Issue 57 (2017)

Aleksei Tsitsilin: Snow Queen 3: Fire and Ice (Snezhnaia koroleva 3: Ogon’ i led, 2016)

reviewed by Natalie Kononenko© 2017

Snow Queen 3With Snow Queen 3: Fire and Ice Wizart Animation joins Disney Studios in rejecting the “true love’s kiss” scenario, where heteronormative love saves the day. As Maleficent’s maternal feelings allowed her to bestow the saving kiss on Aurora, as sibling love set things right in Frozen, so here too Gerda’s potential love interest proves to be fickle and sibling devotion comes to the rescue of both Gerda and the world.

Snow Queen 3 opens with a bank robbery. Pirates, led by a fearsome woman, attack a bank. They fire their canons, knock holes in the vault, and start to exit with bags full of gold—only to be attacked in turn by a boy who calls himself Rollan the Legend. The boy is quickly put in his place, but his bravado appeals to the pirate leader who gives him her favorite book: a collection of legends.

Immediately the scene shifts to Gerda and Kai. The brother and sister are earning a miserable living by recounting their adventures from earlier films in front of elementary school children. The worse part of their life is not their meager pay but the fact that the so-called interaction with the audience which takes place post-performance turns into something akin to rape where the children mob Gerda and Kai and grab buttons, scraps of clothing, even hair, as souvenirs. The pair decide to quit this life, hide their true identities, and go to stay with their troll friend Orm while they contemplate what to do next.

Snow Queen 3On the way to the land of the trolls, Gerda and Kai’s carriage breaks down and Kai summons Alfida, his friend and the daughter of the pirate queen from scene one. She arrives by a ship on sledge runners and transports our siblings to Orm’s home where Gerda and Kai run into Rollan. The book given to him by the pirate queen has led him to the troll and he is here to learn legends. He recounts the legends he knows, including the fabulous adventures of Gerda and Kai. When he asks if, by any chance, the pair sitting with him at the table are the famous duo, Kai tries to hide the truth while Gerda happily admits that she is indeed the fantastic heroine whom Rollan described. Furious because his sister is going back on the pledge the two made, Kai stomps off to Alfida’s ship. She follows and the two sail off, leaving Gerda and Rollan to plan adventures as they look through the Book of Legends.

Rollan points out the story of a wishing stone and Gerda says that she wishes she could see her parents. Rollan expresses a similar wish—he misses his mom. Looking further at the legend book, Gerda realizes that the magic stone the pair want is in the Land of the Trolls, only not in the regular part, but in the Forbidden Zone. Of course the two decide to ignore prohibitions and set out to find the stone. Their journey is romantic and accompanied by music. Rollan shows Gerda how to skate. They skate together and even draw a heart on the ice.

When the pair reaches the Forbidden Zone, they see huge and frightening structures. They observe a wizard bearing an offering to an idol. Stepping on a stone that triggers an opening to a passage, they fall into an underground chamber reminiscent of the garbage crushing room in Star Wars and the many forbidden chambers in the Indiana Jones movies and B-rated treasure-seeker films. The pair is separated and Rollan is shot at and otherwise attacked by various robots until Gerda reads a manual and saves him. Our heroes set out across a stunning lake of fire or molten lava in a boat and reach their destination—the Wishing Stone. The stone has a blue side and a red side. Gerda touches the blue and Rollan the red. There is a cataclysmic transformation and the spirit of the Snow Queen enters Gerda’s body while Rollan’s body is inhabited by a fire demon. This is clearly not the result that the pair wanted, although Gerda is able to create a tiny, floating, Tinkerbell-like snow queen and Rollan creates little living coals with fiery features and tiny arms and legs.

Snow Queen 3The task now is to undo the magic of the Wishing Stone—but how? The transformation causes world-shaking climate changes. Rivers of fire flow everywhere while the tops of structures are covered in ice. Winter alternates with summer in dizzying succession. Gerda and Rollan stumble through this mess and end up on stage in a scene reminiscent of the one at the beginning of the film. Gerda remembers that Orm had once served the Snow Queen and decides that he will know what to do. As the pair tries to return to Orm’s home, various adventures and misadventures occur and Gerda has progressively frequent seizures implying that, if something is not done before sunset, the transformations brought on by the Magic Stone will be permanent.

Orm does indeed have a solution, only an indirect one. He informs Gerda that there is a Troll Library full of information. Gerda creates a magic locomotive out of ice. She and Rollan ride it, reach the library, and descend to the legend-reading room in a scene reminiscent of the entry into the Forbidden Zone. Indeed the solution is there: Gerda and Rollan must return to the Stone and touch it one more time to undo the magic. This they do and Gerda touches the stone becoming her old self. But Rollan is a cheat. He withdraws his hand at the last moment and retains his fire powers. He explains that he always wanted to be super and, if he cannot be a superhero, then a super villain he will be.

