Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Frozen, Retellings, and Mother's Day

As the grand finale to an entire weekend celebrating Mother’s Day, Mom and I sat back and watched both Frozen and Tangled. The two movies, paired together, made perfect sense, especially because I love the theory connecting Anna, Elsa, and Rapunzel together. I don’t really care if it isn’t true. It’s fun to think about.  

Anywho, I love both movies. I think that Tangled’s animation is more polished, but the music in Frozen is delightfully addicting.

However, I’m also a huge fairy tale fan and some things just sort of… bother me. I’m always in search of new retellings, whether in film or book form, and when I was poking around Goodreads, looking at Snow Queen retellings, I found a review that said something like this:

“… if you want a good retelling of the Snow Queen, watch Frozen.”


I cannot agree with this.

Because I think it’s fairly obvious that Frozen is not a retelling.

When rumors of the new movie were floating around, all signs pointed to the news that Disney was going to retell Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Snow Queen.” And I was thrilled. It’s a long, strange tale full of danger, longing, and hope trapped in ice. Gerda is one of the strongest fairy tale characters I’ve ever read, and I wanted badly to watch her entire journey unfold on the big screen.

But as (most) of us know, the movie took a completely different turn and is, truly, its own film. Frozen is Frozen. No retelling in sight.

Even with a time crunch, clever editing, and the combining of minor characters, it would be difficult to fit “The Snow Queen” into a feature-length film. That’s why most retellings for “The Snow Queen” come in mini-series form (I’ll get to that later).

If you’ve never read the original, what are you doing? You’ll need some time, but it will be well worth the read.

There are a few characters that you’d need for a legit retelling of “The Snow Queen.” I was about to make a list, except that I while I was surfing the internet during my lunch break, I found some great articles… and someone who said it better than me, by far:

"There is the Snow Queen herself, a formidable villain who’s power is treated with respect. There is Kai’s grandmother, who provides an essential catalyst to Gerda’s journey. There is the old witch woman with the enchanted garden who functions as a threshold guardian for Gerda while being characterized in a respectful manner that serves as a good subversion of the old witch trope. There is a female crow who knows how to sneak into palaces, a helpful princess who heads a side plot in which she will only marry a prince as intelligent as her (!!!), a robber and her daughter, head of a band of robbers who kidnap Gerda. The daughter is a spunky, knife wielding girl who befriends Gerda and aids her on her way. And finally, there are two women, the latter of whom helps Gerda understand the inherent power she has always had within her, a power that will ultimately save her friend, and the world."

The only characters The Feminist Fangirl fails to mention in here is Kay / Kai and the reindeer. With good reason. The point of her article is much different than my blog post. If you know me, you know I love a good story where a boy needs rescuing. My heart pounds every time I reach the moment when the Snow Queen steals Kai away. He's already damaged by then, after having absorbed poisonous shards in his eye and heart, turning him into a cold, cruel boy.

(SOUNDS LIKE HANS. MAYBE. I need to stop with the theories that may or may not make great Frozen sequel ideas).

Danger looms in the world because people have absorbed the mirror shards (mistaken for snow), but Gerda’s journey takes her beyond her home and into a place where crows talk, princesses read newspapers on pearl-thrones, and robber-girls can be persuaded to help you if you know what to say. Gerda’s love for Kai never wavers, even though she is severely tested by those she meets.

I could probably keep going, haha. Depending upon the ages picked or a retelling, Gerda and Kai’s love may just be friendship, or blossoming into something more.

Frozen is more about sisterly bonds, not marrying the first guy you meet, learning to embrace what makes you unique instead of hiding it away. While all fine lessons and great story material, it cannot be compared to Gerda’s journey.

Now then, before I switch gears, I’ll share my two favorite film adaptations of “The Snow Queen,” in case you’re looking for something that actually follows Anderson’s tale (you should). 

My most favorite adaptation. Yep. Hands down. And Hallmark Entertainment made it. This is a mini-series, allowing us plenty of time to get to know Gerda, Kai, and even the Queen herself. Four things I love about this series:

1)        Gerda and Kai’s relationship is romantic. What can I say? I’m a shipper. They are both teenagers in this version; Kai loves Gerda, but she’s still mourning over her mother’s death to notice her own feelings for him. But just as they start to come together, the Snow Queen strikes.

