Here I was, all set to caution parents against a potentially sinister spin on the classic Snow White story. A hatchet-wielding drunkard of a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth)? A heroine (Kristen Stewart) clad in armor and chain mail, rebelling against an evil queen (Charlize Theron) who eats the hearts out of dead birds and sucks the souls of innocent farm girls to retain her youthful visage?
Yup. That’s all there. And yet, Rupert Sanders’ live-action Snow White and the Huntsman is every bit the timeless fairy tale we grew up on as children … and his aim is to update the mythology without forgetting that it’s adolescent thrill seekers he’s supposed to be entertaining.
With that in mind, let’s talk to the mirror (mirror) on the wall, take a big bite of the deliciously poisonous apple, and figure out when you can watch Snow White and the Huntsman with your kids.
Green Lights: Who’s the Fairest of Them All?
The fairest? Well, that’s always going to be Walt Disney’s animated take on the Brothers Grimm tale from 1937. There’s a whimsy attached to that story of an orphaned princess banished from her rightful throne by a vain, wicked stepmother that’s embedded in most of our childhood memories.
But Sanders and his team tap into most of the currents running through the Grimm fable, and understand why they can be important to a modern audience. “Chosen One” characters accept their difficult destinies. “Rare” inner beauty is championed over quick-fix beauty-preservation techniques. Dashing male heroes fight alongside brave princesses to restore proper nobility.
Not that Snow White and the Huntsman is a meditative think piece. It trades in fantasy heroism that will appeal to young boys and girls enthralled by trolls, feisty dwarves, dark forests and killer creatures composed of shards of glass. The final act might be the first bit of castle-storming action your kids have seen on a big screen. They’ll be asking you to rent Braveheart before you know it.
There’s also plenty to explore with your inquisitive kids should they want to talk about, say, the definition of beauty, and the lengths some will we go to in order to attain (and preserve) it? Theron’s icy queen is a self-serving monster on a ceaseless mission to sustain her youth. When told that devouring her step-daughter’s heart is the one way to cement her status as someone who looks like Charlize Theron … well, she doesn’t hesitate. Get me a knife, fork and KStew’s beating organ on a platter. Pronto.
Yet Snow prevails. And I hope that parents who take their kids to Huntsman dwell not on the emotional discontent of an orphaned child – a theme that pops up regularly in classic fairy tale literature – but rather on the impressive survival skills and leadership qualities found in Stewart’s warrior princess.
Can parents bring their kids? There are potential obstacles to look out for, and we’ll touch on them in a moment. But for the most part, Snow White and the Huntsman is a family-friendly effort. There is battle-tested combat and death. Snow White’s father (and other characters) is stabbed on screen. A dwarf takes an arrow for Snow White. Stewart’s own character dies after biting the infamous poisoned apple. All of this is relatively obvious for those who’ve grown up with the fable, but it’s treated with kid gloves on screen. Sanders’ violence is bloodless, his language tame. He fashions three protagonists kids can get behind, from Stewart’s courageous princess to Hemsworth’s classic anti-hero … quick with a quip but always eager to ride into battle.
And then there’s this aspect of the fairy tale, which didn’t occur to me until I saw Sanders’ version: Snow White is a positive influence people (and animals) want to be around. As she gains strength, her kingdom – and its denizens – feel better. Isn’t that the case in life? Aren’t there positive people who just make you feel good about yourself when they are around? When my kids see Snow White and the Huntsman, I’d like to ask them who affects them in that way. Then I’ll do what I can to make sure they spend as much time around those special friends as possible. Because the alternative is negative, soul-sucking villains like Theron’s queen, who “stars” in our Red Flags section this week.
Red Flags: “I Was Ruined by a King Like You Once.”
Obviously, Theron’s going to be the main reason why your kids might not be ready for Snow White and the Huntsman.
By definition, her character is a Red Flag: A selfish, murderous villain who wants our hero dead. She “Mola Rams” a villager’s heart, murders Snow White’s father, and chews scenery like a Shakespearean actor trying to reach the top seats in the Globe Theatre.
Yet it’s because Theron’s so thorough at playing a witch that I say you should take a little caution with your young ones. The animated queen in Disney’s Snow White is just that … animated. Cartoonish. Theron’s such a living, breathing threat that we half expect her to reach off the screen and hand us our own poisonous fruit. It’s a domineering performance, in the best way possible.
Surprisingly, Huntsman’s rarely as sinister as Theron. The Dark Forest and its imaginative creatures could be a Red Flag for kids who scare easily. More than likely, though, the inventions of this fantasy realm will be another Green Light for young ones grooving on this method of storytelling.
As I mentioned above, there’s death in Huntsman. Characters lose their lives, but Sanders doesn’t linger on loss. He quickly shuffles to more empowering messages tied to finding the strength to fight back against difficult situations. Parents might find parts of Snow White and the Huntsman a bit campy. And from a personal standpoint, I’m always going to prefer Disney’s animated telling, which is just that … more “animated” and full of life. But for a live-action take on a classic story aimed at modern audiences, Snow White and the Huntsman hits its mark more often than not. It’s really quite good.
Usually I agree with the MPAA when they tag a film with a PG-13 rating. For Snow White, I think that’s excessive. They mention “intense sequences of violence” and “brief sensuality.” Very brief. And the violence isn’t as “intense” as advertised. In fact, I give Sanders a lot of credit for showing required acts of violence but holding back on excessive gore. This isn’t Game of Thrones.
As a result, I think kids aged 9 and 10 can handle what they see on screen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Though somber and sinister in spots, it’s predominantly a family friendly blockbuster that lands right as school’s letting out. If you give it a try, please let me know how it goes.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.