An appealing animation about a spirited series of kids’ snowball fights becomes an allegory for darker things in Snowtime! the animated retelling of 1984 Quebecois classic, La guerre des tuques (The Dog Who Stopped the War).
The small village where 11-year-old Luke (Angela Gallupo) and his best pal Frankie (Sandra Oh) live seems an ideal place to grow up when winter comes.
Not only are parents barely present in this kid-centred world, the snowy landscape, ski slope-like roads and village dotted with colourful houses is an engaging and fancifully goofy place, created in wonky splendour by animation director Jim van der Keyl (The Little Mermaid,The Iron Giant). Walk Off the Earth, Simple Plan and Céline Dion contribute to the soundtrack.
Two weeks off school brings the threat of boredom and the kids settle on a huge snowball fight as an ideal way to pass the time. A grand ice fort built to Frankie’s brainiac specifications — infused with storybook looks, comic security measures and plenty of whiz bang — will be the prize to conquer and occupy.
Even the village’s newest residents, clever 11-year-old Sophie (Lucinda Davis) and her boy-hating little sister Lucy (also voiced by Angela Gallupo but at a higher and eventually grating pitch) get involved.
Hulking Chuck (Don Shepherd) supplies the heavy lifting while Piers (Disney Channel’s Ross Lynch) contributes their enthusiastic mascot, the devoted and gas-plagued St. Bernard, Cleo.
The snow soldiers have pledged to avoid enemy fraternization but Luke and Sophie have a genuinely sweet moment of “maybe I like you” before they occupy opposite corners as generals.
Directors Jean-François Pouliot and François Brisson infuse the ’toon with simple charm and try to avoid sappier approaches to storytelling, especially during the furiously fun battles. Not to say Snowtime! isn’t occasionally corny. It is.
With repeated assurances from the kids that they’re not out to hurt anybody in these daily battles, things still escalate.
War and invasion metaphors are unmistakable. Take the battered bugle Luke always carries to blow charge! It was his late father’s, given to him after he died in an unidentified war and explained in dim flashbacks of a rainy funeral. He prefers to keep his sorrow for solitary moments in an abandoned barn the kids use as a hangout.
The final battle sees Luke’s army bolstered by adorable Grade 1 mercenaries rampaging for chocolates and starts out cute as can be. But in the midst of the fun, there is an unexpected tragedy that brings a halt to the skirmish.
The event may well upset young viewers, so parents should be warned, although what follows forms the heart of Snowtime! and it is a worthwhile lesson.
It’s all there in the book, the movie and the original screenplay by Roger Cantin and Danyèle Patenaude and perhaps kids in Quebec, where the original is a beloved classic and where the remake pulled in the biggest box office in Canada in 2015, are made of sterner stuff.
I couldn’t help thinking about seeing Disney’s The Three Lives of Thomasina when I was small and being made weepy by similar events. It’s a memory that has stayed with me. For this young audience, the hope is that the message behind Snowtime! stays longer.