Whether it’s last year’s Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Song of the Sea or Tale of Princess Kaguya, I love finding smaller international films that add so much to the animation landscape. Therefore, you can imagine how thrilled I was when Rotoscopers asked me to represent them at the Sundance Film Festival at a screening for a small film out of Quebec, Canada called Snowtime! This film is not a lovely offering because it is small, but because it is a genuinely sweet film that kids and families will really enjoy.
Snowtime! is based on La Guerre des Tuques (The Dog Who Stopped the War), which is a popular, holiday live-action film in Quebec since its release in 1984. I have not seen the original film, but the team worked very hard to keep the feel and overall tone while transferring it from live action to animation.
It tells the story of a group of kids who divide into teams to defend a large snow fort in their town. This becomes a ‘war’ with Sophie and Luke (the oldest of the children) taking the leads. There is a good variety of ages, races, and ethnicities in the mixture of kids so it feels like an actual neighborhood. The producer Marie-Claude Beauchamp told me she really wants kids to embrace playtime again and organizing their own activities and fun, and you can feel that message throughout Snowtime!. In some ways, it reminded me of The Peanuts Movie in the way they showed kids as autonomous individuals who played together.
As is often the case with such games, they get out of hand for a moment or two, and there are some tough lessons the kids must learn. But it never felt heavy-handed or gloomy, and there are no parents teaching lessons. Just kids figuring out tough situations themselves which I really liked.
The CG animation has a watercolor-pencil feel to the renderings. I was very impressed with what they were able to do on a small Sundance Film Festival-level budget. If you hadn’t told me it was small budget, I would not have known.
I also really enjoyed the character design. They have a St. Bernard named Cleo who is very cute, and all the kids are drawn with flare. I particularly liked a little red-haired girl named Lucy who had the brightest pigtails you’ve ever seen.
At 80 minutes, the film clips along pretty well, but some may find its simple story not exciting enough for them. I enjoyed that about it. It also does get sad so be prepared with tissues!
Young girls will be excited to see Disney Channel star Ross Lynch in the voice cast along with TV actress Sandra Oh. The rest of the voice talent sounds a little old sometimes, but it isn’t a big problem. I kind of wish they had gone with child actors like The Peanuts Movie but it works.
The music is impressive for this type of small film with songs from Canadian singers—Celine Dion, Simple Plan, Walk Off the Earth, and more. I particularly liked the Dion song called “Hymn.” It reminded me that it has been a long time since I have heard her on a soundtrack to a movie. There is something about her voice that is cinematic and great for movies.
There is some toilet humor directed solely at kids (mostly involving the dog Cleo; the kids in my theater were cracking up) and a few of the hijinks on the fort could have been toned down a bit. It gets a little roller coaster-like at times. It’s such a grounded film that it felt a little out of place. The tone can also shift from very silly to somber fairly quickly but again, not in a way that was a major stumbling block for me.
But all in all, I really enjoyed Snowtime!. It’s a sweet little movie about playing with your friends and the lessons you learn along the way. It is being distributed by Shout Factory and is opening in 50 cities starting February 19. I recommend hunting it down and taking your kids. They will have a great time and enjoy a special film. Who knows? Maybe it will even encourage them to play in all this winter weather we’ve been having lately!
Read our interview with the director and producer of Snowtime! here.
Edited by: Kelly Conley