The folks at Rankin/Bass produced some of the most memorable Christmas specials of all time, featuring their innovative use of stop-motion animation in such hits as Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. But they turned to a more traditional hand-drawn medium to weave their fanciful tale about a snowman who comes to life, thanks to a magic hat, in their 1969 classic, Frosty the Snowman.
The whole thing kicks off when bumbling magician Professor Hinkle tosses away his seemingly worthless top hat. There’s still magic in the hat though and when a young girl, Karen, decorates her snowman with it, her creation comes to life. Karen names her new friend Frosty and together they must solve two problems: Professor Hinkle’s insistence that they return the magic hat to him and Frosty’s serious need for a cold climate. Karen and Frosty take the show on the road, so to speak, hopping on a refrigerated train car on their way to the North Pole. Hocus Pocus, the magician’s rabbit, goes along for the ride and helps the two friends, who are being followed by Hinkle.
Karen, Frosty and Hocus Pocus jump off the train to escape Hinkle’s machinations but are at a loss on what to do next. Hocus Pocus suggests that they ask Santa Claus for help, an idea heartily supported by everyone. While in the wilderness, many forest animals come out to build a fire for the shivering Karen but Professor Hinkle catches up with the group and extinguishes the fire. Karen and Frosty run away and take shelter in a greenhouse for Karen’s comfort, though the little girl is worried that her snowy friend won’t fare as well, and she is right. There’s only one person who can set things right and unmelt her thawing friend, and his name is Santa Claus.
Jimmy Durante narrated this timeless holiday classic, with Jackie Vernon, June Foray, Billy De Wolfe and Paul Frees all lending their voices. Thanks to the popularity of the special, Rankin/Bass would release two sequels, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland in 1976, and, three years later, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (the first of the specials, incidentally, to feature the stop-motion animation that made Rankin/Bass specials so memorable).
Frosty the Snowman remains an endearing, and enduring, favorite, must-watch holiday viewing for generations of kids. If you made this beloved special part of your tradition each year, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section, as we tip our magic hats to Frosty and the Gang.