Jack Frost

Jack Frost. The Canton Company 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I saw one trailer for this movie very many times because it was on the tape for Thomas and the Magic Railroad or something else that played a lot at our house, but I don’t think I’ve actually seen the whole movie.

I completely spaced who played the father and somehow got to thinking it was Jack Nicholson, which would’ve been pretty late for Nicholson to take a role like this.

Anyway, I remember not being very interested at the time because the trailer leaned heavily on some sophomoric humor, but trailers rarely represent their movies well, especially when they have that kind of heavy reliance on a single note that isn’t at the core of the genre.

After watching the movie:

Jack Frost is a full-time blues musician in a small Colorado town who’s always on the road at gigs and never has time to be with his son Charlie or help his wife Gabby around the house. Jack tells Charlie that he’ll be at his hockey game, but then records a song in the studio instead. Jack promises Charlie they can spend Christmas at the cabin together, but then his band gets an opportunity to get signed by a major record label, but only if they play at an executive’s party on Christmas day. Jack goes, but then decides that his family is more important and tries to return to the cabin, only to skid off a mountain road and die. A year later, Charlie has cut himself off from most things. One of his last happy memories of his father was building a snowman together, and when Charlie builds one this year, he plays a harmonica Jack gave him, wishing they could be together for Christmas. And then the snowman comes to life, as Jack. When Jack learns what he’s missed in the last year, he takes the opportunity to be a better father to Charlie than he was when he was alive, but Gabby is getting very concerned that Charlie is getting too attached to that pile of snow.

It’s a nice change that the workaholic absent father is a musician instead of a three-piece suit office executive, but I completely didn’t buy Michael Keaton as a blues singer. Keaton looks like he’s having fun, but he also looks very out of place and I can’t really put my finger on why. Later, when Jack is coming to terms with having been resurrected as a snowman, he comments on how on the nose and unoriginal it is that he’s a snowman come to life and named Jack Frost, so that’s at least addressed, but we also meet him singing a blues cover of Frosty the Snowman, which was very offputtingly cheesy.

On the one hand, this movie wants to be a somber meditation on taking responsibility for family, making the most of the time one has, and moving on from a loss, and it’s paced like that. It’s half an hour before Jack dies and the movie is half over when Charlie accepts Jack’s return. On the other hand, wacky snowman hijinks, including an extended action sequence sledding away from bullies and gags about Jack’s components separating. There’s a long section near the end where Jack is melting and Charlie is trying to get him somewhere cold, and then once that’s accomplished it’s not long at all, in the runtime or in the story, before Jack tells him he has to leave. It’s almost as if he checked how much time was left in the movie and decided it was time to level up in wisdom.

There’s a lot of charm and heart here, but this movie doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and I think the script could have used some more drafts. It probably also got a lot of the more trailer-friendly aspects from executive pressure to make it more marketable. While it makes sense that if you’re going to have a magic animated snowman you should use that, the larger plot doesn’t really care that Jack’s a snowman, just that he’s a temporarily resurrected father trying to do better. And I think there should have been more of that and less snow-anatomy gags.

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