Family Movie Review: The Snow Queen (PG)

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By now you know the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale: the evil Snow Queen, wielding the power of bitter cold and ice, sought to control the world, even at the expense of young children. Only love can bring warmth back into the world, allowing people to escape the clutches of the Snow Queen. That’s all somewhat more sinister than “Frozen,” which is far more about female empowerment, but “The Snow Queen” keeps its plot pretty close to the source text. There is a villainous queen, there are children and trolls as main characters, there is a young girl whose love ends up saving her brother and friend. And yet there are tweaks to the other subplots that don’t work, that take the story in weird directions, and yet still can’t satisfyingly fill the 80-minute runtime.

That’s the thing: “The Snow Queen” doesn’t entertain, even with its few songs like theme “Shine Clear.” And especially in comparison with “Frozen,” with its fantastic songs and its beautiful animation, there’s just no contest.

“The Snow Queen” begins with the world already in the queen’s (voiced by Cindy Robinson) thrall; to maintain her world, in which she prefers cold winds and frozen architecture instead of the sounds of people or their warmth, she uses a magic mirror to find challengers to her rule. When she learns that a glassmaker could be a threat to her, she kills him and his wife, but is unaware that they’ve already hidden their children, Kai (voiced by Marianne Miller) and Gerda (Jessica Straus). Years later, though, the Snow Queen decides to collect Kai, thinking that he’ll end up like his father and be a danger to her, so she sends her shapeshifting minion Orm—a troll that can also transform into a weasel—to kidnap him. With no family left to her, though, Gerda is committed to tracking down and saving Kai, a gesture of love that is in contrast to everything the Snow Queen wants for her reign.

A few things will of course happen because this is a children’s film, after all, and most of these follow some formula: Gerda befriends the baddie Orm, who begins to reevaluate his alignment with the Snow Queen; Gerda realizes that she is strong and courageous, and has power of her own to rival the Snow Queen; there are bathroom humor jokes galore. But as much as this film tries to use the unlikely pair of Gerda and Orm for humor and for lessons for young viewers (no bullying, accept people who are different than you, and so forth), their various side adventures just don’t make sense in terms of the overall narrative. There is an evil gardener that tries to poison them and a king who wants to take Gerda hostage, but neither does anything for the overall storyline, and they’re tweaked from the original portions of Andersen’s story, so they don’t seem quite right.

And then there are some helpful pirates, who seem like a very “what’s hip for kids right now?” addition to the plot, as well as a backstory for the Snow Queen where she was the victim of bullying and grew up to be evil and murderous. Is that supposed to encourage kids to not bully others, or encourage the ones being bullied to abstain from getting revenge? It’s not the clearest message, and how the conflict between the Snow Queen and Gerda is resolved isn’t that clear, either. The end theme is that niceness wins, I guess, but it doesn’t have the same emotional resonance as the conclusion of “Frozen.”

Nor does “The Snow Queen” have the same visual quality—its animation is choppy and awkward, and the characters don’t have believable depths of expression or realism. The voice acting is largely bland, the details are muddled, and although it’s nice that Gerda is a strong female character, she has barely any character development outside of her desire to save her brother. What are her likes, her dislikes? What does she want to be when she grows up? What does she imagine the world will be like without the Snow Queen’s rule? The movie can’t imagine anything outside of its main villain, and in failing to deliver either a compelling bad guy or good guy, “The Snow Queen” fails.

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