It’s been a long time since I saw a live-action, non-established IP children’s flick; while both Pixar and Dreamworks produce children’s films that entertain both kids and adults, the live-action department is populated almost entirely with the droppings of talking dogs, gerbils, and overzealous movie producers seeking to capitalize on an easy demographic. So, it was with a heavy heart that I walked into Robert Kirbyson’s Snowmen, a film that follows recovered cancer victim Billy Kirkfield’s (Billy Coleman) attempt to leave his mark on the world before dying. Despite its suprisingly mature subject matter, the film maintains a lighthearted, lovable appeal, largely due to the sincerity and skill of its child actors.
Shortly after befriending a newly arrived Jamaican boy named Howard and acclimating him to the harsh local weather, Billy informs him of his disease, removing his cap to reveal the effects of chemotherapy. Because his car salesman father (Ray Liotta) tends to “spin” the truth at work, Billy believes he’s likewise lying to him about beating cancer—is convinced he has only weeks to live. And so, Billy and Howard, along with fellow pal Jason (Josh Flitter) set out to leave their mark on the world by setting the Guinness World Record for most snowmen built in a day. It’s a delightful, heartfelt tale with a strangely middle-age slant, making it pallatable to both young and old. One concern the content raises is whether children will understand Billy’s position, and if not, whether the film can truly be enjoyed. When I was five, I saw a Charlie Brown TV cartoon titled Why, Charlie Brown, Why? where Linus fell in love with a young cancer victim who lost her hair from treatment; the story made no sense to me, and I only felt confused and angry. Luckily, the film provides numerouse explanations for Billy’s need to prove himself. At the film’s open, the boys discover a frozen body in the snow; this man haunts the background of the characters’ minds, acting as a catalyst for their mid-life-crisis-esque behavior. This is simple enough that any child could grasp it, so an in-depth understanding of cancer isn’t entirely necessary. It also sets up Christopher Lloyd for a beautiful cameo as the somber, philosophical groundskeeper at a graveyard.
Cancer and death-by-hypothermia aside, Snowmen is mostly a joyful romp that hearkens back to the final days of enjoyable children’s entertainment like My Girl. We see childhood friendships forged on the blades of ice skates, father-son relationships broken and reformed, and the redemption of a bully who’s never been given the chance to be anything else. It’s a tale of reconciling worldly expectations with reality through the eyes of a child, and while it lacks the imaginative edge of The Goonies or The Neverending Story, it has more than enough heart to make up for this. If you’re looking for a good film to take your children to see or just need a cute, heartwarming experience, you can’t go wrong with Snowmen.