12 Days of Netflix: Jack Frost (1998)
Ivan Radford | On 21, Dec 2018Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Troy Miller
Cast: Michael Keaton, Kelly Preston, Joseph Cross
Watch Jack Frost online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
We unwrap a different Christmas film from Netflix’s dubious seasonal selection every day. For 12 days. It’s the 12 Days of Netflix.
“Why me? Why a snowman? I mean, could the universe really be that unoriginal?” That’s Jack Frost (Michael Keaton) in Jack Frost, a 1998 family comedy/drama that sees a snowman come to life with the spirit of a dead man.
Jack, when we first meet him, is a happy, jolly soul, fronting a low-rent rock band (including Game of Thrones’ Mark Addy on keys) that unexpectedly strikes it lucky with a bluesy cover of Frosty the Snowman. That only encourages his selfish nature, and, after a life of being away on tour, he ends up missing a crucial ice hockey game featuring his son, Charlie (Joseph Cross). Luckily, though, he has a heart-to-heart with the boy in which he gives him a harmonica, saying that it’s magic and will bring Jack near whenever it’s played. Fast forward a year after his tragic death, Charlie picks up that harmonica and plays it – and, lo and behold, the snowman in their backyard is possessed.
It’s a strange premise, part twee sentiment and part creepy weirdness – it’s telling that the other notable live-action Frosty the Snowman is the low-budget horror movie, also called Jack Frost. But it’s not hard to imagine Warner Bros. green-lighting the promising idea of taking the fairytale (they say) of a snowman coming to life one day and turning it into a syrupy family movie. And so here we are, deep in the uncanny valley of sludgy special effects that turn the magical figure at the heart of this fable into something that looks just a little bit naff.
That uneven level of semi-success applies to the script too, which knows it wants to tug at your heartstrings but can’t quite work out how to do it, while still delivering a fun adventure with snowman-related frolics. The result is left to melt in an awkward road between the two: we get the bizarre spectacle of a snowman winning a snowball fight and going sledding, but we also have the bit where Charlie’s mum (Kelly Preston) asks Addy’s best friend to have a chat with wee Charles to make sure he’s doing ok.
The latter, crucially, isn’t delved into in any depth; the nearest we get to a philosophical discussion about the implications of Jack Frost being reincarnated as a lump of sentient ice is Charlie exclaiming “You da man!” and Jack replying “No, I da snowman!” While a family movie mired in grief isn’t exactly an easy sell, it’s the kind of territory that makes Song of the Sea and Studio Ghibli animations so profound and beautiful; Jack Frost’s decision to steer clear of it, not even letting its characters recognise the basic shock of seeing an actual talking snowman, renders the whole family drama two-dimensional.
Without that emotional engagement, you‘re left distracted by things like Jack’s appearance, questioning the unanswered physics of it all, and wishing Keaton had more to do. (He’s electric in the film’s opening scene, which sees him and his band in action, and you long for more of that – which is hardly the intended message of the film.) Why does Jack never fully melt? How can his twiggy arms hold anything? Shouldn’t that scarf and hat of his by soaking wet by now? And why him? Why a snowman? Is the universe really that unoriginal? In short, yes, it is.
Jack Frost is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.