The plot was good. Seeing the main characters overcoming their long-lived sadness at the death of the main character's mother was worth the whole movie. The scenery and characters were a delight. I especially liked the polar bear who was in love with the Snow Queen.
The only things that kept this movie from getting five stars are as follows:
1. The "Fall Robber Queen" and her daughter. The former just didn't seem to fit and the latter was just plain annoying.
2. The movie was rather long. Around three hours, actually. This is a little much for the "whole family," as younger children will probably not keep their attention focused for that long. And, if they do . . .
3. The scene where Satan is forging the mirror was a bit creepy for an adult. I can just imagine how a child will react to it.
But it is still a wonderful alternative to the stuff that normally comes out of Hollywood.
In the original fairy tale the protagonists are two children named Kay and Gerda. In this film Kay has been changed to Kai and both Kai and Gerda are young adults who are in love.
One day Kai gets beguiled by the Snow Queen who rules the season of Winter and he is kidnapped and taken to her Ice Palace. Gerda begins a long (and in this film I do mean LONG) quest to discover his whereabouts and to rescue him. In order to do this she must travel through the lands of the other Seasons. She meets with the eccentric denizens of Spring, Summer and Autumn and each of them attempts to kidnap her. The idiosyncratic Andersen's take on the seasons was odd enough in the original story, but in this film is all the more exaggerated.
Kai has a talking Polar Bear (crafted with skill by Jim Henson's Creature Works) for a prison guard. His involvment with the polar bear is one of the many reasons this movie drags. Several ridiculous minutes are spent with Kai teaching the bear to ice-skate, for example.
The actors portraying Wolfgang, the father, Gerda, and Kai are tolerable if not note-worthy. Bridget Fonda, in my opinion, was not right for the part of the Snow Queen. Her performance is lackluster and she delivers her lines as though she's LaFemme Nikita rather than a character in a fairy tale. She looks the part but she doesn't seem particularly frosty or seductive as the script calls for her to be. Her lines are delivered in a flat emotionless way that I suppose is meant to be icy, but comes off as dull. You really wonder how in the world Kai could have been beguiled by such a person.
The interior sets, the costumes, the lighting...all the cosmetic trim of this film are beautiful and they are what made me so want to love this movie, but the magic is missing and I was never able to get swept away by the story.
At three hours in length and with a plot that focuses on mature themes of love lost, grief and seduction, even suicide, this film is most decidedly NOT for children of any age. Yet, with the corny talking bear and a talking reindeer and some really silly robber characters, I can't say it is a film for adults, either.
There is some really cheesy dialog that is too much like modern slang for example when the Summer Princess comments on Gerda's dress by saying, "That peasant look is so last year," or later when she asks Gerda, "Do I look a porker in this dress?"
There is a whole lot of trite symbolism featuring red roses that further takes up time for no real benefit. In the original story Andersen has a "demon" creating havok with a magical mirror but in the film the minor league demon has been changed to Satan himself and they actually say the mirror is crafted in Hell. They make the devil look really cliche in this film and I feel it was too heavy-handed and out of sync with the rest of the picture. Sadly, this production just doesn't work. Even with a big budget, lavish decorations and costumes, talented actors, and a story that has enchanted people for over a century and a half, it still falls flat. I'd say skip this one...and for sure, do not try to make your kids sit through it. It's no fun.
Whoever wrote the screenplay must be well aware of the original fairytale, as several times there appear tiny details from the tale, such as the shadows of dreams appearing on the wall, and the words of the hidden roses in the garden. And yet, with all the beautiful material that Anderson has to offer, they insisted on changing large portions. Gone are the Lapland women, the talkative Crows, the helpful Prince and Princess and the children's beloved Grandmother. Perhaps they would not have been missed so much if they had been replaced by equally intriguing characters and a strong plot, but instead we get a strange jumble: the mirror whose part in the book serves as a simple and poetic reason as to why some people are determined to see the world as an ugly place becomes the focus of the drama: Kai does not have to write "Eternity" with shards of ice, but piece together the mirror so that the Queen may cover the world with Winter. Though he does get a shard in his eye, its effects are dubious - he's rude to Gerda and throws a snowball, but apart from that it seems to have little purpose, and is removed not by Gerda's warm tears, but the Snow Queen's icy kiss.
There are several new characters present, including a travelling Conjurer whose gender remains a mystery (no really, was it a boy or a girl? I couldn't tell) and a band of huntsmen who briefly use Gerda for target practice and then disappear. Other characters are warped beyond recognition: the magnificent reindeer who gallops through the snow in his delight at being freed is now a decrepit beast with a silly name. The nurturing, yet subtly overwhelming old woman becomes a psychotic personification of Spring with a bizarre taste in clothing. The children's beloved grandmother becomes a middle aged housekeeper who for some reason speaks in an Irish accent, which quite baffled me.
But despite contradicting several other reviews, I must say I enjoyed Bridget Fonda's performance as the Snow Queen. She is the only professional actor in the cast, and manages to bring to her character something I never perceived in Anderson's fairytale: a sense of vulnerability. It was a fascinating twist on the archetypical "ice-queen" and one cannot help but feel a twinge of pity for her at times. She carries herself like a true queen, and the cool tones of her voice perfectly match her appearance. Other notable performances include Kai, who is quite the sweetheart, and despite the distain of other reviewers, I found the Robber Girl's performance quite refreshing and very true to the book, with her spoilt and temperament nature. And the polar bear who works as the Queen's guard and in love with her himself is a fascinating creation (due credit given to Jim Henson's Creature Shop), and one of the changes to the story that worked for me. The ambiguity of his transformation at the end may confuse some viewers, but I liked the extra touch of mystery it brought.
But a few performances bring this production screeching to a halt. It is said that eyes are the window to the soul, and forming expression within them is certainly one of the most important thing an actor can develop. But Chelsea Hobbs, who plays Gerda displays only one thing in them: complete and utter boredom. Though the fault may lie with the abysmal dialogue she is given, it hardly helps that she wanders through every scene as if in a stupor. And since the entire movie revolves around her as the protagonist, the core of the story cannot hold. If one does not care about the hero/heroine, one does not care about the movie and she is hardly helped by the actor playing her father Wolfgang, whose portrayal of grief is to sulk in a chair.
Likewise, the context of the story is in doubt: though it should have taken place in an "olden day" setting, the time placement is rather confusing to behold. The villagers search the wood with lanterns, yet on Wolfgang's desk is an electrical desk lamp. The Snow Queen's white sled is replaced with a flying snow-mobile. And as another reviewer pointed out, the use of modern slang, especially when its coming out of the mouths of the fairytale characters, is very jarring.
Despite beautiful visuals there is something severely lacking in this production, and I can only hope that one day someone will tell this story on the screen the way it ought to be told. If I could, I would give it two and a half stars, making it an exact balancing act between lost potential and complete mess.