Film Review: Snow Queen

This clunkily told, indifferently animated cartoon import is guaranteed to leave the hearts of the family moviegoing audience…well, cold.

Hans Christian Andersen’s 19th-century fairytale The Snow Queen has endured for coming up on two centuries now, so chances are good that it’ll outlast its latest film incarnation, a CG-animated version funded by the fledgling Russian animation house Wizart. (Timur Bekmambetov, who transitioned from Russian genre pictures to American studio fare like Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is also listed as a producer, although the extent of his creative involvement is unclear. The movie certainly doesn’t display any hallmarks of his particular style.) Not that this cheaply rendered cartoon bears all that much resemblance to Andersen’s original text, a deeply religious morality play (that, to be fair, is probably unadaptable as written), which finds a stalwart girl setting off on a journey to confront the titular frosty monarch and reclaim the friend whom the Queen kidnapped. That basic framework is pretty much the only thing that survives the transition from page to screen, as writer-directors Vladlen Barbe and Maksim Sveshnikov have otherwise reconceived the story as a rote action/adventure picture, with some pratfalls and fart jokes thrown into the mix—for the kiddies, of course.

To be fair, this Snow Queen tries to separate itself from the source material from the get-go, with a bit of voiceover narration informing us that there are many different versions of the story and we’re about to hear the real account. Considering that the person telling us this is Orm the Troll (voiced by Doug Erholtz)—who begins the movie as a minion of the Snow Queen (Cindy Robinson) before doing an about-face at an opportune moment—you may want to take that promise of verisimilitude with a grain of salt. In Orm’s account, many years ago a mirror-maker by the name of Vegard created a looking glass that could reflect a person’s soul as well as their appearance. This earns him the wrath of the Snow Queen, who conjures up a mighty wind to whisk away the artisan and his wife, but not before they successfully hide their pride and joys, a daughter, Gerda (Jessica Straus), and a son, Kai (Marianne Miller). (This is one of the many significant departures from Andersen’s tale, as Gerda and Kai are simply childhood friends in the story, not siblings.)

Flash-forward several seasons and the Queen has finally learned of the children’s existence and steals Kai away with Orm’s assistance. But Gerda refuses to leave her brother to that fate and forces the meek troll to show her the way to his mistress’ lair, a route that brings her into contact with pirates, kings and a host of other characters and creatures. It all ends with a big face-off between the forces of good and evil (guess who triumphs) and a few pat lessons about believing in oneself, the importance of friendship and yada yada yada.

A modest hit in its native land, Snow Queen is making its way to U.S. theatres in advance of Walt Disney’s big animated fall offering, Frozen, another extremely loose adaptation of Andersen’s yarn. The Mouse House shouldn’t lose any sleep over having its thunder stolen, though. Certainly from a quality-of-animation perspective, even the trailer for Frozen is a significant improvement over the entirety of Snow Queen, which has the kind of generic background and character templates and jerky virtual camerawork that’s typical of a budget-conscious production. (It’s the CG equivalent of one of those limited-animation hand-drawn cartoons from the pre-Toy Story days.) And even the lamest Disney cartoons (with the possible exceptions of Home on the Range and Bolt) possess more sophisticated storytelling—and a higher caliber of vocal performances—than this utterly pedestrian, drama-free narrative. There may be a dearth of animated offerings in theatres for kids right now, but treating them to this sour cartoon confection isn’t healthy for them…or you.