Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Snow Queen

Everybody is aware of the Disney smash-hit Frozen.
However, a surprising amount of people didn't realise that it was based on a fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson, titled The Snow Queen.
And Disney weren't the only people who attempted to adapt this classic tale.
Russia got there a year earlier.
And with less budget.
It's interesting to note that while this movie came out in 2012, it was released on DVD almost immediately after Frozen broke records. It even has the tagline 'The tale that inspired Frozen'.
So let's have a look and see if this movie can stand on its' own merits or not.
The movie starts on a flashback with a voiceover telling us that the Snow Queen has covered the world with ice and killed off all the Wizards, whom she apparently feared despite them doing nothing to stop her.
There's only one Wizard left, named Vegard. Vegard's specialty lies in the creation of magical mirrors capable of showing someone their true self, which the Snow Queen fears most of all.
Why she left him until last is anybody's guess.
So she sends the Northern Wind out to kill him.
Represented here by the leftover CGI from Day After Tomorrow.
Master Vegard manages to get to his house before the Northern Wind catches up to him and he instructs his wife to hide their children.
"This store cupboard will hide them from the very concept of coldness."
After tucking in the baby the mother calls the young girl over. The girl is named Gerda and will be our main character for the movie.
This chick.
The Northern Wind freezes the parents and easily finds the two children, but luckily for them one of Vegards' magic mirrors fell from a shelf and into Kai's basket (Kai is the baby), which scares off the Northern Wind.
I dunno, I guess the Northern Wind doesn't like looking at its' true self.
Seriously, I have no idea what's going on.
After the title screen and a timeskip we get introduced to this features' annoying comedic sidekick character, Orm the Troll.
In this universe, Trolls are grey versions of Gonzo.
After some rather lame slapstick the Snow Queen herself appears, talking to a magical mirror which can foretell the future.
And I have to say, I actually rather dig the Snow Queen's appearance here. On the cover she had a weird uncanny valley vibe which didn't seem to work, but when you see her fully it does. The uncanny valley-ness may even work in the films' favour.
You can't see it too well in pictures, but the mist animation from her hair and legs is surprisingly high quality.
The mirror warns the Queen that Vegard had an heir, whose power could defeat the Queen if not stopped in time. As it speaks, the scene shifts to show a now-adolescent Kai entering a shop.
And a very bland damsel in distress he will make too.
Kai is delivering a sketch to the shopkeeper, who I have to say is rather creepy. The moment she notices who it is she puts on a lot of makeup and leans forward rather a lot.
And she certainly has some very large.... Tracts of land.
It's hard to tell how old Kai is, but considering Gerda looks to be about 15, he can't be more than 12 at most.
Which makes it really uncomfortable to watch as she fawns all over him before giving him a gift.
Making sure to blow the dust directly into his face, naturally.
It's a set of paints and brushes that belonged to her late husband. She warns him to be careful though, since if he's caught painting he could get in serious trouble.
After a transition back to the Snow Queen she calls Orm to her and instructs him to find and retrieve Vegard's heir. She hands him a small vial which apparently contains the Northern Wind and tells him that it will glow when in the presence of the heir.
Exact details of how the Northern Wind would know such a thing is scarce (As in it's never explained) but he is to smash the vial when the North Star is visible, which will free the Wind and sweep everybody present up.
You can probably see the very specific flaw in her plan.
More importantly, we get a good look at the Queen in all her glory.
See? I told you the mist effect was pretty good.
Orm turns into a weasel and runs off. It's not shown how long he searches for nor how he tracks down Kai, but he manages to collapse outside of the exact orphanage Kai lives in, at the exact moment Kai shows up with his new paint set.
How convenient.
Meanwhile, inside the orphanage, the rather caricaturish housemaster is ordering all of the orphans to get to work sewing together some mittens.
Gerda arrives late due to having trouble finding her own weasel, a pure white one that she named Luta.
Because what this movie needed was a sickeningly cute animal sidekick.
Luta causes more trouble for Gerda when she tries to jump onto Gerda's workbench.
Turns out that whoever wrote this movie decided that the cutesy animal companion was the perfect choice to be the prime recipient of slapstick humour.
I'm not even kidding, this poor thing should have died within a minute of appearing.
I don't.... What..... Huh...?
After a series of events that would make Wil E. Coyote wince in sympathy, Luta lands in a basket of completed mittens and is carried off. Gerda excuses herself, but the housemaster gives her just one minute of freedom.
He even times her.
Gerda attempts to find and rescue Luta, but gets distracted when she meets Kai.
Who she doesn't recognise.
Which raises a whole bunch of questions.
How many orphanages are there in this city?
Why would two siblings orphaned at the same time not be put together?
If Kai was put in a different orphanage, why would he suddenly be moved now?
If he wasn't, how were they kept separate for so long?