With this we arrive at task number three, namely stopping Rollan and saving Gerda whom Rollan strands on a rock formation in an ever-rising sea of lava and fire. Kai, of course, comes to the rescue. He and Alfida travel to the Forbidden Zone. Kai valiantly springs from floating plate to floating plate across the sea of lava and saves his sister. But Rollan has now become a huge multi-legged fire demon, destroying the world of the trolls. Kai and Gerda join the fight and Gerda, ever the smart one, realizes that the way to stop the demon is by putting out his fire. The trolls hurl barrel after barrel of wine at Rollan, but succeed in breaking off various limbs only. When they run out of wine, Gerda seizes the initiative, jumps into her ice locomotive and pushes the demon over a cliff and into a sea of water.

The demon dies and all assume that Gerda has died with him. As they stand at the edge of the cliff lamenting, Gerda climbs up to join them. All is right with the world—almost—for Gerda still wishes to see her parents. At this point the little snow queen Tinkerbell leads the siblings to a rock formation. She opens this and they see their parents trapped in ice. The ice shatters and the family is reunited. The final scene is an idyllic one at a dinner table where Gerda, Kai, and Mom and Dad rest from their ordeals.

Snow Queen 3This is not a very Russian film. Aside from being made in Voronezh and being voiced by actors who speak Russian, there is nothing Russian about it. We see no Russian epic heroes like Alyosha, Dobrynya, and Ilya of the three knights series put out by Melnitsa. The folktale staple Ivan Tsarevich does not appear and neither does the Grey Wolf or Baba Yaga. Gerda and Kai come from a tale by Hans Christian Andersen and the action takes place in the land of the trolls, who are northern European mythical beings, not Slavic ones. The song that plays as Gerda and Rollan skate is in English and so is the signage, with the exception of the Book of Legends, which is in a made-up troll script. Wizart Animation aims for the international market and Snow Queen 3 was released in about 15 countries included Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, even before it was released in Russia. The film delivers what might be called universal messages. There is no call to Russian patriotism as in The Fortress: With Shield and Sword (Krepost’: shchitom i mechom, dir. Fedor Dmitriev, 2015). Rather, there are messages that would be applicable in any country and at any time. Lust for power is disparaged and succumbing to the temptation of flattery is also. Current Western values are central to the plot. Not only do we see the very Western and recent questioning of the scenario where girl meets boy and he saves her with true love’s kiss, but we are also presented with feminist motifs such as an intellectual Gerda who solves problems by reading manuals and doing research in libraries. Furthermore, Snow Queen 3 is fully in line with the Disney wholesomeness approach to filmmaking. Family values triumph and the dark and troubling aspects of life presented in films based on Marvel comics are absent.

How successful is this approach? For all of its saccharine plot or, what some might call, lack of plot, the film does have its merits. It is strikingly beautiful. Wizart Studios started out making video games and a game based on this film is already available. As a result of this gaming background, Snow Queen is made in 3-D and it is gorgeous. The fire scenes are especially effective. Rollan with his burning hair and glowing suit is striking, as is Lake Gao, the forbidden lake of fire which Gerda and Rollan must cross. The fire-tossing scenes are vivid as are the scenes where Gerda makes ice formations. There are intermittent slapstick episodes showing Orm the Troll trying to deal with his unruly children. My husband, whose command of Russian is virtually non-existent, watched this film without falling asleep whereas he grumbled repeatedly when I rewatched Frozen for the purpose of writing this review. Films that offer eye candy do have their appeal and Wizart Animation Studios have done a good job of tapping into that market.

 

Natalie Kononenko
University of Alberta

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Snow Queen 3: Fire and Ice, Russia 2016
Animation, 89 minutes
Director: Aleksei Tsitsilin
Script: Aleksei Tsitsilin, Vladimir Nikolaev, Aleksei Zamyslov
Composer: Fabrizio Mancinelli
Voices: Nataliia Bystrova, Fillip Lebedev, Diomid Vinogradov, Aleksandr Gruzdev, Mikhail Tikhonov, Nikolai Bystrov, Ol’ga Shorokhova, Ol’ga Zubkova, Vsevolod Kuznetsov, Fill Savenkov
Producers: Iurii Moskvin and Vladimir Nikolaev
Production Studio: Wizart Animation

Aleksei Tsitsilin: Snow Queen 3: Fire and Ice (Snezhnaia koroleva 3: Ogon’ i led, 2016)

reviewed by Natalie Kononenko© 2017

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