What is most unique about The First Snow of Winter is that it is exactly the proper run time for the type of story that it is. Add an additional hour of "new material" and it would probably become needlessly complex, bloated, and irritating. At its current length, the story of Sean the Duck's adventures after missing his family's annual flight to the sunny South is simple, unpretentious, and enormously charming.
Originally written, storyboarded, and directed by Graham Ralph in 1998, The First Snow of Winter subsequently won the 1999 Children's Award for Best Animation from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Columbia TriStar's decision to provide it on DVD was a natural; it's winter theme and a suggested retail price of $9.95 makes it perfect as a holiday stocking stuffer.
Sean, a cute little quacker, displays some of what must be typical pre-adolescent mean spiritedness in the film?s opening minutes, but he quickly gets his comeuppance. While buzzing a flock of "dumb" seagulls, Sean gets out-buzzed by a passing jetliner, causing him to miss his family's departure. Left behind with his childhood friend, Puffin, and a new amigo named Voley (a vole with more than average under-the-street smarts), Sean has to come to grips with the fact that he doesn't know as much as he thought he did, especially about snow. Voley's various hilarious attempts to help Sean rejoin the Southbound migration are punctuated with a fox's attempt to make everyone into a tasty dinner. This gives the half-hour show the dramatic action that it needs and keeps the plot moving along at a rapid clip. Comic touches abound, including several crazy Riverdance sequences involving the lead characters and a herd of very high-steppin' sheep. No guarantees, but you?ll probably laugh out loud...
The First Snow of Winter avoids the typical sappy happy ending, instead reinforcing the fact that whatever can't be cured must be endured. Sean is eventually reunited with his family, but only after he learns some real-life lessons and proves to the viewers (and to himself) that he?s on the way to becoming a mallard with more maturity.
Behind the scenes, art director Claire Wright's decision to render the characters as sharply drawn elements and the backgrounds in impressionistic pastels lends the show a distinctive look that really works. The crisp characters fairly leap off the screen, enhancing their animation, which is very capably done. Again, because the show is only a half hour long, it leaves the viewer with the feeling that they've somehow entered a finely crafted children's book, instead of an animated film.
As with the art direction, music helps to make this little film a memorable experience. Mark Sayer-Wade and Tolga Kashif (working as The Music Sculptors) composed a score that is well suited to the material and very easy on the ear.
The DVD release of The First Snow of Winter contains few extras (but what do you expect for $9.95?). There are two previews for other Sony children's videos and four chapter breaks to use in scene selection.
In closing (didn't I say this review would be short and sweet), The First Snow of Winter has the character, plot, drama, comedy, artistic chops, and music to appeal to children, and children of all ages. It is an engaging little story that will be requested again and again. And unlike some other larger, more bloated children?s movies, parents won't be stressed out to comply.