A winter sound trek with the animated feature that inspired Miyazaki, captivated the Cannes Film Festival and became a Decca album with the voice of Gidget.
The Story and Music from
Hans Christian Andersen’s
THE SNOW QUEEN
The Sound Track Album Decca DL-78977 (Stereo) / DL-8977 (Mono)
Released in 1959. Adapted from the 1957 Russian version written by Nikolai Erdman, Lev Atamanov, Georgly Grebner, and Nikolay Zabalotsky; produced by Lev Atamanov and Nickolay Petrovich Fydorov and Directed by Lev Atamanov for Soyuzmultfilm Studio. English screenplay: Alan Lipscott, Bob Fisher, Dialogue Supervisor/Editor: Hugo Grimaldi. Songs: Diane Lampert. Richard Loring. Music: Frank Skinner. Music Supervisor: Joseph Gershenson. English Dialogue Version Producer: Robert Faber. Technical Supervisor: Dave Fleischer. Sound Track Album Running Time: 40 minutes.
Voices: Paul Frees (Old Dreamy/Narrator, Bucky); Sandra Dee (Gerda); Tommy Kirk (Kay); Lillian Buyeff (Granny); Patty McCormick (Angel); Louise Arthur (Snow Queen); June Foray (Finnish Woman). (The voice of the Lapland woman who writes on the fish remains to be confirmed.)
Songs: “The Snow Queen,” and “Do It While You’re Young,” by Diane Lampert and Richard Loring. Instrumental: “The Jolly Robbers” by Richard Loring.
In the late 1950s, feature animation was becoming so expensive that Sleeping Beauty was somewhat of a risk for Walt Disney. Nor was 1001 Arabian Nights a sure thing for UPA, even with the popular Mister Magoo in his first feature. Both underperformed in their initial releases. All the film studios were looking for ways to capture the family audiences that were getting used to staying home with their TV. Since WWII, Disney had only released a handful of new “single-story” animated features but was doing well with reissues of earlier titles.
Universal-International surely had high hopes for The Snow Queen in 1959, a film that had already won several major international awards, including one for animation at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The film took over two years to produce, using some of the classic Disney techniques including personality animation using live models and some rotoscoping. Universal managed to gain approval from both Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn for the release, as they both had plans to adapt the Hans Christian Andersen story for a film (decades before Frozen began to thaw).
The Snow Queen was also a Russian film, directed by Lev Atamanov and produced by Soyuzmultfilm, one of the world’s most prestigious studios (Roy E. Disney visited many years later and was presented with this film created to honor Mickey Mouse.) Releasing it during the height of the Cold War gave the film a transcendent place in world history. (There is a lot more detail about this, the production, and various influences, on this Wikipedia page.)
This is the original Russian language version:
Perhaps to give the United States version of The Snow Queen an all-American feel, Universal cast contract player and rising star Sandra Dee in the lead role as Gerda. By the time audiences Dee The Snow Queen, they had already become taken with her “Gidget” earlier the same year. Gerda, in her relentless, physically demanding search for Kay, was a precursor to modern-day animated females.
A Disney touch was achieved with Tommy Kirk, who had impressed critics with his performance in Disney’s Old Yeller and consistently fine work on television, including TV’s first version of “The Hardy Boys” on the Mickey Mouse Club. Kirk appeared in several live-action Disney films, but never voiced a character in a Disney animated feature.
To lengthen the film to what most audiences considered “feature-length,” and assure some cozy familiarity, a live-action prologue was filmed. TV personality Art Linkletter hosts a picture-perfect house at Christmastime, opening presents with children. At the time, Linkletter was a ubiquitous presence. Milton Bradley pictured him on the box and the play money for “The Game of Life.” For years, he hosted TV events and shows like House Party, which led to the best-selling “Kids Say the Darndest Things” book, illustrated by Charles M. Schulz.
