Life is full of lessons. Just when you think you're all grown up and you've got nothing left to learn from any other adult, life has a funny way of setting you straight. It was true when you were a kid, but somehow those lessons felt bigger. Treat people with respect, honesty is the best policy, and perhaps the biggest lesson, actions have consequences felt like the weight of the world was heaped onto your shoulders as a kid. 'Snowtime,' an updated version of the classic animated film 'The Dog Who Stopped The War' is a reminder that some of the toughest lessons are learned the hard way. What starts out as all fun and games can quickly get out of hand - even a simple snowball fight.
It's winter break. That means two full weeks of school-free joy for all the kids of a small northern town. As the snow piles up, options for fun seem to dwindle - that is until all of the kids in town get the bright idea to stage the biggest snowball fight ever seen. One faction led by brash young Luke (voiced by Angela Galuppo) will take on new girl Sophie (voiced by Lucinda Davis) and the brilliant young inventor/tactician Frankie (voiced by Sandra Oh) for control of a gigantic snow fort. As the snowball war rages on, egos will flair and friendships will be strained and all the kids in town will learn a bitter hard lesson about war - even if it was fought with snowballs.
As a remake of the classic Canadian hand drawn animated film 'The Dog Who Stopped The War' from 1984, 'Snowtime!' is a sweat-natured modern CGI-animated expansion of the original story. Those familiar with the original won't find too much new material, just a new presentation. I had seen the original film in an introduction to animation class I took when I first started college and I was convinced I could draw. I was struck by the colorful nature of the film, the fun character designs and how well the story captured what it was like to be a kid on winter break for two weeks in cold, dark December. However, I felt then and I still feel today with this modernized presentation that the film's message about the consequences of war or violence, even in a playful snowball fight, to be entirely too heavy-handed. I won't go into details of how that theme comes to pass as it's a bit of a spoiler, but suffice to say the film wears its theme on its cuffs to its detriment. "It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt" is a perfectly reasonable sentiment, but when it's misapplied to the very real consequences of war where people actually die, the film becomes too preachy for my tastes.
Part of why I have a problem with the original film and 'Snowtime!' is that for about 80-minutes, the film is all fun and games. Characters look like humanized cartoon strips, the snow fort is the sort of thing kids would dream of building but nowhere near the realm of reality or possibility, and the snowball fight is perfectly relatable. Then there is the late-in-the-game sermonizing about war that I find particularly tough to swallow. I'm fine with the idea that fierce competitiveness can strain and break friendships, that's a part of human nature and growing up, but I feel its application to greater human conflict and suffering as a result of war is a bad case of overreach. Kids learn through playing. Growing up, I took my scrapes and bruises like every other tot on the playground. Sure, it could get rough and some tears may be shed but that doesn't stop kids from going back out onto the playground and going back at it. If someone gets hurt or falls or what have you, the game stops for a moment or even for the rest of the day, but it doesn't stop forever - and that seems to be the underlying goal of this movie that I have a hard time moving past. A snowball fight isn't a war, and while kids may draw sides and maybe an errant ice-ball gets tossed, it's far and away from the real horrors of bullets and actual combat and I feel that is a precarious equation to make.
As a whole, I do enjoy most of 'Snowtime!' for what it manages to do. I like how well it captures that initial feeling of excitement of being let out of school for a couple of weeks and then being faced with the instant boredom that comes from not knowing what to do next. Building a snow fort and having mock snowball battles is exactly the kind of stuff I did as a kid with my little group of friends. King of the Mountain played on the mound of snow left by plow crews was our game of choice. I have painful memories of falling on an ice-glazed stick and nearly breaking my ribs, but I also remember climbing back up there the very next day because that sort of game as fun - even if I couldn't breathe well because of my aching ribs. I can see how and why a bit of moralizing may be appealing to parents to pass on to their kids, but that's not going to stop them from making a snowball and giving it a good toss at someone unsuspecting passerby. And it's certainly not going to stop that person from picking up a wad of white powdery wet snow and throwing it right back. When 'Snowtime!' is at its best is when it's focused on celebrating life as a kid. It's at its worst when it tried to deliver a message about responsibility and repercussions. All around this film is fun, I just wish it had figured out a way to present its theme or ideas in a way that wasn't so heavy handed. Fans of the original will likely have a good time discovering this iteration and newcomers will likely get a kick out of it as well.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Snowtime!' arrives in a two-disc 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray and DVD set with digital copy from Shout! Kids. Both the 3D and 2D presentations are pressed onto the same Region A BD50 disc. Both the Blu-ray and DVD are housed together in a standard sturdy two-disc Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. If you have a 3D Blu-ray player and television, the disc will auto-load directly to the 3D menu where there is an option to switch to the 2D presentation. Both the 3D and 2D menus are standard static-image menus with traditional navigation options.
'Snowtime' is a bright and cheerful, colorful ode to winter vacation. The 2.35:1 image and animation stylings perfectly captures that cool color tone that comes from the shades of a white and gray snowy landscape. The image clarity is clean and crisp without any notable compression issues to speak of. Colors, like I said, favor the white and gray tones of winter, but primary-saturated winter coats and gear give the image plenty of pop and presence. Since this film was clearly designed with 3D in mind, the 2D presentation offers up a nice sense of depth as black levels and shadows offer a nice separation effect, especially during some of the bigger action moments. In 3D, the image is given plenty of foreground and background depth along the Z-axis. There are plenty of pop-out moments while the depth and distance are appreciable. There are a few sequences here and there that feel oddly flat, usually occurring when the scene takes place in early dusk when the light is fading away. For this MVC-encoded transfer, the image doesn't appear to have been brightened to compensate for the darkening effects of the glasses. While the colors are still present, primaries don't have the same pop as the 2D counterpart. Whichever way you watch the film should result in a pleasing experience.
'Snowtime' arrives with a robust English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix as well as a fairly decent 2.0 stereo track. While a fairly front-loaded mix, the 5.1 mix was my preferred experience as it provided enough surround presence during the big snowball fights to make it worth while. The 2.0 stereo track is perfectly fine but doesn't really fill the scenes with a sense of space or ambiance as the 5.1 mix can provide. Both tracks offer clean and clear dialogue, fine scoring and music presence, and key sound effects come through perfectly. It's the subtle background effects and tones that I give the 5.1 mix its edge. Either way you slice it, you're going to have a solid audio experience for this fun little adventure film.
Céline Dion Interview: (HD 3:11) This is a nice little interview with the singer and how she came to discover the film and her involvement.
Sandra Oh Interview: (HD 2:41) Sandra Oh talks about her character Frankie and his relationship with the other characters and the story.
Ross Lynch Interview: (HD 2:34) The actor provides a nice little bit of stuff about what it's like doing voice recording versus acting in front of the camera and his overall experience on this film.
Producer Marie-Claude Beauchamp Interview: (HD 1:13) This is an incredibly brief interview with the producer of the film as she explains very quickly all of the themes they wanted to tackle with the story.
Musicians Promo: (HD 1:16) This is a quick little introduction with the various musicians involved with the soundtrack.
Teaser: (HD 1:02)
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:04)
I may not have absolutely loved 'Snowtime!,' but I won't deny there is a great bit of fun to be had - even if I feel like that fun is tossed away in favor of a moral. Kids young and old alike should have a good time with 'Snowtime!' as Shout Factory has done a solid job releasing a pleasing 2D/3D image presentation as well as a solid audio track. Extras a bit slim, but there is some useful material to be gleaned. All in all, I'll call 'Snowtime!' worth a look.