The Snow Queen (2012) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

U.S._DVD_Cover_of_Wizart's_The_Snow_Queen

With parents taking their children to the cinemas or sitting with them on the couch to watch a film, even children’s animation films need to be created with a range of age-groups in mind. When it comes to The Snow Queen, the film does a good job of entertaining the children viewers, while also including some jokes for the adult guardians. The film is interesting, but I am not sure if it can stand among other notable children’s films like Aladdin, Monsters Inc., and Frozen (which is another telling of the same tale by Hans Christian Anderson).

The Snow Queen: The only thing preventing the evil Snow Queen from completing her act of covering the whole world in ice, is Master Vegard. When he and his wife disappear, Kai and Gerda (Vegard’s son and daughter) find themselves in an orphanage. Before long, they are found by the Snow Queen’s servant troll Orm. A fight ensues, and Kai too disappears to the Snow Queen’s palace. With Orm and her pet weasel Luta in tow, Gerda ventures off to find her brother, and save the world.

Let me begin by saying: This is not a rip-off of Frozen. The Snow Queen is a Russian computer-animated children’s film that was released back in 2012, and is a telling of the Hans Christian Anderson classic tale. As it was originally a Russian film, it has recently been released in English, but the timing is interesting. There have been a lot of films like this that have come out since the massive world-wide popularity of Frozen, and its release does seem to be piggy-backing on that success.

The story is a little hard to follow at times, but, for the most part, it is entertaining. There are some funny moments – especially lines from Orm the troll – so you are sure to give at least a couple of chuckles.

The animation style does differ slightly from other animated films out there, but that isn’t a bad thing. The characters still aren’t overly life-like, but then again, trolls aren’t life-like either.

The film stays quite true to the original story, and that is primarily what these projects are about. It does bug me when the stories are drastically changed, because they could just as easily have created a whole new story and not used a known-name to get their film made.

There have been mostly positive reviews from Russian viewers; but American reviews haven’t been as good, being mostly of mixed opinions.

There are two sequels in the works – The Snow Queen 2 and The Snow King – so you are probably going to hear quite a bit more about it if you hadn’t already. The film is worth watching if you like the classics, but don’t expect it to be as good as some of the earlier 1990s Disney films.

3 out of 5 stars

Million Dollar Arm (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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I am not an athlete. I played team sports in school, but it was not something I was passionate about, nor particularly skilled in. That being said, for some reason, I find myself drawn to sports films; and this is my kind of sport film. Like the series Friday Night LightsMillion Dollar Arm is a sports film that is not about sports. The film is based on true events, which I hadn’t heard about before. The story is quite simple, but enjoyable.

Disney’s Million Dollar Arm is the story of sport, triumph, and unity. JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) was a successful sports agent. He worked because he loved what he did, and he had a good time doing it. That is, until the playing field became a lot less fair and even. Faced with the prospect of losing his business, JB searches for any way to save it, and finds it: cricket. JB and his partner head to Mumbai, and come back with two eighteen-year-old boys with throws that can knock the breath out of you. Will this be enough to save JB’s business? Is baseball ready for a change? And will these boys get signed to a major league team?

I will begin by saying how good the acting was in this film. The lead – Jon Hamm, who shot to fame from the series Mad Men – definitely plays a different character, and is a likeable leading man. The Indian teenagers are also brilliantly acted by Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma. They have both acted before, but do not have extensive film backgrounds. It was not particularly surprising for them to be able to hold their own, as recent films like 12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips (review HERE) have shown that Hollywood casting is pretty spot-on, even for those that haven’t acted much before.

The story and script was also engaging. There were some very funny moments and lines were delivered seamlessly. There were no visual effects or special camera movements; just a good story.

I also like their mix of cultures. There have been a recent slew of American/Indian films – mainly starting with the roaring success of Slumdog Millionaire, and continuing with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Hundred-Foot Journey – and it seems to be working well.

Reviews have been mostly positive. I would be surprised if they won any major awards, but it does what it sets out to do – educate and entertain. For the most part, the criticisms have claimed that Disney dulled the story down for a younger audience, and that India was only shown from a ‘tourist’s-eye’, such as disregarding the very low-income areas. But in defence of the film, I don’t think they needed to give a history of India just to have characters come from there.

You might not want to bring little kids, because it does contain some swearing, but otherwise, I think most people will enjoy it.

4 out of 5 stars

Planes: Fire and Rescue (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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So, it turns out that Disney are not quite done with this franchise. This is a spin-off to Disney’s Cars series, and a sequel to Planes, released in 2013. I know this is not targeted towards my demographic – early 20s – but I am really getting sick and tired of these computer-animated kids films that are the same thing over and over again. They might entertain the little kids, but they are a far-cry from the old Disney films that entertained numerous generations and are still enjoyable today.

What began with Dusty Crophopper learning to overcome his fear and racing around the world, is now the famous air racer joining a team of aerial firefighters. Together, they battle massive wildfires and learn about themselves, and what a real hero looks like.

It takes a special actor to bring a character to life with only their voices. They cannot convey anything through body movements or facial expressions, making it a job for a talented selection. Though the children in the audience will not be able to pick-out the names of the actors voicing their loveable onscreen characters, the adults will find a large number of them recognisable. The cast list includes Dane CookEd HarrisJulie BowenBrad Garrett, and Teri Hatcher.

For films to be truly successful, they need to be relatable to kids, parents, and grandparents. If it can do that, it has a better chance at having longevity. Planes: Fire and Rescue had a couple of instances that seemed to be targeted to the adults in the audience. These were mostly comedic one-liners, but might not be enough to compensate for them being dragged along by their kids.

The film’s story is quite general and not complex, though some of the fire scenes and topic might be a bit intense for the younger children watching.

Especially with some recent animated children’s films, it feels more like a marketing opportunity than a film with meaning. It has been pointed out that Planes: Fire and Rescue has a theme reminiscent of ‘the little engine that could’ and perseverance, but it feels kind of flat. As per usual, the shops will be releasing a plethora of toys, bed sheets, and everything else imaginable. They have already announced a video game based on the film to be released on a number of consoles.

The response from critics and audiences have been mixed. The majority of the reviews agree the little kids will fall in love with the characters and be dazzled by the animation, but also that it is not a film for anyone else.

If you have to take the kids to the cinemas, Planes: Fire and Rescue will keep them entertained, and you can be sure they are not being subjected to coarse language and inappropriate themes.

Overall, not the best film, but not the worst, either.

3 out of 5 stars