Girl Power: “Snow White and the Huntsman” vs. “Brave”

Yesterday Fluffy took in two very different films with a common theme of female empowerment overcoming incredible odds.  Snow White and the Huntsman was up first, a retelling of the traditional tale with a decidedly more dynamic central princess figure than had been previously portrayed.  Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is a far cry from the usual saccharine Disney version of the character– there’s no singing with forest creatures and pining for a prince to rescue her.  This Snow White is more resourceful, more complex, and more of a leader than she has ever been onscreen, and her world is darker and less certain.  Previously, the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been probably the best known and definitive version of this story, and it has remained my least favorite animated Disney film of all time, so needless to say I didn’t have high expectations for this movie as I found the base material to be rather thin.  By contrast, I had very high hopes for the Pixar production Brave, the studio’s first female-fronted flick and its first period piece, set in medieval Scotland and featuring an adorable mop-topped redhead confronting gender stereotypes.  An original story rather than an adaptation, Brave doesn’t have the baggage Snow White and the Huntsman carries, and its heroine, clan princess Merida, is a fresh slate without other versions to cloud her by comparison.  So how did both films stack up against the hype?

While Kristen Stewart, best known as Twilight‘s Bella, is a credible Snow White as she is depicted here, it is Charlize Theron’s villainous Queen Ravenna who makes the most indelible impression.  This isn’t really a slight on Stewart’s abilities, but a praise for Theron’s– Theron is one of those rare actresses who disappears so completely into a role that it’s easy to forget that she is not the character she is portraying– and in this version the villain is rather more interesting than the heroine.  I had more problems with the script in this movie than with any of the acting involved, though the odd mix of  accents becomes distracting;  there are far too many plot conveniences which are never really explained.  After being locked in a tower for so many years, how was Snow White so physically fit?  Why hadn’t she noticed the big nail that she could use as a shiv before?  How did there come to be a horse waiting for her after she escaped?  It’s small things like these that bothered me, and sadly, the movie itself wasn’t engaging enough to make me overlook them.  Despite Chris Hemsworth’s attractive presence, Theron’s beguiling treachery, Stewart’s pluck, and generally impressive effects, I found myself fighting sleep by the time the dwarfs made their first appearance, testimony to the film’s pacing, which drags along in fits and starts throughout its 127 minutes of running time.  It is a length which feels padded, the kiss of death for an action film– a good one can be much longer without feeling forced, and this one would have benefited from less bloat.

Brave clocks in at a leaner 100 minutes, and its heroine, as strong as SWATH‘s but unhampered by its accompanying deadwood, comes across as the more appealing of the two.  Voiced with authentic Scottish charm by Kelly MacDonald, the fiery Merida feels stifled by the expectations of traditional womanhood as embodied by her mother Elinor, whose insistence upon arranging a marriage for her daughter for which Merida finds herself unready leads to disagreement between mother and daughter and Merida’s willingness to enlist a witch’s spell to change her fate.  When the spell unexpectedly transforms Elinor into a bear, Merida is forced to find a way to restore her mother before the second sunrise passes, a journey which changes both mother and daughter in ways neither anticipated.  As gorgeously rendered as the rest of Pixar’s repertoire, Brave provides commentary on both the mother-daughter dynamic and the roles of tradition and progressiveness without ever losing its focus on its wonderful protagonist;  Merida is a perfectly drawn amalgam of the titular bravery and foolhardiness, whose discovery of the balance between personal wants and familial needs– as well as her mother’s similar findings– makes for spellbinding viewing.  Ultimately a treatise on the value of compromise and cooperation, Brave succeeds on more levels than SWATH without appearing to try nearly as hard.  The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade: Snow White and the Huntsman: C-  Brave: A

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