In Universal’s Snow Queen prologue, several highly polished kids (including Billy Booth, “Tommy” of Screen Gems’ Dennis the Menace sitcom), trade quips with Linkletter, often adapted from the book. One of the children asks him to read a storybook. He suggests the movie we all are about to watch would be even better. They look into a magic mirror and the animation begins after the English titles.
The title song and two other tunes were written for the dubbed version by Diane Lampert and Richard Loring. The team’s credits include the song, “Biddle Dee Dee” for the Disney live-action feature, Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with the Circus. Lampert also wrote the lyrics (with Peter Farrow) and supervised the production of a very unique, now little-known 1963 musical made for records called Three Billion Millionaires. Created to bolster support for the United Nations and raise funds for UNICEF, the album was released in two versions. One was modestly produced by Golden Records featuring their stock company of studio performers, including Win Stracke and Rose Marie Jun (Jane on Golden’s Jetson album). The main release was heralded in The New York Times as “the first musical comedy created especially for records,” starring an impressive list of stars, all of whom volunteering their services.
The prologue was more effective when The Snow Queen ran on local TV stations during the Christmas season, especially in the years Linkletter was still familiar to most viewers, and somewhat nostalgic after he passed away. By adding the prologue, Universal narrowed the marketability of the English language version as holiday-only programming, though it certainly was shown at other times of the year.
This is one of the many public domain prints of 1959’s The Snow Queen including the prologue:
For the generations in the U.S. who watched this version yearly on TV, it was a welcome sight because such lush animation was usually reserved for the “event” of a Disney reissue or a clip here or there.
Decca Records decided to present the soundtrack as a story album rather than as a score with songs since there were only three. The stereo edition is especially rich, with the score by Frank Skinner (Harvey, My Man Godfrey, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) sounding magnificent in the background. The songs are given short shrift as two are incomplete and the third is only an instrumental. However, a large amount of the dialogue was included.
Gerda’s solo, “Do It While You’re Young,” sung as a dream montage when she is under the spell of the Enchantress, was released by Decca as a pop single with a different orchestra and arrangement. Note that the cover promotes the film.
Atamanov’s The Snow Queen, in its original form and through various translations and versions seen worldwide, has had an immeasurable influence on the art form. According to nausicaa.net, “Miyazaki saw this film when he was unhappy about his job and wondering if he should continue working as an animator. Miyazaki was so moved by it, he ‘decided to continue working on an animation with renewed determination.’ He says that he learned that characters in animation can act if they are animated well enough, and animation can move people as other media can do.” Many see Princess Mononoke as inspired by The Snow Queen.
Another enthusiast is Mikhail Baryshnikov. In 1998, PBS presented a series of short and long Soyuzmultfilm tales with new soundtracks, star voices, and musical scores under the banner of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Stories From My Childhood, featuring a collection.
The first episode was, not surprisingly, The Snow Queen. Mickey Rooney voices the storyteller, Kirsten Dunst is Gerda, and Kathleen Turner plays the Snow Queen. Songs from the series were released on CD, so there are, in effect, two English-language soundtrack albums with material inspired by Atamanov’s Snow Queen feature. The series was also released in volumes on DVD, which provided a way to see a good print of The Snow Queen in English, albeit not the 1959 version. These DVDs are long out of print, however.
At least the 1998 Baryshnikov remake was high quality. In 1993, the Atamanov feature was also redubbed in English, with a soundtrack replaced by a “sound-alike” with an electronic version of the Skinner background music and songs that did not fit the classic look of the film. The cassette appeared in bargain bins and could easily be confused with the 1959 public domain versions. Here’s a link to that: [Click Here].
An American DVD released through a company called By Jove includes the Russian language print as well as selected short animated stories by Lev Atamanov. It offers the best quality image of the feature other than Stories from My Childhood. Universal Home Entertainment has never produced an official release of the dubbed version with a restored image and soundtrack including the Linkletter prologue. At this point, the Decca album provides the best sound quality, but even that has a slight reverb.
[A soupçon of earlier Animation Spin material was included in this article.]