in 1982 from TVC (Television Cartoons). Studio founder John Coates, who had previously worked on Yellow Submarine, produced the special and would soon after become involved in other Briggs adaptations in the future. Dianne Jackson, who had also worked on Yellow Submarine with Coates, served as director of the special with Jimmy T. Murakami supervising. The Snowman was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 55th Academy Awards (losing to Tango by Zbigniew Rybczyński). The short would win the BAFTA for Best Children’s Programme and the Grand Prix at the Tampere Film Festival in 1984. The film also made the #71 spot on the British Film Institute’s 100 Greatest British Television Programmes and came in third for Channel 4’s list of 100 Greatest Christmas Moments in 2004.
The Stories Worth Telling
The Bear and Father Christmas
The success of The Snowman would greenlight further animated adaptations by Briggs. Two other Christmas related projects would be crafted by the team. In 1991, Father Christmas premiered, which was based on two books by Briggs. The special followed Father Christmas (played by Mel Smith and later dubbed by William Dennis Hunt for the American version) as he traveled all over the world looking for a decent place to put up his feet and take a real vacation. In 1998, audiences were introduced to The Bear. Unlike Father Christmas, this short was closer in direction to The Snowman. The film was without any dialogue and told its story through animation and score, though the American version has Judi Dench narrating.
Brigg’s stories weren’t all magic and snow. The author would also tell the stories less pleasant, but just as important. In 1982, he published When the Wind Blows, a graphic novel that follows a rural English couple trying to survive a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. The film adaptation, premiering in 1986, was a mix between stop motion and traditional animation.
The final film that Briggs would be involved in was based on another graphic novel of his. Ethel and Ernest was Briggs’ love letter to his mother and father, telling their story from first meeting and all the way to their deaths. The two would survive multiple events, including preparing for World War 2. The film adaptation of Ethel and Ernest premiered in 2016 and starred Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, and Luke Treadaway.
The life of an artist is to create what you want to create. Sometimes your heart tells you to bring something innocent to life, sometimes your heart tells you to express the fears you had growing up through historical disasters. Raymond Briggs captured the hearts of millions early in his career, but had never stopped telling those stories he believed important, just like a true artist and storyteller.