About Christmas TV History

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Jack Frost (1979)

This morning in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow so according to legend, Spring is on the way.  But to be honest, when I think of Groundhog Day--the first thing that comes to mind is the clever and fun 1993 Bill Murray movie.

There's actually quite a bit of cross-over material between Christmas entertainment and groundhogs.  Who would have guessed, right?  However, this is the fourth year in a row that I've blogged on Groundhog Day.  In 2010, I blogged about three made-for-TV Christmas movies that adapted the same story structure as the 1993 movie Groundhog Day: 1996's Christmas Every Day, 2004's 12 Days of Christmas Eve, and 2006's Christmas Do OverClick HERE to see the 2010 post again.  In 2011, I wrote about the Christmas episode of The Jamie Foxx Show which adapts the same story structure of the movie Groundhog DayClick HERE to see the 2011 post again.  And, last year, in 2012, I wrote about another TV movie 12 Dates of Christmas that also adapts the story structure of the popular Bill Murray movie.  Click HERE to see the 2012 post again.

The groundhog Pardon-Me-Pete is the narrator of the story in Jack Frost.

This year in honor of Groundhog Day, I'd like to share an animated TV classic that is narrated by a singing and dancing groundhog.  Do you remember the 1979 stop-motion animated TV special Jack Frost, produced and directed by Rankin/Bass?

Pardon-Me-Pete, voiced by comedian Buddy Hackett, sings the standard "Me And My Shadow."

The story begins on Groundhog Day, February 2nd after Pardon-Me-Pete sees his shadow in front of the news cameras and the weather forecasters declare that winter will continue for six more weeks.  After returning to his bed to continue his winter nap, Pardon-Me-Pete begins to explain how his shadow is actually Jack Frost's shadow.  Few humans have ever seen the invisible Jack Frost--although most have seen his effects and felt him nipping at their noses.  Except for one winter, many years ago, when Jack Frost was human.  And the rest of this TV special's narrative is the groundhog's story about Jack Frost becoming human for one winter in a failed attempt to win the love of a special girl named Elisa.

The beautiful Elisa meets Jack when he comes to January Junction to live as a human. Frost is voiced by actor Robert Morse.

Jack Frost overhears the beautiful Elisa admiring his work of turning autumn into winter, remarking that she loves Jack Frost.  Mistaking this admiration for true love, Jack asks his boss, Father Winter to make him human so he can meet Elisa and convince her to marry him.

The character Jack Frost is invisible to humans.  The visual technique here to render Frost translucent is one of the highlights of this TV special.

With his wish granted, Jack is sent to January Junction, where Elisa and her family live.  Jack is allowed to be human for one winter but in order to stay human he must acquire four things: a house, a horse, a bag of gold, and a wife.

This TV special's villain is Kubla Kraus, the King of the Kossacks, voiced by Paul Frees. 

In January Junction, Jack takes up the trade of being a tailor but a local tyrant, Kubla Kraus owns every house, the only horse, all the gold--and Kubla Kraus even desires Elisa to be his wife!  Jack realizes the only way to meet his conditions required to become permanently human, he will have to overthrow Kubla Kraus!  This of course, is easier said than done.  Further complications ensue when a handsome knight, Sir Ravinal, arrives in the village and Elisa falls in love with him.  Jack has none of his special abilities to create the beauty of winter when he lives as a human--and thus his attempts to become an attractive suitor for Elisa's love are doomed.

As a human, Jack doesn't have any special skills but the experienced Sir Ravinal is adept at rescuing Elisa.

At Christmas time, when Kubla Kraus kidnaps Elisa to make her his bride, Sir Ravinal is able to rescue her.  But only Jack Frost knows how to stop Kubla Kraus when he threatens to return to January Junction and destroy the whole village out of revenge!  Giving up his humanity, Jack Frost creates a blizzard that lasts five weeks, making the tyrant's army of knights snowbound until the first week of February.  Though Frost has given up his chance to be human, his love for Elisa was unrequited and he prides himself in his efforts to save the village and its people that he's come to respect and admire.

How can Jack compete with a knight in golden armor?

This doomed love story is fairly complex and made even more so by the extravagant mythical explanation of how winter weather comes about.  There is a lengthy introduction of additional characters for this story including Father Winter, Snip the Snowflake maker, snow gypsies, Holly the snow gypsy responsible for collecting white Christmas snow, the Sleet Sisters, and the Hail Fellow.  I'm not sure this complicated myth about winter is any simplification over the scientific explanation.  While it is more charming to personify the elements, I think it slows the storytelling down a bit.

Father Winter is in charge--it is he who grants his assistant Jack Frost's wish to become human.

Snip the Snowflake maker individually cuts with scissors each and every snowflake during winter--that's why each one is different!  This guy should have his own Christmas TV special!

Little Holly is just one of many snow gypsies.  Her character, like Snip's, could easily be expanded for additional stories.

Father Winter sends Holly and Snip in human form to watch over Jack in January Junction.

For contemporary viewers, what may be the most interesting aspects of this 1979 animated special are the various steampunk characters.  You've forgotten about this haven't you?

Kubla Kraus owns a steampunk iron horse named Clang Stumper.

Kubla Kraus also has a clock-works robotic butler...

...and an army of steampunk knights at his command.

The tyrant even has an iron ventriloquist's dummy--that looks a lot like himself.

Though Pardon-Me-Pete explains how Groundhog Day came about, Jack Frost has some cross-over with Christmas.  While he's human, Jack spends Christmas with Elisa and her family exchanging dream gifts.  Sadly, they are too poor to exchange actual gifts.

On Christmas, Elisa and her family exchange dream gifts--an empty box--while singing "Just What I Always Wanted."

Since Jack Frost was created by Rankin/Bass who have made so many other fantastic, cherish Christmas specials--and the story focuses on winter, it continues to have a close association with Christmas time.  Jack Frost can still be seen on television each year, usually during ABC Family Channel's 25 Days of Christmas marathon of holiday programming.  Happy Groundhog Day!


  1. I have never seen this special. Now, after reading about it, I will have to DVR it next Christmastime!

  2. A new favourite! So underrated.....it's interesting how tastes change from when I was a child first watching Rankin/Bass specials to a nostalgia loving adulte

  3. nice i would not mind to be best friends with pardon me pete groundhog and other jack frost friends too. i would love it and i would have lots of fun.