The winter holiday season might come around once a year, but if you feel like it’s been longer than that, you’re not alone.
Thanks to the pandemic, December 2020 was a quiet and lonely experience for many—almost feeling like hitting the snooze button on holiday traditions and hoping another year would set things right.
Apple’s long-form holiday ad for 2021 captures that feeling through a metaphor that will be relatable to anyone who ever joyfully rolled a snowman into existence as a kid.
The ad was shot entirely on the iPhone 13 Pro by Hollywood icon Ivan Reitman and his son Jason Reitman.
“Saving Simon” marks the first time the elder Reitman, director of 1984’s Ghostbusters, has directed a project alongside his son, who led the reboot of the supernatural franchise with 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
The ad, from longtime Apple agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab, shows a young girl panicking when she realizes that rising temperatures—and her blithely destructive brother—will put an end to her small snowman, wrapped in a yellow scarf.
She makes room for the snowman’s head and torso in her family freezer, where she hopes it will endure until the next snows roll around. It’s a stressful wait, with forgetful family members and power outages conspiring to melt her creation.
When she finally gets a chance to plant her snowman back into fresh snow a year later, the unimaginable happens, and she’s left even worse than where she started. But her family is there to help reassemble her snowman and save the holiday.
The ad’s closing message: “To the ones we’ve waited all year to be with.”
While it might not be obvious to casual viewers, the spot also demonstrates a few of the more advanced iPhone 13 Pro features, such as the Macro and Cinematic modes.
“The idea that you can just pick up your phone and start filmmaking is one that thrills me.” said Jason Reitman in the ad’s behind-the-scenes video.
Ivan Reitman also took the opportunity to reflect on how far cinematic technology has come from when he was making Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II and other hits in the 1980s.
“It was so impossible just to do sync sound when I was doing the opening films,” he said in the behind-the-scenes video. “It’s a lot of fun today. You could really try anything and do something that’s really professional with the iPhone.”
Christmas past and present
The spot continues Apple’s years-long tradition of releasing holiday ads, with each installment being quite different in tone and theme from the ones before.
In 2020, the brand gave rapper and songwriter Tierra Whack the central role in its holiday spot focused on the HomePod Mini smart speaker.
The new Apple holiday ad isn’t the first major spot to focus on a girl’s snowman BFF preserved in a freezer. “Lily and the Snowman,” a 2015 ad for Cineplex from agency Zulu Alpha Kilo, took the scenario even farther into the future:
Agency: TBWA\Media Arts Lab
Directors: Jason Reitman and Ivan Reitman
DP: James Whitaker
Production Company: Bob Industries
Music: Valerie June “You and I”