Snowtime! aka La Guerre des tuques 3D (2015)

(On Cable TV, March 2017) The first 1984 live-action La Guerre des Tuques was a major cultural touchstone for French Canadians of my generation. “La guerre, c’est pas une raison pour se faire mal !” (“War isn’t a reason to hurt each other!”). I first saw it at school, because that was the movie you showed to a crowd of bored kids during the winter. It certainly had its share of magic: seeing kids “build” a gigantic fort during their winter holidays was the most awesome thing we could imagine, and the gut-punch of the climax (hint: the book’s title is “The Dog That Stopped the War”) was good enough to make everyone cry. Nearly thirty-five years later, the release of an animated 3D remake took full advantage of this nostalgic feeling: Not only was Snowtime! marketed in Quebec as heavily as any other Hollywood blockbuster, it came with its own extensive line of toys, plush figures and such. For a market as small (6 million, give or take) as French Canada, it was hard to avoid the film’s marketing footprint. But nearly 200 word in this review, we still haven’t talked about the film itself and that’s nearly inevitable given that it is so … average. While seeing it in English strips it of its French-Canadian dialogue (even though officially the film is listed as an English-language production … go figure), there’s a bit of small-rural-town romanticizing in the way this remake is presented. Characters are hammered in distinctive archetypes (action figures, anyone?), the story is handled linearly and big chunks of the film seems to have gone through the big filter that makes nearly all animated movies the same. But there’s worse in the very nature of making this an animated movie: For one thing, seeing a massive snow fort isn’t as impressive as a whimsical digital creation as a real live fort. Then there’s the CGI dog: for all of the advances in technology and artistic skill in animating a CGI dog, it’s never going to get as visceral a reaction as a real life dog. Now, I will freely acknowledge that my memories of the original La Guerre des Tuques are probably enhanced and polished by the fact that I haven’t seen the film in three decades. It’s highly likely that I’d be disappointed by the original if ever I watched it again. But the CGI remake, as entertaining as it can fitfully be, doesn’t quite capture the imagination as live-action can. This being said, I’d be churlish not to recognize the qualities of the film—the animation style is quirky enough to be interesting, the character beats are often unconventional and it does recapture most of the essence of the original down to its heavily pacifist message. It was also a resounding success not only in French Canada but in the country as a whole—It ended up being the year’s most widely-seen Canadian film of 2015, grossing 3.4 million dollars along the way (2.8 million of that in Quebec alone, plus another 1.2 million in France). Not bad, not bad … and you can count on grouchy old guys like myself to complain about it not being the original.

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