Issue 67 (2020)

Robert Lence, Aleksei Tsitsilin: The Snow Queen: Mirrorlands (Snezhnaia koroleva: Zazerkal’e, 2018)

reviewed by Olga Blackledge © 2020

snow queen 4 The Snow Queen: Mirrorlands is the fourth feature-length animated film in The Snow Queen franchise produced by Voronezh animation studio Wizart Animation, and a sequel to The Snow Queen (Snezhnaia koroleva, 2012, dir. Vladlen Barbe and Maksim Sveshnikov); The Snow Queen 2: Refreezing (Snezhnaia koroleva. Perezamorozka, 2014, dir. Aleksei Tsitsilin); and The Snow Queen 3: Fire and Ice (Snezhnaia koroleva: Ogon’ I led, 2016, dir. Tsitsilin). If the first Snow Queen film was loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s eponymous tale, the following ones have very little to do with the literary source. While using the original characters such as the Snow Queen, Gerda, Kai, and others, the plots of the sequels present a variety of adventures generated by conflicts unrelated to Andersen’s story.

snow queen 4 The main conflict of The Snow Queen: Mirrorlands is the fight of technology against magic. The technologically progressive King Harold wants to protect his son against the damage that can be inflicted by magic forces and decides to confine all those who possess magic powers. For the place of imprisonment, he chooses the Mirrorlands—the world in which the Snow Queen is detained as a punishment for her attempt to freeze the world. The person responsible for her imprisonment, Gerda, is a girl from a family of magicians, who does not seem to have any magic talents. When the King plots to get rid of all the magicians in his land and traps them in the Mirrorland without a possibility of return, Gerda loses her whole family and sets out on a mission to get them back them from the Mirrorlands. She gets help from her friends, the trolls, and even the Snow Queen herself, who persuades Gerda to accept her help, explaining her motives thus: “Life is so unpredictable. Sometimes the only way to save oneself is to trust your former enemy.”

snow queen 4 In fact, it seems that this relativity of relationships, alliances, and ethics makes up the moral of the story. For instance, King Harold, an engineer and inventor, who according to his structural position in the plot is the villain, is a well-meaning ruler traumatized by magic. He truly believes that magic is evil, and his war against magicians—as cruel as it is—is a result of his attempt to save the world and protect his son. His son, on the other hand, is a fan of fairy tales, who has to hide his interests from his father because of a fear to disappoint him. As it turns out unexpectedly, he also possesses magic powers, which ultimately help Gerda to save the magicians. Thus, instead of the traditional binary oppositions that can be found in tales—enemies versus friends, and good versus evil—Mirrorlands’ plot presents a fluid set of relationships and identities in which characters have goals determined by their circumstances and interests.

snow queen 4 However, not only the characters’ relationships are fluid; the same can be said about everything in this film. For instance, the technological inventions based on science that, according to King Harold, is going to “make the world better and safer” constantly malfunction and look as outdated and pre-modern as the objects created by magic—they are a far cry from what we usually associate with invention and progress. And, according to Tsitsilin, it was one of the tasks of the animators working on the film to create a world in which magic and technology exist in a complex visual unity (Kornatskii 2017). Thus, the technological hand created by King Harold, which is suspiciously reminiscent of Howard Wolowitz’s programmable hand from the American TV series Bing Bang Theory (CBS, 2007–), which in its turn is a reference to the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf (BBC 1988–99), looks vintage rather than modern. These nested dolls of references, of which the programmable hand is just one example (others cover a whole spectrum from Aleksandr Pushkin’s poetry to the popular cartoon series The Powerpuff Girls), are indicative of the strive to disperse into multiple cultural and historical contexts and avoid any specific historical or geographical attribution. Even the nominations of hierarchical relationships are inconsistent: in the beginning of the film, the soldiers address the admiral as “comrade” and later as “Sir.”

