Here’s something new for all you animation geeks out there. Outside of Hollywood, the countries of Japan and France have built rich traditions of animation. We rarely see an animated film from someplace other than those nations, but Snow Queen, opening this weekend at Harkins Southlake, hails from Russia. It’s dubbed into English, too, in case your kids are averse to subtitles. Sadly, its novelty value is pretty much the biggest thing this movie has going for it.
The story is loosely based on the similarly named Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, which is also the basis for the upcoming Disney film Frozen. Clearly the film’s distributors are hoping to steal some of the Mouse House’s thunder by beating it to the theaters. Anyway, Kai and Gerda (voiced by Marianne Miller and Jessica Straus) are the orphaned children of a powerful wizard in an enchanted kingdom. Separated as infants, they find each other again at an orphanage, but their reunion is short-lived. That’s because an evil queen (voiced by Cindy Robinson) wants to plunge their kingdom into eternal winter, and she needs to find and freeze the two kids to complete her conquest.
The deciding factor is a completely nonthreatening troll named Orm (voiced by Doug Erholtz with a Seth Rogen-like rasp), who has been sent by the queen to deliver Gerda. However, in the course of doing his job, he decides to help the girl defeat the queen instead. Orm is not only the catalyst for the plot but also the source of much of its humor. Russians are famed for their spiky sense of humor, and I can’t help but think that some has gone missing in the translation. The slapstick translates well enough, though, and there’s a surreal interlude with Gerda dropping in on the silly king (also voiced by Erholtz) and his bickering children (both voiced by Christopher Smith), who all wind up burning down their castle just to win a family argument.
On the minus side, the computer-generated animation isn’t distinctive, and the character development is downright primitive compared to what Hollywood has accustomed us to. During the climactic showdown, Gerda has already been told that the magic mirror in her possession is the only thing that can defeat the queen, yet she inexplicably dawdles and gives the queen a chance to kill her. At least the movie doesn’t have a chance to drag at a scant 73 minutes. Snow Queen is better than maybe a third of Hollywood’s animated films, but it still doesn’t hold up on its own merits. It’s a statement of intent from the Russian industry, but they have some work to do before they measure up to the global superpowers of animated film.
Voices by Jessica Straus, Marianne Miller, and Doug Erholtz. Directed by Vladlen Barbe and Maxim Sveshnikov. Written by Vladlen Barbe, Maxim Sveshnikov, and Vadim Sveshnikov. Rated PG.