Monday, March 26, 2018

Norwegian Family Fantasy Feature "The Ash Lad: In the Hall of the Mountain King" Is A Hit, Goes Global

The live-action fantasy feature film The Ash Lad: In the Hall of the Mountain King (Askeladden i Dovregubbens hall), is a box-office hit in its home country of Norway and looks to be set for distribution around the world... well, the non-English speaking world. So far, that is. We have our fingers crossed it will get some English-language distribution soon too, with the UK quite likely the first cab off the rank, for a number of reasons explained below. (Distribution rights are currently held by TrustNordisk.)

The Ash Lad is a magical adventure film, directed by Mikkel Brænne Sandemose and starring Vebjørn Enger.

It was released on 29 September 2017 in Norway (and, some sites also say Russia).

The plot is based on The Ash Lad of Norwegian folklore and fairy tale. Reports say this is the first time The Ash Lad has been adapted to a full-length feature film, though it has been used for ad campaigns (TV and print), and a short puppet film by Ivo Caprino* (Ash Lad and the good helpers, 1961).

(The feature film) follows the epic journey of Espen, the 17-year-old son of a poor farmer, who sets off with his brothers to rescue a princess from a troll known as the Mountain King to collect a reward and save his family from ruin.  
(One of the producers) Horsdal said the script delivers modernized take on the characters and has some humor to appeal to teens and adult audiences. The producer also pointed out the princess character is “strong-willed, sharp and utterly charming.” (Variety)
Take a look at the fun-looking trailer below (English subtitles included):
And a longer synopsis, from a Czech website promoting the film (via Google Translate, so it's not exactly precise!):
Official synopsis: Are trolls only small cute creatures? You have no ideaThe king of trolls is a sinister and threatening giant from the mountains that lies waiting in his cave for a princess to be married to him on her eighteenth birthday, just so he can catch and eat her...   
Espen is the youngest of three poor farmer sons. At home, they treat him as the family bastard who cannot do any useful work but just walks through the forests with his head in the clouds and catching the claws. (Ed: ?) His only task, which they entrusted to him, is to keep the fire in the stove in order for it not to go out. It's probably just a coincidence that he just met in the forest with Princess Kristin, who is just out of her native castle.  
Kristin is very stubborn, and she does not believe in the old tortures of the King of Trolls. Most of all, she does not want to marry Prince Frederick, chosen for her by her father. The day before her eighteenth birthday she runs away into the unknown. Unfortunately, not long after meeting Espen, she finds out that these troll stories are true... 
Meanwhile, unsuspecting Espen will make another big mistake. He can not even watch the charcoal in the stove and, thanks to his distraction, burns the whole cottage down. When the king declares a search for his disobedient daughter, and promises her hand and half the kingdom to the one who finds her, the brothers do not hesitate to go on the mission. The elders plans to get have a new roof for the family, while the youngest would like her hand. in marriage. Their journey quickly becomes a great adventure, with many monsters, much magic and enchanted places awaiting them. In the end, the terrible and overwhelming King of Trolls awaits. 
Director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose describes the character of the film by saying: "During the expedition for the preservation of Princess Kristin, the character of Espen is completely altered. When writing the script, we were inspired by Bilbo characters from Hobbit and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings. They have a lot to do with Espen. Not only are they aged between youth and adulthood, but all three are making their way, making them great heros to explore. Above all, their success cannot just be a lucky coincidence, they must be worth it. Tolkien borrowed much from Norwegian folklore and mythology in his stories… But I feel that we convey something that is more grounded and Norwegian, that there is something here that will really engage people.”
Looks like a fun and magical family film!

A pre-release review (here) included this interesting note on the folkloric creatures included and direct nods to Asbjørnsen & Moe that will be of particular interest to our fairy tale and folklore readers:
Maipo Film’s producer Åshild Ramborg said that the Norwegian folk tales have everything audiences would want from a feature film; spectacular images, action and humor. The film is firmly rooted in folk tale fantasy, with water spirits (nøkken), huldra (a female forest creature), an old woman with her nose stuck in a tree stump, and of course the mountain troll itself making appearances. The film’s script is new but based on the stories of Asbjørnsen & Moe. "I have to applaud our writers who has added something new and fresh [to the story], while at the same time digging deep in the familiar tales. I assume there will be reactions, but I am very glad for our version. I think it will make children interested in folk tales (again)", Mikkel Brænne Sandemose said to NTB a few days ago. Maipo producer-CEO Synnøve Hørsdal said: "Obviously we are not only targeting Norwegian cinema-goers, but also international audiences. Given the renewed interest in the fantasy genre and Nordic mythology, I think it will perform well abroad."
International distribution confirmed at the end of February is listed below:
The movie was acquired for Latin America (California Filmes); France (Seven Sept); Italy (Videa); Spain (Art Mood); Germany, Austria, German-speaking Switzerland (Telepool); Japan (Interfilm); and China (HGC Entertainment).More sales were inked for Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan (Capella Film); the Czech Republic and Slovakia (Cinemart); Turkey (Euromedia); Korea (Activers Entertainment); Croatia (Discovery Film & Video); Estonia (Estin Film); and Malaysia and Vietnam (Red Pictures).
We hope it's not too long before it's picked up by English-speaking countries. It has reached the attention of the Irish Film and Television Academy for Windmill Lane's visual effects work on it, (likely in part to it being co-produced by Ireland's Subotica), and TrustNordisk, the distributor, shows the trailer with English subtitles on their website, so fingers crossed we get to see this.
We find it interesting that both the production design and creature designs follow nature-loving artist Theodor Kittelsen's classic renditions and illustrations from the early 1900s of this story quite closely. (Kittelsen was nicknamed "the father of all trolls" due to his many striking and stark renditions of trolls for children's books in particular.) Here are some examples for comparison:
The Ash Lad and the Troll - Theodor Kittelsen 1900
Askeladden som kappåt med trollet (The Boy Who Had an Eating Match with a Troll) - Theodor Kittelsen
Skogtroll, 1906 (Forest Troll) - Theodor Kittelsen
Theodor Kittelsen - The Forest Troll , 1892
According to cineuropa, the family adventure film is the first in a trilogy about the "Norwegian national hero", and the sequel is already in the works, with the third film well into the planning stages, so there will be more fairy tale films coming out of Norway in the near future to watch for too. A quick search through Variety's archives found this information on the sequel:
In the first film, scripted by Aleksander Kirkwood Brown and Espen Enger, the Ash Lad and his brothers fight to save the Princess from a vile troll, and collect the reward to save the family farm from ruin. In the sequel, also by Sandemose and Brown-Enger, he and Princess Kristin are searching for a legendary castle made of gold. When they arrive, the king and queen have been poisoned – only the Soria Moria water of life can save them and probably the world.
We'll be watching for these!
*By coincidence, the new film’s director is the grandson of Bjarne Sandemose, Ivo Caprino’s chief studio engineer.


  1. Oh my goodness, that looks fantastic!! I'd be perfectly happy with a release in Norwegian with English subtitles. Fingers crossed!

  2. Just watched it on Amazon Prime movies, loved it! Beautiful scenery. Was it filmed in Norway?

  3. Just watched it on Amazon Prime movies, loved it! Beautiful scenery. Was it filmed in Norway?

  4. WE LOVED THIS !!! My kids and I are looking forward to the next one. Happy to watch with subtitles here in Kansas USA if it means seeing it sooner 😍

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