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Rankin/Bass Retrospective: 'Frosty's Winter Wonderland'

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The year was 1976, twelve years since Rankin/Bass first began making Christmas specials with their classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Perhaps it was out of an awareness that it had been over a decade, and on the cusp of a new generation being introduced to their specials, that the studio decided to use that year to honor the stars of Christmas past. For December of that year, they produced a grand total of three specials all starring characters from their 60’s specials, beginning with a sequel to 1969’s Frosty the Snowman.

Frosty's Winter Wonderland

rankinbass-retrospective-frostys-winter-wonderland
AirdateNetworkStudio

December 2, 1976

ABC

Rankin/Bass

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Of course, to call this special a sequel is being a bit generous, as it shares the loosest of continuity with the original special. This is enforced from the first scene of the special, where a group of children are shown building a snowman, putting a straw hat on its head and lamenting that it can’t come to life like the real Frosty. While the town they’re from is indeed the same one as the original special, these aren’t the same children. For all intent and purposes, however, they seem to be presented as if they are.

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It should also be noted at this point that the role of the narrator has changed as well, though for understandable reasons. Jimmy Durante was the narrator in the original Frosty, but a few years later in 1972, he suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed, resulting in his retirement. The new narrator is Andy Griffith, presented (like Durante) as a caricature of himself.

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Up at the North Pole, Frosty (voiced again by Jackie Vernon) remembers his promise to come back “someday”, but also reflects on how it’s been a long time since he made that promise. However, when a newspaper blows by declaring the city a “winter wonderland”, Frosty rushes home and writes a letter to the kids announcing he would soon be returning. Soon, he returns to the city and meets up with the children to play, making everyone happy except one person.

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Enter the villain of the special, Jack Frost (voiced by Paul Frees, who also voiced the Magician in the original special). Jack is jealous of Frosty, seeing how all the children love Frosty far more than him. He decides to steal Frosty’s magic hat in order to turn him back into a regular snowman. While the children and Frosty are skating on the ice, Jack blows a huge gust of wind at them, and the wind carries back a silk top hat. Jack Frost leaves, thinking he was triumphant, not realizing the hat he snatched belonged to a horse that the children had brought to pull their sleigh.

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After finishing another day of play, the children are called back home for supper, leaving Frosty sad that he doesn’t have someone to be with when they’re not around. One of the children, Elsie, suggests that Frosty get a wife, and after explaining to Frosty what a wife is, he thinks it’s a great idea. The next day, the children help build a wife for Frosty to his specifications, and decide on the name “Crystal”. The only problem is that she’s just a regular snowperson, not alive. This saddens Frosty and all seems hopeless, until he gives her a bouquet of snow flowers he made, and through the magic of love, she comes to life (voiced by actress Shelley Winters).

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Meanwhile, Jack Frost discovered that he had grabbed the wrong hat, and in a fit of rage, returned to the town. Seeing how happy Frosty and Crystal were together, he proceeded to blow a strong gust of wind again, this time getting the hat and turning Frosty back into a regular snowman. However, using the same magic of love as he had used for her, Crystal made a snow flower and pinned it on Frosty, bringing him back to life to Jack Frost’s bewilderment (causing him to toss the hat, which landed perfectly on Frosty’s head).

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Frosty and Crystal rushed into town to announce their wedding, gathering up the kids and going over to the home of the local parson, Parson Brown. He initially refuses, only feeling able to wed human couples, but suggests they make a snow parson, brought to life with a copy of the Bible.

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Jack Frost steps in one last time to try and ruin the wedding, but is calmed down by Crystal, who suggests that Jack, being an element of winter, be the best man for the wedding. Jack Frost, surprised by this and Frosty calling him “friend”, agrees, and the wedding commences. To the tune of “Winter Wonderland”, Frosty and Crystal are married.

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They then build an igloo and live in the town for a number of months, well into April, when the weather finally starts to warm up. Jack Frost offers to make it winter “forever”, but Parson Brown objects, pointing out how the cycle of nature would be disrupted by such a selfish act. Frosty and Crystal agree, and cheer the kids up by having one final romp through the town. During this, they encounter the traffic cop again, the only other returning character from the original special, who has come to terms with the idea of one talking snowman, but has the same alarmed reaction as before to a second.

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Once they finish, Frosty and Crystal board a train to the North Pole, saying goodbye to the children. Spring finally comes, and the winter wonderland melts into memory. At least until the following year, when Frosty and Crystal would return.

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“Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” faces the daunting task of being a sequel to one of the most beloved holiday specials, and in certain areas it does fall somewhat flat. It’s evident that this special was made with a cheaper budget than the original, relying more on limited animation tricks, and the connections this sequel has to the original special are tangential at best. But in the sense of being another fun half hour with Frosty, it at least earns a place as a companion piece to the original.

But, by circumstances, “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” unfortunately can no longer be a companion piece in an official sense. In 1987, when Rankin/Bass closed its doors as a studio, their catalog was split into two parts, with their productions before 1974 going to one company (presently Classic Media) and their productions from 1974 onward going to another (now Time Warner). “Winter Wonderland” was shown alongside the original for a decade, but due to this split, both are now owned by separate entities. This would eventually result in the creation of a different sequel, 1992’s “Frosty Returns” from CBS, which has aired as the de facto companion piece to the original ever since. Another alternate sequel would eventually be produced by Classic Media, 2005’s “The Legend of Frosty the Snowman”.

However, before all of this, Rankin/Bass would eventually take one more shot at Frosty, pairing him up with Rudolph for a movie-length adventure...

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