Did the housemaster just keep him hidden in the boiler room the entire time?
Actually, that last one seems most plausible, since all the other kids have rooms but Kai seems to sleep in the basement.
Also, the way she looks at him is kinda weird.
As Gerda and Kai start chatting, Orm wakes up to notice that the vial is glowing. But he of course assumes that it's Kai.
As Kai and Gerda smile awkwardly at each other they get interrupted by the housemaster, who angrily orders Gerda to make another 100 mittens. He then turns on Kai and discovers his sketches, which he does not approve of.
Though he does find some use for them.
The housemaster laughs to himself over his cruelty before leaving.
As Kai quietly sobs, Orm speaks up. Kai is surprisingly unsurprised at the talking weasel.
Orm tells him that he can take Kai to a place where he can paint to his hearts' content, free from the housemaster.
Kai responds that he'll have to think about it, though he doesn't say that it's because he's thinking about Gerda.
Meanwhile, Gerda is thinking about Kai with a dreamlike expression on her face.
After finishing up the mittens Gerda sneaks down to the boiler room, stopping on the way to check her appearance using a small mirror she keeps on her person.
When she arrives she has to hide due to the housemaster making his rounds.
When Kai enters he takes a painting of Gerda and rolls it up, telling Orm that he doesn't need anything else.
Orm holds up the vial, but notices that it doesn't glow. He moves around the room and when he passes Gerda's hiding spot it glows. This makes Orm suspicious, so he asks if Kai's an only child. Kai responds that he heard about having a sister, and Gerda finally puts two and two together. Especially when Orm mentions the name Vegard (Which is carved on the back of her mirror).
Fortunate it happened now, before the creepy-incest-crush went too far.
As she bursts out of her hiding place Orm is knocked over and transforms back into a troll, dropping the vial as he does so. The vial smashes, causing the Nothern Wind to sweep them all up and start carrying them off.
And again, the animation is surprisingly good.
They all try to hold onto each other but the wind proves too strong, depositing Gerda, Luta and Orm on a cliff.
Gerda rounds on Orm, demandin to know where Kai's been taken. Orm figures out that Gerda is also an heir of Vegard, meaning that he has to take Gerda to the Snow Queen.
But he pretends to do so reluctantly, making him a lot smarter than he looks.
Not exactly a high bar.
As he strolls away the cliff gives out beneath him, giving us some more Wil E. Coyote-esque escapades.
And I mean that quite literally.
Luckily (?) Gerda rescues him in the nick of time. They crash into a massive greenhouse filled with flowers. Orm decides to go steal some food, but Gerda insists that they be polite and ask. Orm scurries off just as the owner arrives.
Well, doesn't she look friendly?
The owner is rather angry at Gerda and the damage she caused with her entrance, which includes five roses which would have fetched a decent price.
Gerda questions how the woman could make so much money from just five roses, especially as they have no scent. But as Gerda touches them, something unusual happens.
They magically heal.
It's magic, they don't need to explain it.
This gives the woman an idea (Hint:$$$$) and she invites Gerda to have tea and biscuits with her. Since Gerda is still naive and trusting, she agrees. They chat for a little bit, before the woman decides to go get some more tea.
Luta doesn't trust the old woman, so she follows her, bumping into Orm on the way.
They watch as the woman slips something into the tea, which Orm confirms to be a forgetting potion.
Fortunately, Trolls are immune to potions. Apparently.
Orm warns Gerda just in time. By farting.
Seriously. Forgetting potions make him fart.
And once again, the writer seems to want Luta to suffer.
They attempt to escape, but the woman reveals magical powers of her own.
She can rapidly grow plants to immense sizes. But, unlike Gerda, can't make them smell.
But she can make them attack.
I am so stealing this for my next DnD session.
The heroes flee and naturally escape in the nick of time, slamming the gate on the plant.
Meanwhile, in the Snow Queen's castle.
Kai and the Queen get acquainted.
The Queen welcomes Kai moderately nicely and shows him her mirror. Also her collection of frozen artists. But she focuses on the mirror. It tells her that Vegard had two heirs and that she needs both.
Gee, that info sure would have been useful before she sent the Troll out to do some kidnapping.
So the Queen asks Kai if he has any siblings, but he refuses to talk.
But, as you can see from the screenshot, Kai chose to take a picture of Gerda with him, which the Queen finds.
Meanwhile, in the middle of nowhere.
Orm is sacastingly repeating Gerda's words about the flower woman being friendly. But Gerda admits her mistake and thanks Orm for saving her, which momentarily takes him by surprise.
They chat a bit more as they walk, Orm claiming that he can turn into a polar bear.
What're the odds that that'll show up later?
AS they walk Orm gets them kinda lost, but it does give the animators a chance to show off the surprisingly good work they did on the snow. I mean, everybody was blown away by how good the snow and ice were on Frozen but this movie did it just as good.
