Review: Gnomes and Trolls – The Secret Chamber

3D animation is dominated by a few American studios, but is not exclusive to Hollywood. In Sweden, a small studio has created 3D animated features based on Nordic legends of gnomes and trolls.

USA has space aliens and medical experiments gone wrong. Central Europe has Dracula and Frankenstein. Japan has ghosts. Northern Europe has gnomes and trolls, the Nordic variety, and if you ask me, the original variety. Trolls come in many different shapes and forms, and the ones presented in Gnomes and Trolls: The Secret Chamber are of the forest variety, while the gnomes are not unlike garden gnomes seen in movies. In Scandinavia, gnomes are traditionally perceived as friendly and helpful creatures living on farms and in forests, and that’s the type we meet in this film, which is Sweden’s first 3D animated feature.

The film is about Junior, a teenage gnome only 75 years young, who only wants to invent things in his forest workshop. However, he is forced to help his father Jalle, the forest’s chief, to distribute winter food to animals, as part of his training to become the next chief. However, two trolls steal the food from the secret food chamber. Jalle is hurt and Junior, along with his crow friend Sneaky, decides to find the trolls and retreive the food.

Gnomes and Trolls: The Secret Chamber is a fun and original twist on the ancient revenge theme. Had it been a movie for adults, Gnome Dad had been brutally killed and Gnome Son would have to set the record straight. But it’s definitely a children’s movie, aimed at 7-12 year olds who will probably enjoy the slapstick humour and colourful characters as intendend. For older audiences, it’s enjoyable to visually experience a universe we mostly hear about in fairytales, as well as references to other movies, such as James Bond. The gnomes obviously look and behave friendly and almost cosy, as gnomes should, while the trolls have a stinky green foresty colour that supports their mischievous behaviour. The overall production design is not as detailed or realistic as some Pixar or Disney features, but generally the animation, texture and detail qualities are up to enjoyable levels, and it’s nice to see a Nordic environment that lies somewhere between Jenny Nyström’s romantic gnome art and steampunk aesthetics.

The orchestral music score is a chapter of it’s own. Rarely have I heard a bigger, more epic Hollywood-esque OST in a Scandinavian movie. We’re talking John Williams-style music! The emotional impact is perhaps not as great as the top composers, but composer Anders Bagge has certainly created an epic sounding score that it suitable for a much bigger film. That’s kinda the problem; occasionally the score sounds bigger and more “fat” than the film itself, and distracts from the action rather than supports it. But then again, I guess it’s better with a distractingly good score than a distractingly bad score.

Solid craftmanship is augmented by a selection of famous voice actors, at least in the Swedish version (Sven Wollter, Hans Alfredson, Lill Lindfors, Peter Stormare), but while it’s fun to hear these actors play different characters than usual, I feel they are not as attached to the animations as they could have been. It’s nothing against the actors; they recorded their parts before the animations were done, which I think is a method that punished the film in the end. There’s a certain lack of insight that I think could have been avoided by doing the animation first, and voice later. I am sure they could have come up with a solution to the need of hearing voices in order to do mouth movements.

Gnomes and Trolls: The Secret Chamber shows that Scandinavian computer animated movies can hold a candle against huge American productions. I would have preferred a few more references and comedy bits for older viewers, as there is some of it in order to entertain bigger demographics, but not quite enough; much of the comedy is what I call “jumping and screaming” or just funny faces, but overall Gnomes and Trolls: The Secret Chamber is enjoyable folklore, at least for the kids.

Rated 6 of 10.

Directed by Robert Rhodin
Sweden, 2008