2)       The mini-series follows both Gerda’s journey and Kai’s, which is a first. Instead of being stuck doing nothing, Kai searches for a way out of the ice palace, tries to fend off the Snow Queen and avoid completing the mirror puzzle, and strikes up a shaky truce with the Snow Queen’s guard – a polar bear.

3)       The world Gerda travels through is sectioned off into seasons. There’s the Spring Witch (the same one, in the original, that tries to trap Gerda in her cozy cottage), the Summer Princess (a new version of the pearl-throne princess), and the Autumn Robber (the old robber woman, mother of the robber-girl). All three are the Snow Queen’s sisters, desperate to maintain their respective seasons despite the Snow Queen’s growing dominance.

4)       Most of the characters have interesting backstories, filling out Anderson’s fairy tale without distorting it too much. Everyone’s motivations are clear. Their actions have purpose. My favorite, of course, is finding out what drives the polar bear’s loyalty to the Snow Queen.

The second is, uh, pretty bizarre, but even more accurate to the original.  Made by the BBC, The Snow Queen is a blending of operatic songs with major CGI tricks that form to create disorienting and beautiful settings. Truthfully, this was a hard one to watch the first time (I mean it when I say the style is disorienting), but it grows on you. Certain scenes exude magic, and the showdown between Gerda and the Snow Queen is exciting. 

It’s hot outside. Freezing inside (I think I’m sitting underneath five air vents in my cubicle). Despite wishing I could wear a parka at work, my mind isn’t on the cold. 

Or so I thought. 

I've got my own retelling of "The Snow Queen" languishing on my computer. At 45k, just short of a novel-length manuscript, Tread Softly had been on for a while before I took it down, polished and sent it out, etc. Thinking about Frozen started a chain reaction, I suppose, and I started skimming Tread Softly for my own versions of the princess, Gerda, the crows, and the reindeer. To see exactly what I did with Andersen's beautiful fairy tale.

Brrr. Now I really need to burrow under a blanket. Too bad it's May. 


  1. Oh my goodness (Starflower here, if the Blogger name change is confusing)! I'm actually planning a novella-length Snow Queen retelling right now and this post is so, so helpful. (And your timing, by the way, is amazing.) You have a really great point about retellings - I love them, but Frozen is definitely not one.

    Thanks for this! It's a wonderful post :D

    1. Yay! That's so exciting. I have GOT to read this novella of yours. You need to hurry up and write it ;)

  2. "Gerda! Where have you been for so long? And where have I been?" I had a collection of Andersen tales on cassette that I listened to after lights out when I was a kid. I loved this story, although I forget much of it. I would love to check out the movies you suggest! Thanks friend :).

    1. Wow, that must have been magical, Janelle. I never listened to audio tapes, but I stared at the different illustrations from each version I had until my eyes grew numb, haha. Please do! They're great adaptations!

  3. I was not particularly impressed by Frozen. But I do think it was awesome that it focused on a sibling relationship.

    A true re-telling of The Snow Queen would have been fantastic! I haven't thought about the story for such a long time. Gerda was strong and clever and resourceful. I liked her a lot. I'll have to dig up my old fairytale books so I can read the story again. My version came with lovely illustrations.

  4. You forgot to mention the Russian animated adaptation from the fifties. That was my first exposure to the Snow Queen before I bought a Penguin Classics Hans Christian Anderson compilation. That Russian cartoon truly defined to me what the Snow Queen should be like. I was a bit miffed when I read that Disney had problems adapting the story because they needed the Snow Queen to be more sympathetic.

  5. I know it's a bit of an old blog, but better late than never! My impression of Frozen was that it was more the prequel to Anderson's story, the basis of how an evil snow queen could come about (say for example had Ana stayed frozen) but what could have happened instead. I came upon your blog actually because I am searching for a snow queen movie I remember watching on cable as a child in the late 80's. It was in color, had the reindeer and summer witch (with her garden of talking flowers that I believe we're children she turned into flowers). It starts either with the introduction of Gerda and Kai, our with a floor section floating in space where the queen kept her mirror. The mirror was broke by her assistant and the tiny shards fell to earth and landed in Kai's eye. If anyone can remember this movie our knows what it's truly called our who was in it that would be awesome! I enjoyed reading your blog!