Royal dreams

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Na­tional re­lease

(PG) Na­tional re­lease

(M) EISTY princesses, Hol­ly­wood-style, fea­ture in two of this week’s new movie re­leases, just when you might have been for­given for think­ing it was ex­clu­sively a man’s world when it comes to big screen hero­ics.

The Broth­ers Grimm story of Snow White has played an im­por­tant role in cin­ema his­tory since it was se­lected by Walt Dis­ney in 1937 as the sub­ject of the first Amer­i­can fea­ture-length an­i­mated film. For a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions, Dis­ney’s pal­lid princess, those crazy seven dwarfs, the in­sipid prince and the evil queen rep­re­sented the quin­tes­sen­tial screen fairy­tale; the queen-witch was ter­ri­bly scary (so much so that, in Bri­tain, the cen­sors gave the film an A — for adults — clas­si­fi­ca­tion), but of course there was a happy end­ing.

I don’t know why this hardy peren­nial has sparked the in­ter­est of film­mak­ers in 2012, but

is the sec­ond film this year based on the leg­end. The first,

re­leased in March, was a tongue-in-cheek af­fair with Ju­lia Roberts as the vain and vi­cious queen. The new film, the first fea­ture directed by Ru­pert San­ders, takes it­self very se­ri­ously and un­rav­els the fa­mil­iar story at con­sid­er­able length, more than two hours.

The pro­logue tells the back­story: a king (Noah Huntley) and queen (Lib­erty Ross) of some un­spec­i­fied king­dom are bliss­fully happy at the their daugh­ter, Snow White ( made fun of the par­ents’ pe­cu­liar choice of a name), but soon af­ter the queen takes ill and dies. While fight­ing an army of black-clad war­riors that has in­vaded his king­dom, the king re­leases their pris­oner, beau­ti­ful Ravenna (Char­l­ize Theron), and is in­stantly be­sot­ted with her. On their wed­ding night she stabs him to death and seizes the throne with the help of her sin­is­ter brother, Finn (Sam Spru­ell), and im­pris­ons lit­tle Snow White (Raf­fey Cas­sidy).

Given that vam­pires are all the rage in movies right now, this ver­sion of the story has Ravenna re­tain­ing her youth by suck­ing — not the blood but the essence — of young girls, and the in­evitable magic mir­ror con­firms her sta­tus as the fairest in the land. Un­til, of course, Snow White is trans­formed from a lit­tle girl into ethe­real Kris­ten Ste­wart.

From here on we’re on more fa­mil­iar ground, ex­cept that, as the new film’s ti­tle sug­gests, more em­pha­sis is given to the char­ac­ter of the Hunts­man (Chris Hemsworth). In ear­lier ver­sions his as­sign­ment has been to take Snow White into the for­est and kill her; in­stead, he lets her es­cape. In this ver­sion she has al­ready es­caped and his mis­sion is to cap­ture her. There are some scary scenes in the dark for­est be­fore the Hunts­man lo­cates the fugi­tive and is per­suaded to be­come her ally against Ravenna and Finn.

She has other al­lies. The seven dwarfs duly put in an ap­pear­ance, played by a septet of Bri­tish char­ac­ter ac­tors minia­turised by the magic of com­put­ers. They in­clude Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ed­die Marsan, Nick Frost, Ian Mc­Shane and Ray Win­stone; the very idea of con­tract­ing the beefy Win­stone into the body of a dwarf is weird, but the dwarfs sup­ply a few lim­ited mo­ments of much-needed light re­lief. Snow White’s other al­lies are the rem­nants of her fa­ther’s fol­low­ers, led by Duke Ham­mond (Vin­cent Re­gan) and in­clud­ing Wil­liam (Sam Claflin), the young man who was her com­pan­ion when they were chil­dren.

Oddly enough we now have a sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to the se­ries that es­tab­lished Ste­wart’s celebrity: her char­ac­ter is torn ro­man­ti­cally be­tween two would-be lovers, Wil­liam and the Hunts­man. In this way the film­mak­ers play it safe, keep­ing to very fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory, but it doesn’t work be­cause Claflin’s light­weight per­for­mance barely reg­is­ters, leav­ing the field en­tirely to Hemsworth.

All of this is most beau­ti­fully pho­tographed by tal­ented Greig Fraser, an Aus­tralian whose work on films such as the im­pres­sive and Jane Cam­pion’s has earned him sev­eral im­por­tant Hol­ly­wood as­sign­ments, but oth­er­wise it’s a rou­tine re­work­ing of an oft-told tale. Theron is wasted in the role of the evil Ravenna and Ste­wart, per­haps, should con­sider wi­den­ing her range away from th­ese su­per­nat­u­ral ex­trav­a­gan­zas (her role in the forth­com­ing adap­ta­tion of Jack Ker­ouac’s THE fairy­tale that un­folds in Pixar’s is sup­pos­edly an orig­i­nal one, although many of the plot el­e­ments are fa­mil­iar.

One of the prob­lems of this dis­ap­point­ing me­dieval Scot­tish yarn is that there are two con­flict­ing story-lines.

In the first, red-headed Princess Merida, voiced by Kelly Mac­don­ald, is a tomboy who prefers rid­ing horses and shoot­ing ar­rows to do­ing girly things. She’s up­set when her par­ents, King Fer­gus (Billy Con­nolly) and Queen Eli­nor (Emma Thomp­son), de­cide she must marry one of the use­less sons of three ri­val clans, the Mac­in­toshes, the Ding­walls and the MacGuffins (the last be­ing a movie in-joke ref­er­ence to Al­fred Hitch­cock).

Hav­ing set up this nar­ra­tive, the film then drops it in favour of an­other story al­to­gether. In this one Merida, be­hav­ing like a spoiled teenager and fed up with her mother’s re­stric­tions on her, stum­bles on the cot­tage of a witch (Julie Walters) in the for­est and ob­tains from her a magic cake that, when fed to Queen Eli­nor, turns the un­for­tu­nate woman into a bear. Given that there’s a sav­age bear in the vicin­ity, Merida must some­how turn her mother back into a hu­man be­fore her fa­ther kills her in mis­take for the bad bear.

Pixar an­i­mated films have been known in the past for their wit and in­ven­tion; films such as the tril­ogy and are clas­sics of the genre, but lacks the el­e­ments that have dis­tin­guished Pixar from lesser an­i­ma­tion houses. The an­i­ma­tion is as good as you’d expect — Merida’s flam­ing-red hair is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing — but the film feels like a sec­ond-class Dis­ney film.

The char­ac­ters, Merida aside, aren’t in­ter­est­ing or mem­o­rable, and the Scot­tish set­ting and ac­cents add lit­tle to the pro­ceed­ings. Like many an­i­mated films th­ese days, the film is screen­ing in 3-D and 2-D. I saw the 2-D ver­sion, but I don’t think I missed much by not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the ex­tra di­men­sion.

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