I'm willing to admit that I judged this DVD by its' cover and that I was wrong to do so.
Orm and Gerda argue a bit, right up until Orm finds the entrance to a cave they need to travel through.
Three guesses where the entrance was.
Gerda jumps in after him and they travel through the cave.
Turns out that it isn't just any cave, but the ancestral home of the Trolls. Unfortunately the Trolls, who for millennia had lived in peace, were recently wiped out by a civil war.
A civil war caused by the Snow Queen of course.
Orm was the only survivor.
Tales would be told about how brave Sir Orm courageously hid until it was all over.
Orm tells Gerda to go on ahead whilst he climbs down from a rock tower he randomly climbed during the flashback, warning her not to look in Lake Gao.
And that's when he gets a call from his boss.
It's a universal rule of bosses that they will always call at the most inopportune moments.
She's making sure that Orm follows through and delivers Gerda. She also takes the chance to berate Orm and generally look down on him.
Which is genuinely unfair, since he didn't even know that Vegard had two kids, but not only did he deliver one exactly as promised but he's got the other one walking straight towards the Queen.
You can probably see how this is going to play out, can't you?
Once the call ends Orm catches up to Gerda and prevents her from looking into the lake.
"All we have to do is cross this see-through bridge made of ice without looking down. Easy."
Naturally it is Orm who slips and ends up dangling off of the edge of the bridge. Gerda immediately reaches out to catch him, but she accidentally looks into the lake.
The effect of the lake on her mind is understated but still obvious. She starts to have visions of Kai turning demonic and instructing her to kill.
Oddly, they instruct her to "Kill the Frost Queen."
Are we sure Tim Burton had nothing to do with this movie?
Gerda manages to shake off the effect and rescue Orm, who's amazed that she was able to look away from the lake.
And then the ceiling starts to collapse.
They saw the cliche, they did the cliche.
No sooner do they escape the cave-in than they get dragged into another dangerous situation with more bizarre characters. This time an insane King and his butler.
This whackjob.
The King attempts to murder Luta and Orm to make a nice pair of slippers or something, but he knocks himself out with a tree branch before he gets the chance.
He's also an idiot.
They take him back to his castle, which has an odd design aesthetic, both inside and out.
Now, you might not notice it at first...
But once you're inside, it becomes a bit more obvious.
The butler explains the backstory as he drags the King to his throne.
The cold weather killed the Queen, which broke the King's mind. He was declared unfit to rule but refused to abdicate to either of his children. They eventually reached a compromise which involved splitting the Kingdom in two.
And since Gerda's the prisoner of the King, she has to be split in half too.
The King and his children argue about how best to cut Gerda up (What? You thought that was a joke?). The argument reaches the logical conclusion of them all burning the castle down whilst they're inside of it.
Wait, what?
This is what happens when you have too many fiery redheads in one place.
Luckily for them Gerda isn't vindictive and willingly saves them without a second thought.
They thank Gerda for bringing their family back together and wish her luck on her journey.
I'm sure their lives will return to normal in no time at all.
They do at least give Gerda a sleigh and two horses so that she can make some better progress on her journey.
As they do they stop to pick up a hitch-hiker.
That works out well for them.
Gerda tries to escape, but there is a whole gang of pirates on horse-back who eventually capture them.
The pirates take them back to their ship, which lies stranded in the middle of a lake that's been frozen so long that you can't even see the ice beneath the thick layer of snow.
But before the Captain can even say anything to her new prisoners, someone else butts in and upstages her. And who should be this upstart? Her own daughter.
At least, the credits say it's a daughter.
She's incredibly rude to her mother and announces that she's taking the prisoners below decks.
The daughter acts quite jerkish at first, until Gerda starts asking about the ship. The daughter says that they'll earn enough gold to fix the ship. Gerda points out that even if they succeed they won't be able to sail anywhere because the lake will remain frozen.
This instantly brings the daughter round to Gerda's side, so she orders the men to give her a reindeer and let them go.
Well, that scene was entirely pointless. We could have had just as much fun if they walked past an interesting rock formation.
Although I'm more interested in knowing why the housemaster's clone became a pirate.
Seriously, that guy up there looks identical to the housemaster who was mean to Kai near the beginning.
"I had a child once. He became a pirate and got lost at sea."
I guess we know now why he seemed so obsessed with making sure the orphans had 'Gainful employment'.
Anyhoo, wild theories aside, Gerda's next stop is the Lap woman, who is described as a shaman.
I would never have guessed.
When the group enter the shaman's tent she rather rudely tells Orm that Trolls aren't welcome in her house.
Which is rather racist.
She talks about the mirror that Gerda's been carrying with her, hepfully reminding the audience what it does.
She also explains the backstory of the Snow Queen herself.
