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Everyone has a few Christmas guilty pleasures when it comes to movies. These movies were often panned by critics but found a warm little place next to your heart over time. For me, Jack Frost is one of those guilty pleasures despite its poor reviews. This ridiculed 1998 icy gem always manages to make me feel warm inside, so let me explain why Jack Frost deserves your attention this Christmas.
Jack Frost is somewhat unique in the landscape of generic Christmas kids films for three reasons. One, Jack Frost is a movie aimed squarely at exploring male emotions. Two, it’s a film rooted in themes of childhood grief and letting go without any quasi-religious subtext, and three, it has the balls to kill someone off on Christmas Day. Of course, it also has significant problems, from fake snow to the odd mix of puppetry and early CGI. And when you add to this a relatively quick ending that melts faster than a snowman in a microwave, you have a rather strange mix of ideas and themes that never quite find a stable footing. In fact, it would be fair to say that Jack Frost slips and slides its way through its runtime more than a man wearing tap shoes on a frozen lake.
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Jack Frost (Michael Keaton) is a singer in a rock band that has never made it beyond successful local gigs in Colorado. But that changes when an agent spots the groups potential. Jack has spent years on the road aiming for success; in fact, it’s fair to say it’s consumed his every waking thought. At the same time, Jack’s supportive wife Gabby and their 11-year-old son Charlie tolerate Jack’s life on the road, supporting his goal of a record contract.
However, Jacks passion has also taken a toll on family life, and when he breaks a promise to watch Charlie play in an ice-hockey match, Charlie once again finds himself relegated to second place. Jack promises to take Charlie and Gabby to their cabin in the mountains for a Christmas together to make up for this. But once again, Jack’s work gets in the way as he is invited to a music producers Christmas party that is hours away by car. His choice to attend, yet another failure in the eyes of his young son. But as the band set off, Jack changes his mind midway into their journey, opting to drive home to his family through a snowstorm. However, this will be Jack’s final journey as he crashes the car on a mountain road on Christmas Day, a pretty dark theme for any kids film.
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We are then taken forward in time to the following Christmas, where Charlie, now twelve, struggles to process his dad’s death. Charlie’s emotions are a mix of anger, pain, and love as he attempts to deal with last Christmas’s sudden and tragic events. After a new fall of snow, Charlie decides to build a snowman in the garden, something he and Jack did every year. But, this snowman comes to life as the spirit of his father returns for one last magical Christmas with his son.
Jack Frost is focused entirely on a father and son relationship and the complex unspoken emotions that sit between them. This enables the film to delve into the world of male emotion and grief, its core message related to the importance of male conversation and openness in exploring pain. However, even more, impressive is the films ability to dovetail this message with action and humour that appeals directly to the young boys sitting in the audience. Here, we have snowball fights, jokes about the male anatomy, ice hockey and snowboarding. And while, at times, the screenplay is slightly ham-fisted and random in its delivery, this is a film that firmly wears its heart on its sleeve.
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It’s clear from the outset that Jack Frost is aimed squarely at a father/son audience, its mission to get both laughing and openly talking. This is to be commended, not ridiculed. And it may be the reason why Jack Frost has found a receptive audience over time, as themes of masculinity and emotion have come to the fore. Of course, that doesn’t mean Jack Frost is perfect; in many respects, it’s far from it. But maybe at its heart, Jack Frost was ahead of its time in exploring male emotion, grief and the need for communication and open conversation. And perhaps that is why this slightly bizarre yet tender slice of Christmas fantasy found a place in my heart over time and equally deserves critical reappraisal.