Cold and Brisk, by Sarah Brinks
As a film for children, The Snow Queen feels a lot like a story told by a child: there’s an evil Snow Queen, and a magic mirror, and a troll, and pirates, and an eskimo witch, and a troll war, and lady who can control plants, and a crazy king who burns down a castle, and a mean man who runs an orphanage, and so on, and so on. At a tight running time of seventy-three minutes The Snow Queen tries to cram in way too much. It does however pack in some heavy-handed, but strong, positive messages to kids about bullying, greed, and acceptance.
The Snow Queen is about a land that has a spell cast over it by an evil witch who makes the whole world cold and covered in snow. There are people who try and fight her, and they are called wizards. One of these wizards is a man named Master Vergard. Vergard creates a mirror that has the ability to show anyone’s true self. This mirror is what the Ice Queen fears the most. She kills Vergard and his wife but fails to kill his two children, a boy named Kai and a girl named Gerda. The Ice Queen sends her slave troll to find the heir of Vergard not realizing there are two heirs. After thirteen years of searching the troll, Orm, thinks he has found the child and abducts Kai. Gerda and her pet weasel Luda follow to try and save her brother and defeat the evil Snow Queen.
The Snow Queen is a classic hero’s journey. Gerda must face many dangers on her way to save her brother and beat the queen. I wish the film had cut back and spent some real time on just a few of the dangers and made them impressive and impactful instead of rushing through everything so the good moments aren’t lost. For example, on her journey Gerda comes across an enormous greenhouse full of flowers which is run by a greedy, busty woman who only cares about selling her flowers at a profit. Somehow when Gerda touches the flowers she can make them smell like the flowers they are. They never take the time to explain why the flowers don’t smell, how Gerda is able to make them smell, or what her special ability means. The woman just tries to poison Gerda into forgetting about her brother so she can stay and help her make a profit. The greenhouse woman can also somehow control plants, which is also never explained or explored.
It is impossible to watch The Snow Queen without comparing it to a very similar and better written story, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Lewis also tells a story of a magical land covered in winter by and evil queen, but he tells it in a concise and compelling way that moves the reader through the story at a steady pace that neither overwhelms nor confuses the reader. As I watched The Snow Queen, there were times that I felt a little crazy because nothing really made sense and I wasn’t given any time to process anything. The Snow Queen also borrows from many other stories, particularly Disney’s Pocahontas. Gerda has a pet side kick much like the raccoon in Pocahontas. Later Gerda gets advice from an old Eskimo wise-woman who might as well be Grandmother Willow teaching her how to ‘paint with all the colors of the wind’… er… I mean defeat the evil Snow Queen. I know there is a formula to these types of movies but the comparisons are right on the surface and it is impossible to ignore them.
I did really like the final act of the film. If you have ever seen a Disney movie in your life then it isn’t a spoiler to say that Gerda defeats the Snow Queen, breaks the spell, and saves Kai. That stuff is all well and good but what I really liked about the end was the turn that Orm the troll makes. He is able to redeem himself after all his bad behavior earlier in the film and becomes a real bad-ass at the end. Also the design of the ice palace, the ice trolls, and the ice giants are very cool and makes the big fight scene at the end interesting to watch and certainly the best part of the film for me.
I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to animation and I have to admit the animation in The Snow Queen is not my favorite. That being said I can’t deny that it is well done and often impressive. I am just more of a fan of the old hand-drawn 2D style. One thing that I did like was the animation of the action scenes. They always look sharp and you can follow the action. The film is produced by Timur Bekmambetov who directed Wanted, Night Watch, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and there are moments in the film when you can see his welcome influence. There is a scene early in the film at the orphanage/sweat shop when the weasel Luda sees herself doing an elaborate sequence of moves to get to Gerda and instead she falls and it becomes a comedy of errors of her getting beaten up by sewing machines but it was very reminiscent of the action in Wanted. Also the end fight sequence between Orm and the ice bad guys has a Bekmambetov feel to it too.
The thing I liked the most about the movie and that I think is most important in a childrens’ film are the morals and messages to be learned from the film. Greda throughout the movie is a strong character who believes the best of people. She is often proved wrong but she never loses faith. Also, Orm learns that it is better to be good and oppose evil then give into self preservation and let evil win. There is also a heavy-handed message about accepting people even if they are different. The Snow Queen becomes evil because she is teased and not accepted by her peers. She let fear and anger into her heart and it literally turns her to ice. The film shows that just because people are cruel doesn’t mean you should freeze them out of your heart. None of these messages are subtle but I think they are good for children to hear.
Overall I can’t really recommend The Snow Queen to adults because I didn’t really like it very much. That being said, I do not have kids but if I did they could do a lot worse then watch. There are strong morals for kids and a lot of scenes they would probably get a kick out of.