‘Jack Frost’ (1998) Review

The world will never have to worry about a scarcity in Christmas films. I mean Hallmark drops fifty new Christmas films onto its TV channel every year. Of course, probably only 10 per cent secure a spot on a recurring annual Christmas watch rotation. But big budget Hollywood Christmas films are different. Good or bad, they usually tend to find their way to the small screen each year, whether on a major network like NBC or ABC, or on a smaller cable network like AMC or the Disney Channel.

So, naturally my adolescent memories are filled with watches of Jack Frost. I don’t know if it was the talking snowman or just because there was nothing else on, but I kept finding myself flipping back to the film between commercials.

There is a weird charm that draws me back to this film in the same way Charlie (Joseph Cross) playing his late father’s harmonica brings Jack Frost (Michael Keaton) back to life as a snowman. However, despite boasting then-big name stars like Keaton, Kelly Preston, and Mark Addy, Jack Frost has never really achieved Christmas classic status; and that’s a real shame.

It’s hard to determine criteria for what makes a Christmas film into a classic. Some, like It’s a Wonderful Life, were box office misfires that only became classics after countless airings on TV. Others, like Home Alone and Elf, were critical and box office successes right from the start securing their legacies as legitimate holiday delights. But then there are films like Christmas with the Kranks that, while having their moments, are not great yet still end up on many annual watch lists.

If I had to sum up what a Christmas film needs in order to achieve classic status, I’d chalk it up to humor and heart. Jack Frost has a lot of the former (some unintentional) and just enough of the latter.

Jack wasn’t always the best father when he was alive. That’s not to say he did not try though. When he wasn’t on tour, he was always focused on Charlie. However, his band kept him away from Charlie’s hockey games and he missed out on a lot of moments in his son’s life. When he comes back as a snowman he is given a second chance to be the father he couldn’t always be.

This not only includes teaching Charlie how to master the J-shot, but also giving him some fatherly life advice. When Charlie first does the J-shot he doesn’t score. Jack is quick to point out that “life is full of setbacks, look at me, I’m a snowdrift with arms.” He then tells Charlie that you can either “give up or you can keep firing the puck.” Jack Frost teaches us that it’s okay to not always score in life on the first shot, because as long as you keep on trying you’re going to get that second chance.

If that’s the heart of the story, the humor lies in all the setups having a snowman that’s alive comes with. You can have an awesome snowball fight against the bullies (which Elf totally stole) and a sweet getaway via toboggan. There’s some groan-worthy puns like “You da man” / “No, I’m the snowman!” but overall there’s some good bits.

Of course, the film isn’t without its flaws. The CGI is atrocious as is the snowman costume. It’s never really explained how Jack’s best friend Mac (Addy) finds his grove to play piano again and the whole ending where a ghost Jack Frost appears telling his wife and son to move on before returning to the afterlife is strange.

However, none of this distracts from the fact that this film is just fun. It’s something to throw on the TV when company is over or have in the background when opening presents. It will never be as cherished as Home Alone or The Santa Clause, but it deserves its place among the pantheon of Christmas classics.

Author: Marmaduke Karlston

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute Doc, uh, are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"