Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
After the death of Snow White’s mother, King Magnus (Noah Huntley) went to war against an army that consisted of soldiers whose bodies shattered like glass when struck with appropriate force. Claiming a swift victory, the king found a prisoner, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), in one of the carriages and was so struck with her beauty, he decided to marry her the next day. Ravenna proved to be a traitor when she poisoned and pierced the king’s heart with a dagger just when they were about to consummate their marriage. As queen, Ravenna imprisoned Snow White indefinitely just in case she’d be of some use in the future. “Snow White and the Huntsman,” based on the screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini, showed magnificent promise as we plunged into a medieval world tarnished by dark magic and other curiosities, but it was ultimately unable to sustain its exciting momentum, weighed down by its middle section so bloated and soporific, it was like a poison apple to an otherwise thrilling action-fantasy. Casting Theron to play the evil queen was an excellent decision because she was able to deliver stunning beauty juxtaposed with an intensely ugly shrillness when things didn’t go her way. Theron completely embodied the queen’s desperation, from her intense glares to her branch-like fingers, to capture Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who successfully escaped from the castle. According to the mirror, eating the heart of the fairest in the land would provide Ravenna immortality–forever beautiful and powerful. Less effective were the title characters, especially Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman. While it was fun to watch his physicality in terms of killing and knocking bad guys unconscious, the more sensitive moments, such as the backstory involving his deceased wife, not only felt like footnotes but they felt so muted, I didn’t feel like I knew the character well enough. Halfway through, I found myself expecting him to get killed because his use surpassed its expiration date. On the other hand, while Stewart did an adequate job as Snow White, looking very beautiful and tortured, it was unfortunate that her character was not given enough dimension for us to be convinced that she was a complex character worth rooting for no matter what. Because of this, her so-called moments of valor felt forced which began in the final act when she had to deliver a speech as to why they should lead an assault to her father’s former castle. Furthermore, the picture went overboard with its special and visual effects. At its best, the effects successfully placed us into the mind of Snow White. There was a real sense of dread when our heroine entered the enchanted Dark Forest for the first time and experienced horrific hallucinations. However, the effects eventually took center stage as it introduced fairies, trolls, and the like. While the film had a magical element to it, the introduction of the creatures felt more like empty visual candy–distractions–than tools of progressing the story forward. Lastly, I found the dwarves to be very dull which was a mistake because they are a staple to the mythology. If they had to be introduced, at least the writers ought to have done them the honor of making them memorable. Directed by Rupert Sanders, “Snow White and the Huntsman” had some entertaining action sequences but it needed to have the fat of its middle portion trimmed to make it feel more compact. Waiting for something to happen combined with inadequately established protagonists does not equal escapism.
Mirror Mirror (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Although Snow White (Lily Collins), whose mother passed on while giving birth to her, was trained by her father (Sean Bean) in preparation to rule their kingdom, the King felt compelled to remarry a new Queen (Julia Roberts) because he felt he was unable to teach her everything she needed to know. When the kingdom was bewitched by dark magic, the King headed to the forest to search for answers but never returned. Years passed and the Queen had taken control of the kingdom and driven it to bankruptcy. Realizing that her stepmother was unfit to rule, Snow White decided to usurp the Queen and restore her father’s legacy. “Mirror Mirror,” based on the screenplay by Jason Keller and Marc Klein, had hiccups of genuinely amusing moments but in its desperation to convince us that its protagonist wasn’t bland, the little comedic momentum it managed to gather dissipated just as quickly. Without a doubt, the most interesting characters to watch were the evil Queen and Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), the former deliciously vain while the latter valiant and adventurous. Whenever Roberts and Hammer shared a scene, there was electricity on screen because the two seemed unabashed when it came to making fun of themselves as well as their characters. While there were infantile jokes, like bird excrement being brushed onto the Queen’s face as part of a beauty regimen and the prince licking everyone’s faces as if he were a dog, I laughed because they were so unexpected and delivered with such glee. Not always a fan of gross-out humor, I was entertained when the material asked its actors to go for the extremes. Unfortunately, Snow White was as boring as staring at a plank of wood. To its credit, however, much effort was taken to make her appear edgy. For instance, she was allowed to hold a dagger, engage in a sword fight against the prince, and utter feminist lines–dizzying at best because it was so eager to hammer us over the head about how modern it all was. Perhaps casting was responsible because Collins was almost too classically beautiful. The contrast between the actor’s look and the intentions for her character, in this case, failed to create synergy. In the end, she was just nice, but nice proved dangerously tedious when placed between vitriolic malevolence and hunky earnestness. Furthermore, the look of the film did not offer anything special. When characters ran in the woods or strutted about the palace, it felt like I was watching actors performing on set. Since I wasn’t immersed into their world, I was more keen on noticing images that did not quite fit. For instance, when the thieving dwarves, played by actual dwarfs, got on stilts to appear as giants, the ones on stilts still looked like stuntmen despite the fact that the camera kept its distance. Also, there were some shots that made me question how a character got from one place to another in a matter of seconds when the distance between the two places was at least a tens of meters. The errors proved very distracting especially during the action scenes when it was supposed to be exciting. If anything, there should have been a flow to the images gracing the screen so that the logic specific to its fantasy world would come off as believable. Directed by Tarsem Singh, although “Mirror Mirror” had its moments, the rewards were not fruitful nor plentiful enough. I couldn’t stop thinking how big a statement it would have made if the Queen and the prince actually ended up together.