Just ahead of the winter season, the BBC has released the children’s classic The Snow Queen on DVD. Based on the tale by Hans Christian Andersen (The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina), this 2005 version combines the journey through magic lands with the music of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Can goodness and love triumph over evil?
The story begins with Gerda (Sydney White, Young Dracula) convincing her mother (Juliet Stevenson, The Hour) to let a homeless boy named Kay (Pax Baldwin), freezing on the street, into their home. Kay is soon enchanted by the Snow Queen (Tiffany Amber Knight, Love Comes Softly), who steals him away. Gerda sets off on her own to find Kay.
Gerda’s path is not an easy one, and she encounters both friends and foes along the way. Most notable is a raven (voiced by Star Trek‘s Patrick Stewart), who sees much and can offer guidance. Gerda also speaks with a king (Kenneth Welsh, The Aviator), who gives her some back story and advice, calling the Snow Queen a ‘wicked witch.’ And a robber girl (Sasha Clements, Majority Rules!) helps illustrate both the naivety of childhood and promotes friendship for all.
Children are likely to be fascinated by the story. There are enough fun visuals, and kids are at the center, helping kids make an easy connection. The story may move slower than modern action-packed programs, but its young, sweet, earnest performers make for a good feature, and I wouldn’t call The Snow Queen boring.
One thing I did not expect was the surreal quality of the picture. I can’t tell if The Snow Queen is heavy on the CGI or just using special lenses, but the settings appear to have been pulled off a storybook page, even as the characters themselves are more definitely live-action. Colors aren’t quite authentic, and graininess is present, as well as blurring around the edges. Yet all this seems a stylistic, intentional choice, rather than mistakes in quality. It provides something completely different that will make it stand out and memorable, in look alone.
Paul K. Joyce’s soundtrack is very impressive. The style reminds me of a cross between musical theater like Les Miserables, and the older fairy tale type present in the classical Peter and the Wolf, with a little church-iness thrown in. It really fits the film, and is definitely a major part of the draw and not just background.
In fact, I daresay the music might be the best part of The Snow Queen. I won’t say the acting is super impressive, though it’s not bad, or the story completely fresh; talking flowers and strange tea parties remind me of Alice in Wonderland, which admittedly was written a couple of decades later. Yet, the orchestration can be enjoyed on its own, with a sweeping, pleasing, layered arrangement.
A handful of special features are included on this single-disc release. There’s a commentary with the director, Julian Gibbs, who doesn’t seem to have a notable career, other than this, and yet does a pretty good job here. A “Making of” may not be interesting to the target audience, but for anyone intrigued by the unique look and feel, well, there’s a little more info given. Plus, an episode of the BBC’s Blue Peter is present, which focuses on the life of Hans Christian Andersen.
I will surely show this to my future children some day, but it will take a special kind of child who can really appreciate everything The Snow Queen is. Geared towards the young, but with elements it may take an adult to understand, the story is simplistic, while the production complex. I could see it making a fine addition to the video library of an elementary school music teacher.
The Snow Queen is available now.