Frosty the Snowman is an American animated Christmas family television special based on the popular song of the same title. The program, which first aired on December 7, 1969 on CBS, was produced for television by Rankin/Bass and featured the voice of comedians Jimmy Durante as the narrator (Durante's final performance in a film) and Jackie Vernon as the titular character.
This special marked the first use of traditional cel animation (as opposed to stop-motion animation) for Rankin/Bass in a Christmas special. Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass wanted to give the show and its characters the look of a Christmas card, so Paul Coker, Jr., a greeting card and Mad magazine artist, was hired to do the character and background drawings. The animation was produced by Mushi Production in Japan, with then-Mushi staffer Osamu Dezaki among the animation staff.
One day in a school shortly before Christmas, an inept magician named Professor Hinkle is hired to perform for the children, but fails to entertain them, so instead the children go outside and build a snowman, who they name Frosty (suggested names included Christopher Columbus and Oatmeal). However, Professor Hinkle's rabbit Hocus Pocus, escapes from the building while wearing his owner's top hat, which the children decide to put on top of Frosty's head. To their surprise, the magic of the hat causes Frosty to come to life, saying, "Happy Birthday!"
This delights the students, but after seeing that the hat is actually magic, the agitated Hinkle wants it back. The children refuse to turn it over to him, much to his annoyance. Antagonized by both the children's dislike of his magic performance and the fact that he may not get his hat back, Hinkle makes it his main priority to snatch the hat back from Frosty. The children and their snowman gleefully parade through town, shocking passersby with Frosty's anthropomorphism. The children are very happy with their new friend, but the temperature is rising and Frosty must leave for somewhere that is colder or else he will melt.
Karen suggests that the group bring him to the North Pole, but they are barred from boarding a train that will take him there due to their lack of money for tickets. They sneak into a boxcar of a train headed northward. However, Hinkle hitches a ride on the train to get his hat back, but soon, he accidentally falls off and is knocked cold.
Needing to put as much distance between themselves and Hinkle as possible, Frosty and Karen continue on toward the North Pole, accompanied by Hocus, who has chosen to side with them rather than Hinkle. While Frosty is safe from melting, Karen is freezing and Hocus, seeing her predicament, gathers with a group of woodland creatures to build a fire for her. Frosty knows that it is best if Karen is brought home, and he and Hocus decide to enlist the help of Santa Claus to do it.
Hocus leaves to search for Santa while Frosty decides to take Karen to a greenhouse for warmth, but Hinkle has since come to and wants the hat back. He blows out Karen's fire and starts to pick a fight with Frosty who dodges and weaves. Being too slow for Hinkle, Frosty sees no other choice but to put Karen on his back and do a belly flop down to the bottom of the hill where a greenhouse lies. Frosty carries Karen inside where she would be warm and safe. However, an exhausted Hinkle has followed them on foot all the way down the hill to the greenhouse and he locks Frosty and Karen inside.
In the meantime, Hocus brings Santa to the greenhouse, only to find Karen sobbing over a puddle of water that used to be Frosty, with Frosty's top hat lying nearby. Santa revives Frosty by opening the door and letting in a strong wintery wind. Before Karen can put on Frosty's hat, Hinkle pops up and declares that he wants it back. Santa stands up to him and threatens to never deliver another present to Hinkle in all his life if the magician dares to harm Frosty in any way. He also tells him that he'll find a new hat in his stocking on Christmas morning, if he writes his apologies; this causes Hinkle to hurry home and start writing. Afterwards, Santa takes Karen and Frosty on a sleigh ride home and brings Frosty back to the North Pole, keeping his promise that Frosty will be back again someday.
At the end of the program, Hinkle is seen with a new top hat as the title song is sung. Towards the end, the final line is altered with Frosty declaring, "I'll be back on Christmas Day!"