snow queen 4For audiences, such ahistoricism and melting pots of references can be attractive and repellant in an equal measure, and it seems that the line of the divide between such attitudes has a geographic foundation: the Snow Queen franchise has been consistently much more successful abroad than in the post-Soviet space (Alenushkina 2018). For instance, within the first three months after its release in Russia and post-Soviet territories, the film’s box office was rather low, only $2 780 447—compared to the earlier films of the franchise that also demonstrated a steady decline in interest, and compared to the major rival, the Three Bogatyrs franchise that is much more popular with Russian audiences (to compare, the latest film of the Bogatyrs franchise, Three Bogatyrs and the Heiress to the Throne from 2018 grossed $8 763 374).

snow queen 4In terms of export, however, the Snow Queen franchise is unbeatable. The first three films have been shown in 150 countries. Mirrorlands has already been shown across Europe, Asia, and South America, and is still awaiting its release in English-language territories (UK, USA, and Australia) in the summer of 2020. The press has been consistently calling the franchise as the most successful export product in Russian film industry (Milligan 2018; Surepin 2019).

snow queen 4So what is its secret? The franchise in general, and Mirrorlands in particular, have been praised for its technological mastery which is consistently growing. Even with a relatively low budget—about $6 000 000 for Mirrorlands—(Prytkov 2018), Wizart Animation manages to create world-class animation. What is unusual about Mirrorlands, however, compared to the previous films, is that for the first time in Russian animation history, a film was co-directed by a Hollywood animator. Tsitsilin, who directed the second and third parts of the Snow Queen, worked on Mirrorlands along with Robert Lence, who is “a major contributor on some of the most successful films in the history of animated features” (IMDb), including Toy Story (1995, story supervisor), Bugs Life (1998, story artist), The Lion King 2, The Lion King 3 (1998 and 2004, storyboard artist) and others. Lence already worked on The Snow Queen 3 as a storyboard advisor, but Mirrorlands is his directorial debut. Lence’s participation in the franchise has boosted the quality of the animation, as well as its Disneyfication: according to Tsitsilin, Lence made the characters more Disney-like, “more charismatic” (“Cinema” 2016). It seems that, together with the film’s fluid morals, dense intertextuality, and high technological quality, its orientation towards Disney imagery may be key to its popularity abroad. Being recognizable, Disney imagery does not require from the audiences any acclimatizing: audiences worldwide are already immersed in it. And thus, The Snow Queen franchise becomes a variation of a familiar and likable animation.

Olga Blackledge
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

Works Cited
Alenushkina, Vera. 2018. “Snezhnaia koroleva: Zazerkal'ie.” Kinoafisha 29 December.

“Cinema”. 2016. “Aleksei Tsitsilin i Vladimir Nikolaev (Snezhnaia koroleva 3): Kak priruchit' ogon' i led.” Cinemaplex 27 November.

Kornatskii, Nikolai. 2017. “Rossiskuiu animatsiiu zhdet bol'shoe budushchee.” Izvestiia 29 November.

Milligan, Mercedes. 2018. “Wizart Reflects New 'Snow Queen: Mirrorlands.' Trailer.” Animation Magazine 23 October.

Prytkov, Aleksandr. 2018. “‘Snezhnaia koroleva’ votsaritsia v podnebesnoi.” Kommersant (Voronezh), 27 December. 

Surepin, Sergei. 2019. “Snezhnaia koroleva 3 stal samym kassovym rossiiskim fil'mom v zarubezhnom prokate.” Life 9 April.

The Snow Queen: Mirrorlands, Russia, 2018
Color, 80 minutes
Directors: Robert Lence, Aleksei Tsitsilin
Screenplay: Andrei Korenkov, Robert Lence, Vladimir Nikolaev, Aleksei Tsitsilin, Aleksei Zamyslov
Voices: Vladimir Zaitsev, Irina Bezrukova, Lina Ivanova, Lyaisan Utiasheva, Nadezhda Angarskaia, Nikolai Bystrov, Ol’ga Zubkova
Music: Fabrizio Mancinelli
Producers: Boris Mashkovtsev, Iurii Moskvin, Vladimir Nikolaev, Pavel Stepanov, Vadim Vereshchagin
Production: Wizart Animation

Robert Lence, Aleksei Tsitsilin: The Snow Queen: Mirrorlands (Snezhnaia koroleva: Zazerkal’e, 2018)

reviewed by Olga Blackledge © 2020

Updated: 2020