Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Snow White (1987)

Who's in it?: Diana Rigg (The Avengers, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Great Muppet Caper), Sarah Patterson (The Company of Wolves), and Billy Barty (Legend, Masters of the Universe, Willow).

What's it about?: A surprisingly faithful adaptation of the Grimm Brothers' story by way of Rankin-Bass specials and '80s fantasy movies.

How is it?: I wanted to see this because it's the one other thing that Sarah Patterson did in the '80s besides The Company of Wolves. And of course Diana Rigg as the Queen was irresistible. Billy Barty as one of the dwarfs sounded promising, too. I love him in Legend.

I got real nervous when the first character broke into song though. And a pretty bad song at that. This was made by Cannon Films, the notoriously low budget company, during the Golan-Globus era when they were cranking out stuff like Delta Force, the Sho Kosugi ninja trilogy, and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Not that those aren't all fun and great in their own ways. It just demonstrates the level of quality we're talking about here. And indeed their Snow White is fun and great in its own way, too.

That first song was horrible and none of the songs would make it into a Disney film, but a lot of them are charming enough. The best of them are about the same level of quality as a Rankin-Bass Christmas special. Any time the dwarfs sing is pretty cool and Snow White herself has a couple of good numbers. If that's really Patterson's singing voice, I don't know why she didn't have a longer career.

The dwarfs are pretty awesome in an '80s fantasy movie way. They look terrifying in the poster above, but the filmmakers spent some money on makeup, so the dwarfs are more than just costumes. They're charmingly acted, quite physical, and just generally a joy to watch.

Patterson is also good, though she's only in the last third of the movie. Snow White as a child is played by a younger, equally good actor named Nicola Stapleton who's gone on to have a successful TV career in the UK. She stays in the film up to when Snow White discovers the dwarfs' cottage; at which point years pass and she grows into Patterson. That interpretation is possible in the Grimms' story, which is vague about Snow White's age. She appears to be a young girl when the Queen orders her death, but is clearly of marrying age by the end. Where the growth takes place is open to interpretation and I like that this version makes an unusual choice with it.

In most ways Cannon's version sticks very close to the Grimms; sometimes to its disadvantage. Snow White comes across pretty dumb when she falls for all three of the Queen's appearances at the cottage. The Queen wears different disguises in each, but Snow White ridiculously takes the dwarfs' warnings extremely literally, so if they say, "Don't let anyone in the house," Snow White thinks it's fine to stand in the door and let a stranger comb her hair. This is absolutely in keeping with Snow White's intelligence in the Grimms' story, but I expect better out of adaptations.

And while Riggs' Queen is deliciously campy, the script isn't at all interested in her motivations as an actual human being. We're told up front that she's Evil and so she is. She's vain of course, but that's as deep as it goes. Similarly, the hunter decides not to kill Snow White for no other reason than because that's how the story goes.

With all this faithfulness to the source material, I was looking forward to seeing if the Queen would die by dancing herself to death in hot, iron shoes, but sadly the film doesn't go that far. It does have her show up at the wedding and die there, but it's due to a mistake she's made in her own anger, not because Snow and the Prince take revenge. It's satisfying, but like so much else with the film, it's not all that it could have been.

Rating: Three out of five droll dwarves.

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