Film Review: Snow Queen

Note: This is a review I wrote when Hallmark’s “Snow Queen” was first released on DVD back in 2003. Since I just revisited the film for my Fairy Tale Year I thought it was worth republishing my initial thoughts here.

As a cold, icy winter storm brews outside my window I can think of no better time to experience Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale The Snow Queen, which was just recently made into a fantastic new television mini-series by Hallmark and the Halmis.

The new film aired on the Hallmark Channel in December, and has just recently been released on home video and DVD.

This new adaptation of the classic tale is definitely an inspired re-imagining. Outwardly it bears little resemblance to its fairy tale counterpart, but it still retains the integral themes and messages inherent in the work. I love fresh new interpretations of fairy tales. That’s what keeps them alive and makes them so powerful. They can be retold in an infinite number of ways and still be vibrant and new.

The original fairy tale revolves around two childhood friends, Kai and Gerda. One day a piece of enchanted mirror falls into Kai’s eye and he starts acting viciously towards Gerda. Their friendship disintegrates, leaving Gerda alone and wondering what has happened to Kai. When the magical enchantress the Snow Queen spirits Kai away to her winter palace Gerda knows she must trek after them and bring Kai back home. She has many adventures until finally reaching the gates of the Snow Queen’s palace and the destiny that awaits both her and Kai.

The film Snow Queen attaches a new prologue to the story—it shows Gerda’s mother being killed by an icy winter storm dealt out by the Snow Queen. Gerda grows up a shy and quiet young girl, obviously affected by this traumatic experience.

The first half of the story now takes place at a remote hotel. Gerda’s father runs the hotel and Kai is the new bellboy just hired by him. The film translates Kai and Gerda’s age as much older—they are now teenagers. Kai and Gerda fall in love until the Snow Queen gets in the middle of their blooming relationship.

The story of the film is really about growing up, specifically for those children who have suffered from loss. Interestingly, this theme has also been dealt with in two other Hallmark mini-series: Snow White and The 10th Kingdom. The struggle to let other people in and be loved is beautifully dealt with in the film through story, symbolism, and imagery. Both Kai and Gerda learn to break free of their pasts and let in their future. They both learn what it is to love.

The first half of the three-hour running time is the strongest. The writing is very good and presents the viewer with a sense of mystery and foreboding. Simon Moore, who wrote the enchanting teleplay, also wrote the teleplays for Dinotopia and The 10th Kingdom. The world he creates in this film is much different than either of those in the two previously listed films. This is a much darker, surreal, dream-like world, where there aren’t always happy endings. Snow Queen has its light moments but those are more reserved for the second half of the film.

The second half is more action-packed, and I think suffers because of this. It’s a stark contrast to the more subdued, peaceful, but with a touch of foreboding atmosphere that marks the first. The addition of a rather annoying talking polar bear character in the second half is also tedious and unnecessary, but I suppose Moore had to think of something for Kai to do while waiting for Gerda in the Snow Queen’s palace.

In short, I think the movie could have been shorter. Two hours would have been sufficient. Tacking another hour on to the running time made it a bit long, I think. This is a fault I found with another Simon Moore script, The 10th Kingdom. I love the themes and ideas expressed in that work and this one, but both stories could have reached their denouements much faster. Otherwise they come across as a bit stretched-out, and they seem to lose sight of their original purpose and intention.

Jeremy Guilbaut and Bridget Fonda

What really holds the film together, though, are the outstanding performances. Jeremy Guilbaut brings a haunting, tortured spirit to Kai, while Bridget Fonda exudes a cold, icy chill as the Snow Queen. Their scenes together are quite sexually tense for a family film. But I mark that as a good quality—sexuality is present without one inch of provocative skin being shown.

Chelsea Hobbs does a fair job of portraying Gerda, but she could have done more. After a while she comes across as rather whiney and helpless, which is exactly the opposite of what her character is supposed to be. She has some charming moments near the beginning of the film with Guilbaut. Too bad there aren’t more of them in the film.

I’ve been toying around with the idea of writing my own version of The Snow Queen for about two years now. I haven’t done it yet, but it seems Hallmark’s Snow Queen comes fairly close to what I would do. It’s a pleasant surprise.

The Halmis (Roberts Sr, and Jr.) are responsible for producing a new batch of wonderful family television movies, including Snow White, Dinotopia, Arabian Nights, The 10th Kingdom, Alice in Wonderland, Merlin, and Gulliver’s Travels. Let’s hope they don’t stop. Films that spark the imaginations of kids and make them want to read are rare to find these days.

One thought on “Film Review: Snow Queen

  1. Pingback: The Snow Queen – Bugaboo Musings

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