Off with her head.
On a cold winter night, Gerda (Sydney White, Starlings) and her mother show some charity to a homeless boy, Kay (Pax Baldwin, Paradise Café). Gerda and Kay become close friends, and then he disappears. To find him, Gerda travels into the wintry wilderness, having many adventures, befriending a talking bird (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: The Next Generation) and ultimately confronting the mysterious Snow Queen.
This hour-long made-for-TV special from the BBC is, I’m sad to say, a total mess. First, the visuals. The whole thing was filmed in front of a blue screen and it shows, with an intentionally stylized look. All the actors’ movements have this herky jerky feel, possibly to evoke a feel of old movies. Likewise, the colors are softened and washed out, perhaps to create the sense of a vintage Christmas card come to life. At least that’s the idea. The final result does not meet these high-minded ideals. Instead, the entire movie looks like a cut scene from a ’90s CD-ROM game, and nobody wants that.
Then there’s the music. The characters aren’t singing and dancing, but the whole thing is nonetheless structured like a musical, with the songs being the big set pieces. Basically, the songs act as the movie’s narrator. This doesn’t work, because the song lyrics too often describe what we’re already seeing. When Gerda is sad, the songs tell us she’s sad. When she’s on a boat going down the river, the songs tell us she’s on a boat going down the river. When she meets a prince and princess, the songs bellow at us, “The prince! And the prin-CESS!” Instead of magical and stirring, it’s just annoying.
The bonus features shed a lot of light on just what it is we’re looking at. The Snow Queen was originally a live concert experience. The emphasis was on the songs, with some limited narration and fantasy images projected on a screen behind the musicians. This live show was successful enough that producers expanded it into this movie. In the performance context, the songs worked, like classic storytelling. They laid out the basics of the story, with the audience’s imaginations filling in the rest. In the movie, though, the bombastic songs just aren’t a match for the clunky visuals.
The animation might be rough, but the DVD doesn’t appear to have any artefacting, pixilation, or other such flaws. In fairness, the all-important songs do sound nice on the 5.1 track. We’ve got two featurettes for bonuses. The first is a nicely thorough look behind the scenes, from the movie’s theatrical origins to the CGI animation. The second is a short documentary about the life of Hans Christian Andersen, complete with a visit to him childhood home in Denmark. A commentary track with director Julian Gibbs rounds out the package.
Go right ahead and skip The Snow Queen, even if you have kids. Your little ones will be just as bored as you.