We all know the story about the princess cursed into a lesser existence until she can kiss (or be on the receiving end of a kiss from) the charming prince of her wildest dreams. But writer-director Sung-ho Hong’s Red Shoes & the Seven Dwarfs is a massive overhaul of such fairy tale expectations. For one, the action is both reversed and doubled, as both the prince and the princess in film (for which Moo-Hyun Jang and Young Sik Uhm get separate co-directing credits) need some selfless act or kiss to lift a spell that has been cast upon them. As always in these stories, the act comes with an attendant message of a sort, and in both cases here, the messages are not surprising.

As the title might suggest, the story is a loaded twist on Snow White, and indeed, Snow (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz) is kind of the heroine, this time given the body-positive treatment of a slightly rounder version of the character than we have gotten before. Her curse, which she initially feels is a gift, comes in the form of two red shoes, courtesy of the magic tree of the evil queen Regina (Gina Gershon). Think of the apple of the original story and replace that with a pair of wicked trainers. Regina wants her shoes back, and so she places a price on Snow’s head This gets the attention of Prince Average (Jim Rash), who sets out to collect the reward.

Along the way, she crosses paths with seven legendary princes, all of whom were turned into short green trolls by a witch they insulted. The head of the pack is Merlin (Sam Claflin), who also has some control over his own magic and can never be seen in his true form. Merlin’s fellows include Arthur (Simon Kassianides), who is still searching for the strength to take a certain sword from a stone, Jack (Frederik Hamel), Hans (also voiced by North) and the trio of Pino, Noki and Kio (all voiced by Frank Todaro). The tone of Hong’s screenplay is playful but never overtly jokey (with the exception of some unfortunately dated pop-culture references, such as when Average learns that Princess Leia is a general now).

The result is a cheerful fantasy – nothing more or, thankfully, less – with a predictable outcome but some fun to be had in getting there. This Snow White is uncertain that she wants to lose the power of the shoes that give her a more “traditionally” attractive appearance, while Merlin does want to return to his old form. This dichotomy in the paths of the characters is fascinating, and Hong reaches an unexpectedly touching compromise within how the characters see each other and what they see in themselves. Moretz and Claflin are likable in their vocal performances, and they share a comfortable chemistry when sparring with and inevitably falling for each other.

Their adventure is punctuated with some action scenes of genuine peril, such as an extended brawl with Average’s men that ends in the least likely outcome for all involved and the climactic confrontation with Regina (who, in one misstep, remains a one-note villain throughout) and her dumb-as-rocks magic – “short for ‘Magichard,’ like Richard” – mirror (a hilarious Patrick Warburton, having an absolute blast). In that climax, of course, is also the resolution of the central internal conflicts for Snow and Merlin. The film smartly reaches those conclusions separately within each character, giving Red Shoes & the Seven Dwarfs, seemingly an unassuming animated curio, its big heart.

Summary
A cheerful fantasy – nothing more or, thankfully, less.
70 %
Splintered Fairytale
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