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to 2-D animation, was about an extremely hardworking girl named Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) who dreamt of owning a restaurant ever since she was a little girl. But it seemed as though her dream was always out of reach because of issues like not having enough money so she made a deal with a prince trapped in a frog’s body (Bruno Campos). That is, she would kiss him in exchange for a full payment for her restaurant. But it all went wrong when, immediately after she kissed the frog, she found herself trapped in a frog’s body as well. I liked this movie but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would because the middle portion of the picture was a little bit too messy. It felt like the main characters were in a swamp for so long that the story felt stagnant. Other than the scene when they finally reached a blind old lady’s house, there wasn’t much pay off during the whole ordeal. I thought it had a fantastic beginning, especially the opening scene when our heroine and her rich best friend (Jennifer Cody) were introduced as little girls, and a strong last twenty minutes when the prince, Tiana and a few friends they met along the way (Michael-Leon Wooley as a musical alligator and Jim Cummings as an energetic firefly) finally got out of the swamp. The villian named Dr. Facilier or Shadow Man (Keith David) could also have been much more menacing (he very much reminded me of Jafar from “Aladdin”) considering he knew so much about the dark arts. While he did have his cruel moments, especially toward the end when he subjected the lead character into an illusion, I felt like he was a bit one-dimensional. I did, however, enjoy the musical numbers which consisted of jazz and soul mixed in old school Disney style. Not only were they catchy, the lyrics were quite insightful. “The Princess and the Frog,” directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, was similar to Disney classics not only in terms of animation but the lessons embedded in those stories. Yes, it was nice to finally have an African-American Disney princess but I think it’s more than about color. The writers could have easily made the character as dumb (or “unaware” if one prefers to sugarcoat it) as Snow White (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”) or as reckless (though very charming) as Ariel (“The Little Mermaid”). Instead, Tiana is a very modern princess who chose to have jobs so she could be that much closer to reaching her dreams. This movie may not be as good as those Disney classics but the princess in this film is actually one of my favorites because she’s more realistic than most of them combined.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Walt Disney’s first full-feature animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” directed by David Hand, may be too simple in story and animation when it comes to today’s standards but that was what I loved about it. An evil queen (Lucille La Verne) decided to kill her step-daughter named Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) because the Magic Mirror (Moroni Olsen) claimed that the queen was no longer the fairest in the land. The queen sent a man to kill her step-daughter but he instead let her escape because he couldn’t find it in himself to commit murder. Snow White then ran away to the forest and there she met the seven dwarfs with very distinct personalities. Most of this picture was pretty much singing and dancing, while the story could only be found in the beginning and the final showdown between good and evil. While I did think that Snow White was not a very smart character in particular (who decides to eat a random apple that came from a shifty stranger?), she was likable enough for me to ultimately root for her. And although the lesson in the film was questionable because it pretty much implied that women should be good at cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and depending on men to rescue them from a sad situation, kids should nonetheless be entertained because of the sheer amount of vivid colors and energy that the film had all the way through. Not to mention the songs were really catchy, especially “Heigh-Ho” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” It must be noted that this animated film explored a little bit of darkness that might scare the children. Some examples include the queen’s determination to kill Snow White in not-so-subtle ways such as cutting off her heart and poisoning her with an apple, the witchcraft and transformation scenes of the evil queen to a decrepit old lady, and the nightmarish experience that Snow White had when she ran into the forest. Yet, in a way, I was glad that those elements from the fairy tales of Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm, from which the picture was based on, remained intact because it kept me engaged, which meant that the older viewers would most likely not get bored by the repetitive singing and dancing. The great artistic endeavor that was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” opened the door to so many of Disney’s most excellent animated features. Although the film had its flaws, I believe we must honor it not only because it was progressive but also due to the fact that it provided people laughter and hope during the Great Depression.