It has been a traditional fixture at Christmas for almost 30 years, and now Channel 4 has decided it is time to give The Snowman, based on a story by Raymond Briggs, an update.
A new "fresh, not identical" version is about to go into production, using traditional techniques and many of the original creative team, at a cost of £2m. It will be screened next Christmas, as part of a season of programming to celebrate Channel 4's 30th anniversary in November 2012.
The updated version will feature new elements, with the Snowman, a new little boy, and an extra character, a snow dog, flying over international landmarks, including the London Eye, rather than Brighton pier and the Pavilion, as in the original.
They will turn up at a ski resort, rather than a Snowman's party in a glade. But the downbeat ending remains – the Snowman still melts away as the sun comes out, though the boy will still have a lasting momento (in the original version it's a scarf), to reassure him it was not all a dream.
The biggest change is that the theme song, Walking in the Air, is being replaced. It was originally sung by the St Paul's chorister Peter Auty, but was covered memorably a few years later by Aled Jones who was rewarded with a top 10 hit. Auty was only later credited.
Camilla Deakin, whose London-based animation company, Lupus Films, is making The Snowman 2, said: "The music is still undecided. There is a lot of discussion. It will be up to date. Without being too aggressively so. We want to make sure this film is new and fresh, not identical. New characters, new settings and the music is another way to differentiate it."
Briggs told the Guardian from his Sussex home on Thursday that he was barely involved with the remake but has given it his approval, after resisting the idea for many years.
"I am keeping a polite distance. I haven't written the new story. I was against making a new version for years and refused to agree. But there has been such a huge elapse of time, 30 years, a lot of people have died in that time," he said. "An awful lot of the old team are being reassembled to make it, that is good. I am not grumpy at all about it."
He added that after decades of being questioned about The Snowman he had given up theorising about why it was the most popular of all of his creations.
John Coates, the original producer of The Snowman and a driving force behind the revival, said he had written to Channel 4's chief creative officer, Jay Hunt, when she was appointed a year ago and said "what about it?"
Hunt reacted swiftly and enthusiastically, and said she felt sure the remake "will be as delightful and unforgettable as the original".
Deakin and her Lupus partner Ruth Fielding, who used to head Channel 4's animation unit, started the debate about how to handle it in earnest in February.
"When we made the first one, Channel 4 wanted another immediately. Raymond and I said 'you can't have another one'... but he melted," Fielding said. "After 30 years it's silly, why not have another one?" Coates added. "We are hoping to repeat the success. We could fall flat on our faces. But it's a lovely story."
Deakin said that Lupus has just set up a bigger studio in Islington, north London, where around 45 animators, including many of the old team, will work, overseen by the original key creative directors Hilary Audus and Joanna Harrison. They will only use a very limited amount of computer-generated imagery.
The original cartoon was made using crayon drawings put directly on to celluloid film, which is impossible to replicate now, but the animators will still hand-draw and colour the scenes. The new film will run for 23 minutes and 30 seconds – half an hour with commercials – compared with the original's 26 minutes. There may also be a 3D cinema version.
Deakin said: "One of the lovely things about this is that it so well supported by Channel 4 – all the animators can work here, in one studio, with pencils and paper. I run an animation company and it is so rare to get to make things in the UK, because we have no government support, unlike our French, Canadian and Irish competitors."
There is a strong commercial motive behind Channel 4's decision to back the production. The Snowman has sold worldwide, and spawned merchandise, even including, to the distaste of Briggs, lavatory paper.
There was also a stage show in 1986, with Sadler's Wells performing it annually since 1997. The book publisher Puffin, part of Penguin, will bring out a new version based on the TV remake – some 3.7 million copies of the original have been sold.