Basically it's what Elsa's life would have been like if she'd been born poor and without a sister.
But with a horse. Because horse.
Despite the fact that her powers seem to have been identical to Gerda's (Growing plants by waving her hand over them. Did you forget that? It was shown a whole one time.) other kids shunned and tormented her.
Which was rather weird of them. If I'd known a kid who could make flowers grow I'd have been their bestest friend.
But the young girl (Named Irma) came to despise the other children. On one of her unhappier days she found Lake Gao, which transformed her from an adorable little tyke into the Snow Queen
From what I can tell, Lake Gao is the true bad guy here.
Gerda asks what this means and the shaman goes full Yoda, telling her that fear cannot defeat fear and that the most powerful weapon is sometimes an embrace.
Look at the shadowing on that four.
The shaman gives them a sailboat and uses magic to make a strong wind blow them the rest of the way to the Queen.
But just as they're approaching, Orm has a change of heart and decides that he can't let the Queen hurt Gerda, so he tries to sabotage her chances of getting there.
They both get rather insistent.
Gerda and Orm argue before parting ways. She finally reaches the Queen's castle and enters, only to find that Kai's not in the greatest of shapes.
This is why I always pack thermal underwear.
Gerda tries to wake him, but he doesn't move. So yeah, this kid's totally dead. What a great movie for your children to watch.
Orm shows up and consoles her, but they get interrupted by the Snow Queen herself.
Sidenote: We're exactly one hour into the movie and only now do the two main characters meet.
They have a little Palpatine/Skywalker debate about family and stuff, before The Queen congratulates Orm on doing what she asked and officially allows him to go free.
Thanks to character development he chooses to stay and gives her a good talking to about how she's treated him.
This gets the Queen angry.
And you wouldn't like her when she's calm, let alone angry.
The Queen brings to life a couple of giant ice statues she has lying around her throne room, along with a lot of Troll statues.
Not as fluffy as the Disney version, but still intimidating.
Gerda and Orm run to try and find a mirror, with Orm fighting off the ice golems as they do so.
He actually gets to be pretty badass here, tearing the smaller ones apart like they're nothing.
Unfortunately, one of the big ones damages the stairs, stranding Orm. He decides to stay and hold them off, giving Gerda time to get out of there.
Luta tries to help Orm, but one of the smaller golems grabs her and prepares to eat her.
And now it's Orm's time to get angry.
Some people take levels in badass. Orm takes all of them at once.
Orm takes apart the giant golems, but is stalemated by the arrival of the Northern Wind.
Come to think of it, I don't think I've grabbed a screenshot of the Northern Wind yet.
This movie has been very good for my DnD campaign.
While they fight, Gerda walks into the Queen's mirror and comes face-to-face with the Queen herself.
As the Queen attacks her with cold, Gerda sees a vision of her parents urging her to stand up. She struggles to her feet and raises her father's mirror.
And what do you think the Queen sees?
If you guessed 'Her scared childhood self' then congratulations, you're boring.
Also correct.
The Queen transforms back into Irma, who Gerda then hugs.
Because why would the shaman have bothered to bring it up if it wasn't the answer?
So Disney weren't the first people to think of redeeming the Snow Queen via hugs?
As the castle collapses around them Irma's skin regains its' colour. Kai is revived and the eternal winter begins to recede.
In other words, everything is fine again and everybody gets to live happily ever after.
Except for the people who had been turned to ice. They're dead. Like Gerda's parents.
This movie was a lot better than I expected it to be. I honestly expected it to be nothing more than a badly animated Frozen parody, but it stood on its' own merits.
Firstly, what it did wrong.
Sometimes the character's movements were a bit weird and uncanny-valleyish. Mostly when it came to the adult women, such as the flower woman, the shop owner or the Pirate Captain. The plot was relatively simple and didn't offer too much in the way of surprises. A lot of the characters Gerda met felt rushed, as though they wanted to introduce them, but didn't really have much to offer except a few quirks.
And for some people the voice acting was just terrible.
Now, I understand that this was dubbed from Russian and even experienced voice actors can struggle, especially if they're used to dubbing Japanese shows, as most of the cast are.
Yeah, I actually recognised some of these voices.
But what the movie got right it really got right.
I genuinely cared about Gerda, Orm and even Luta. the voice for the Snow Queen herself was spot-on. She's actually voiced by the same woman who voiced Astrid (Leader of the Dark Brotherhood) in Skyrim.
And the animation was superb. While some character movements were a bit stilted, everything else was a joy to look at.
For example, just look at this.
I've got a new desktop background.
All-in-all, I'd say that while this movie's not perfect, it's definitely worth your money. 
And the kids will probably enjoy the fart jokes.

As for next week, what would I say to reviewing another Jim Carrey movie?
I'd say Yes Man.

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