The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The animated Snowtime! is based on The Dog Who Stopped the War, an acclaimed French-Canadian live-action film released in 1984. It takes on a subject that's substantially deeper than what you might expect from a movie aimed at kids. Rather than contenting itself with talking animals or fairy tales, Snowtime! has bigger aspirations, specifically helping young viewers to grasp one of life's more troubling realities.

School is on winter break. In a small village, a group of children decide to have a snowball fight. They split up into teams. One side is led by Luke, a boy mourning the loss of his father in combat. On the other side is Sophie, the new girl in town. (Her team also has a flatulent dog.) Sophie and crew build a massive snow fort, which Luke's team tries to hijack before the week ends. Initially, their feud is harmless fun, but the desire to win eventually takes over, leading to a tragic event that teaches everyone a lesson about the futility of fighting.

Snowtime! is an allegory about war. It introduces children, via a generally light-hearted story, to concepts such as rules of engagement, guerrilla warfare, absolving oneself of responsibility by claiming you were just “following orders,” and armistice. None of these things are mentioned directly, but all are addressed in an age-appropriate manner. By framing the subject in the context of a snowball fight, the movie is able to help kids understand some of the more complicated things happening in our world today. Luke, Sophie, and the others come to see how the quest for righteous victory can become consuming, as well as how it can lead people to make pointlessly harmful decisions. There's a lot of merit to the thoughtfulness of Snowtime!, which offers a chance for some healthy post-movie discussion.

Most of the film is very breezy. There's a lot of goofy comedy, including the fact that the snow fort is unrealistically elaborate. (They've even got electricity in there.) Many of the inventions and strategies the characters use to hurl snowballs at each other are humorous, too. When the story takes a more dramatic turn, the weight of the moment registers without being outright traumatic. Children 7 or 8 and up will be fine, and they'll take away the intended message. Snowtime! draws a very poignant parallel between Luke's loss and his gained insight into the nature of combat.

While the animation isn't as rich and detailed as, say, your average Pixar movie, it still looks quite good. Everything has been stylized so that it's not realistic, but neither is it too cartoonish. The film strikes just the right balance to maximize both the sillier aspects and the heavier section. Several scenes in which Luke flashes back to his father's funeral are done via traditional hand-drawn animation, helping to establish their importance. A soundtrack featuring tunes by Celine Dion, Simple Plan, and Walk Off the Earth also helps set an appropriate tone for every key scene.

Snowtime! occasionally relies too much on things like dog fart gags, and it lacks the overall sense of magic and storytelling complexity that makes something like Inside Out so unforgettable. But the fact is that we live in a world where war exists, and children often have trouble making sense of it. Snowtime! explains the topic in a “safe” manner that tempers things with a healthy dose of fun and laughter. It's like a really good Newberry Medal-winning book.

( out of four)

Snowtime! is rated PG for mild thematic elements and rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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