The New Snow White: Like Disney, But With More Skull Crushing

Richard here. There comes a point–maybe it’s after studying a bunch of obscure films for a graduate degree–that you discover you’re completely culturally out of touch with the rest of the world.

My wake-up call came when I realized my Netflix suggestions list had become permanently fixed to “Quirky Independent Dramas.” “Recommended for Richard: Felini Satyricon, Uncle Boonmee: Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, based on your interest in Y Tu Mama Tambien.  

Alright, I get it. I’ll go to a theater and actually see a movie.

Avengers? Men in Black 3? Wrath of the Titans? Meh. Haven’t I already seen all these movies – twelve times over the last six summers?

Since I had to mingle with the rabble, I decided to see Snow White and the Huntsman. I figured at least there was an evil queen involved, so it should be good for some camp value.

All I can say is, I want my money back…from Walt Disney.

Who knew Snow White was such a badass? There are no tra-la-la songs here. No happy little dwarves mining for gold. No real Prince Charming. This Snow White is a Medieval Riot Grrrl. This is a fairy tale as it was meant to be told: scary, magical in a freaky way, and violent. In the original Grimm version, the Evil Queen has to put on hot iron shoes and dance until she dies, so let’s not mess around here. These stories were made to scare the bejesus out of kids, and this version doesn’t disappoint.

The short of it is, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) gets locked up in her stepmother the Queen’s (Charlize Theron) tower until she comes of age. The mirror on the wall—which in this case oozes like molten metal into the shape of a cowled figure—tells the Queen her time as reigning Fairest One of All is just about up. She responds by kidnapping a young woman and sucking the youth out of her body so she can remain beautiful while inside she continues to turn into a wizened old woman. (I hear the original title was The Madonna Story). Anyway, this beauty-stealing thing only works for so long, so she tells her mean-looking but kind of stupid brother to cut out Snow White’s heart—an opportunity Snow White uses to make her escape from the castle into the Deep Dark Wood.

Mumblecore no more: Kristen Stewart gets tough

Eventually she’s rescued by a studly, but boozy, Huntsman, and they are then rescued by eight, count them, eight dwarfs. (What’s the extra dwarf’s name? Lumpy? Itchy? Horny?) Anyway, Snow and the Huntsman are escorted to a Fairyland that’s really pretty spectacular. There’s even a kind of Christ figure moment here, where she is “transfigured” in the eyes of her sidekicks by walking on water and being blessed by a giant white stag.

The poisoned apple happens, this time given to her by the Queen, who is disguised as Prince Charming (sneaky). But then, who will give her the kiss of love that awakens her – the Prince or the Huntsman?

Who cares? She recovers, and leads an army in a full-out siege on the Queen’s castle. The armor and horses alone should make this required viewing for D&D and SCA geeks. Vast armies get chopped to bits, have hot boiling oil poured on them, and get skewered by arrows. Snow White escapes to confront the Queen. You probably have a pretty good idea who wins in the end.

How they get there is amazing. In this case, the overwrought CGI actually works, as creatures slither out of the bark in the Dark Forest, the Queen vanishes into a flock of ravens, Snow White faces down a truly gnarly troll, and mushrooms with eyes blink and flowers flitter away as butterflies in Fairyland. I can see this film taking the art and costume design Oscars in a landslide.

The characters could have been a little bit better-drawn. The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and the Prince (Sam Claflin) are pretty dull, and Snow could do better without either of them. The dwarves would make better comic relief if you could understand their English accents. But wow, who knew Kristen Stewart could be such an action star, rather than a mumbly, incoherent teen in love with her vampire boyfriend? And Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen chews the scenery with abandon. Her outfits alone take the cake. (I especially like the one adorned with black feathers and bird skulls.)

Nobody wears bird skulls like you, My Queen

Now, I know what you’re thinking, this all has to do with menstruation, right? Actually, it’s hard to miss the sexual allegory here. Remain pure of heart, don’t eat any delicious, sinful apples, before you meet your Prince Charming. The Jesus metaphor is there, too, with death and resurrection, and love and pureness of heart winning out over cunning and evil.

But really, what I appreciate the most about this film is the de-Disneyfication of a classic fairy tale. As effective, and even innovative, as the animated versions of these stories once were, they’ve been packaged and re-packaged so many times that they’re really just cultural products now. You can’t think of a fairy tale without imagining the Disneyland ride that goes with it. Seeing a dark, scary, violent Snow White breaks another kind of spell—the one that says stories about growing up have to be cute, tuneful, and led by innocent, lily-white heroes and heroines. In other words, they have to be false.

I know it’s rated PG-13, but take your kids to see this version. It’ll give them nightmares, but they should know there’s some evil in the world.