Winter break in a small town finds a group of friends divide into opposing sides to hold an epic snowball fight. With new girl Sophie leading the team inside the most defensible fort ever, Luke, who may or may not be crushing on Sophie (they are eleven after all), leads the charge to overtake them. Whoever occupies the fort at the end of winter break ‘wins,’ but the children learn that winning at all costs may not be best thing for their friendships.

SNOWTIME! the new animated adventure directed by Jean-François Pouliot is based on the acclaimed live action film La Guerre des Tuques (The Dog Who Stopped the War), and was one of the highlights of Sundance this year, screening as part of the Sundance Kids section. SNOWTIME! captures the youthful exuberance of the preteen years, when your friends are your world and the opposite sex hasn’t even become a mysterious thing yet. The characters are sharp, lots of potential heroes to root for, each having their own skill set, and the film really teaches a positive message without at all being preachy. And even better, it’s just an animated film that is made for kids. It is not filled with celebrity voice talent or winks at adults, which has grown rather tiresome in the modern market place.

I had a chance to see SNOWTIME! at Sundance, and to learn more about it from its production team, Producer Marie-Claude Beauchamp, Writer Paul Risacher, co-director François Brisson, and director Jean-François Pouliot. And before you get worried by all these French names, this film is most certainly IN ENGLISH, and getting a major release in theaters across America.

 

BEARS: So SNOWTIME is based on a live action-film. Can you tell us about the relationship between the original and yours?

Beauchamp: The producer of the live-action film, “La Guerre des Tuques” (The Dog Who Saved the War) came to us because we were in production with another feature, The Legend of Sarila. He received a petition from fans at the film’s 25th anniversary celebration, and 11,000 names were on it! They wanted a remake. “La Guerre des Tuques” is a very important milestone in the cinematic landscape of Quebec. We figured remaking the film in live action was the wrong way to go about it. It would suffer from comparison.

Risacher: I came in very early because Marie-Claude [Beauchamp] and I work closely together. When Rock Demers came to us, he wanted to do an animated version of “La Guerre des Tuques” in French. He had already started with the script and so it was on that script that we started working. I worked first with Marie-Claude, more in a story editor capacity than as a writer capacity, and as it weaved from French to increasingly English, I did the final version of the script that you see on-screen.

Puliot: I did see “La Guerre des Tuques” when it came out, but I was a little older than the target audience. Of course I was aware of how much the original film had become a cultural icon. I was very conscious of how delicate it was to consider a remake. The biggest mistake would be to try to make an exact copy, so you have to do something that still claims the value of the original film and does not try to replace it.

Brisson: Jean-François and I wanted to preserve key references that people had grown up with, and at the same time add a new artistic direction and make it our own.

BEARS: This film feels different from a lot of the animation we have seen recently. Is it a Canadian thing? Was it part of the original conception to not be, I don’t know, pixar-ish? First of all, it deals with some very serious issues, namely the accidental death of a beloved pet.

Beauchamp: It was there in the original film. The youthful fun among children turned into vicious rivalry and chaos. War is like that and life is like that. When we have a quarrel with friends or a co-worker — all of it has a consequence. It is not sugar-coated. We have to learn to deal with our responsibility.

Pouliot: I have the feeling that we are losing more and more of the purpose of tales for kids by making them so nice, so clean and proper that they lose their feelings. The purpose of tales is to have kids manage the hardship of life, allowing them to live in a story and understanding how to manage that. We go through many, many moments in life where we need to mourn and move on. The point of this story is to help kids learn to survive the difficult moments of life and let go.

Risacher: These are big moments most of us, as children have had to deal with some kind of loss and as adults we deal with loss too. These are ways to learn how, to know that you can go through the loss of people or creatures that you love and come out the other side. I was here when the original film came out but I am not a Quebecer so I was honored to be entrusted with protecting that culture but also making it accessible to people who don’t understand the culture. And, I really hope we manage to achieve that so other people around the world can see what we love with this.

BEARS: Animating  the snow seems like such a large part of this. And to make us feel cold. I was shivering in the theater.

Brisson: One of our goals was to make the audience feel our winter in the Great White North, to discover the smell of winter-wet wool, to appreciate the beauty of the cold and its many moods, how the sky, the light and the moisture in the air bring to the natural wonderland around us.

Pouliot: We used CG and pencil drawing. We had amazing artists who drew the snow I wanted. With the snow there’s also an issue of lighting. I came from making live-action films. This is my first animation film. I knew very little about animation. That’s why I insisted on getting co-director, Francois Brisson on board. Working with him allowed me to approach this as if it were a live-action film.

BEARS: How does one ‘direct’ animation?

Pouliot: That was my first question when I was hired! Why me? I direct actors. Yes, you direct the voice actors but you also direct the characters. That’s what I had to do. I wanted every character to have body language specific to that character’s sensibility. I hired actors who are very physical, and we figured out how each character would walk and throw a ball. First we filmed them in video, and then the animators got to work.

When we designed the characters, our first instinct was to design them so they would look like the original characters. I thought that was a mistake and we needed to move away from that. So, we shifted the starting point. We took each character and played the game: If the character was an object, what object would he be? If the character was an animal or geometric shape, what would he be? And sure enough, we came up with answers for every single one of them. We came up with characters that were physically different from original characters, but similar in personality.

SNOWTIME opens Friday February 19th in theaters across the US, including here in Texas at the AMC Grapevine Mills 30 and the AMC Gulf Pointe 30 in Houston.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

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