Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” is invariably
described as “the beloved fairy tale,” but it’s improbable that anyone really likes
it that much. Although Andersen took pride in it, “The Snow Queen” is not one
of his better stories. It’s long and episodic, the religiosity is laid on with
a trowel, the characters aren’t terribly
interesting, and there’s no confrontation between the forces of good and evil. The
story just stops.
The new film of The Snow
Queen, directed by Vladlen Barbe and Maxim Sveshnikov, has
received more interest that it would otherwise generate because it’s being released
just a few weeks before Disney’s Frozen,
which was inspired by Andersen’s story.
In this version, Kai (voiced by Marianne Miller) and Gerda (Jessica
Straus) are brother and sister who were somehow separated when their
wizard-parents were blasted by the icy wrath of the Snow Queen (Cindy Robinson)
for creating mirrors that threatened her. They share a cute meet in their grim orphanage-factory
when Kai helps Gerda save her pet ermine, Luta. Orm (Doug Erholtz), a motor-mouth
troll sent by the Snow Queen to kidnap Kai, arrives and botches the job. So he
joins Gerda and Luta on the quest to rescue Hans.
Their travels echo the journey in the original, but with
weird twists. In Andersen’s tale, Gerda visits an old gardener whose flowers
tell her they know from their roots that Kai has not been buried in the soil and
must be alive. Here, the gardener is interested only in money and attacks Gerda
with an ivy-serpent.
Barbe and Sveshnikov give the
film the feeling of a watered-down work from DreamWorks and Blue Sky. The
characters natter endlessly, with incongruous wisecracks and flatulence jokes.
There are two obligatory roller coaster rides over icy hills. Not even small
children will be surprised when Orm turns out to have a good heart after all,
and aids Gerda by turning into a polar bear when she’s attacked by some weird
ice creatures. The by-the-numbers face-off between Gerda and the Snow Queen
ends with Gerda using her parents’ mirror to turn the evil sorceress back into the
unhappy little girl she was before her mistreatment by thoughtless children embittered
Lev Atamanov’s 1957 Snow
Queen was one of the very few foreign animated features released in the US
during the 1950’s. (It was reissued on disc in 1998 with a new dub.) Like many
of the Soviet-era fairy tale features, the film was heavily rotoscoped, but offered
striking art direction, inspired by Russian illustrators. Sadly, the new film
offers little new or original. It’s a badly animated film made by obviously inexperienced
CG artists at the Wizart Animation studio in Voronezh.
The viewer can’t help wondering why the filmmakers chose such
an elaborate story for their first film, rather than a more modest tale better
suited to their skill level. The elaborately rendered hair, fur, textures and
effects are wasted when the basic acting and animating are so weak. Snow Queen was reportedly made to about
$9 million; The Secret of Kells, Ernest and Celestine, and many Japanese
features had similarly modest budgets, but their limits become unimportant
because the stories are compelling and the characters endearing.
A new animation studio is always welcome, but it’s sad to
see Wizart make such an unimpressive debut.