I love the winter, but it’s hard to get a movie that involves the season that isn’t coaxed in sadness and/or revolves around a holiday, and I stick by that statement, even as the one defender of Eight Crazy Nights. I miss seeing the fun “snow day” episodes of several TV cartoons like Hey Arnold and The Simpsons. So getting a movie that takes a more cool, slice-of-life approach rather than an over-the-top wacky showcase like Snow Day or Jack Frost is something I’m very happy to accept.
We’ve talked a lot about some pretty heavy animated features, so let’s take a light and breezy palette cleanser. Take it away, Maciek!
SNOWTIME! (La Guerre Des Tuques 3D)
‘Snowtime!’ is one of those kids movies that falls into the category of “something that was meant to be a 20 minute long TV special that somebody stretched into hour and a half.” Yeah, it’s a pretty long worded category.
This animated feature, follows a group of kids from a small mountain town who decide to break into two teams to have a snowball war. If this epic premise doesn’t knock your socks off, than you’re in for a treat as that is literally 80% of the entire movie.
We get our typical character clichés: “a friendly leader with a fat best friend,” “the bossy nerd,” the large-dimwitted kid,” “the twins who do everything together,” and “the street-smart black kid.” The list goes on from there. One group is joined by a new girl in town, the tomboyish Sophie (who honestly felt to cool and mature to be hanging out with the rest of the gang) and her bratty little sister. Together they make a colossal, to good-to be realistic snow fort. The other team, led by a boy named Luke, takes up the challenge to see how many times his team can take over the fort before the end of their winter holiday.
For the most part, ‘Snowtime!’ is just a series of slapstick and visual gags. While some of these gags work, most feel incredibly awkward, particularly anything involving farts or other bodily noises. Sub-plot after sub-plot introduces even more all too familiar cliches, including an eye-rolling cutesy love story between two rivals.
Now believe it or not, the film does make an attempt at having some depth and an anti-war messaging, but it’s giving little time to sink due to the fact that it’s hardly touched on at all until the tail-end of the third act. Coupled with the already goofy antics of kids, the attempts by the filmmakers to include any real sense of drama comes across as forced and incredibly hollow.
Now war allegories with kids isn’t something new. There is a Hungarian book, “A Pal Utcai Fiuk” (“The Paul Street Boys”), which centers around a group of schoolboys having a war with another group of bullies, with turns into a military allegory. However, the conflict between the kids in the novel is treated seriously, and has real stakes and consequences from the start. In ‘Snowtime,’ for the most part, it’s just about goofy, albeit likeable, kids having a snowball fight, with all of them aware of the fact that they’re just playing a game.
The thing is, ‘Snowtime!’ just doesn’t work as a feature-length film, and the attempts to inject any semblance of seriousness immediately falls flat. The animation and character designs also drag the whole thing down, and aside from the characters of Sophie and Cleo the Dog, there’s little else to appreciate or warrant a watch.
Doing more research on Snowtime!, I found that it is an animated remake of a movie from the 1980s called The Dog Who Stopped the War. The film is a live-action, Quebecois children’s classic about kids who escalate a snowball fight into a full-out war. The title hints at the importance at the dog, which explains why the UK Title for new adaptation is referred to as Cleo. The film premiered to the rest of the world in 2016, but this is actually the highest domestic grossing Canadian movie of 2015.
Canada primarily a contributor in the animated film industry, as most Canadian-productions come from assisting other films from France, Ireland, Belgium or the United States. If you look at the filmography from DHX Media, Toonbox Entertainment and Rainmaker Entertainment, there’s a lot of CGI films catered to children. Occasionally there a few more independent features to slip out of Canada like The Prophet or this year’s Window Horses. Snowtime! looks to be aiming right between…something easily graspable by kids by with potential for heavier meaning.
If there’s something missing from the trailer, it’s a sense of time. As much as we loved playing in the snow as kids, you always hit that fridge point where it gets too cold from being soaked from head-to-toe lying on ground and the sun has already set. Makes you want to crawl back home and curl up with a blanket and some cocoa. There’s a big emphasis that the snowball fight is just for fun, so having an anti-war message feels…conflicting? If anything is going to stop the kids from stopping the fight, it’s going to be from getting tired or the parents calling them back home.
I don’t know if I will be seeing Snowtime! anytime soon, but I imagine it’s pleasant for little kids. The animation quality won’t bother them as much as it’ll bother the older audiences who see potential in its frustrating, shoddy framework. A starter for young lovers of snow days.