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Red Shoes And The Seven Dwarfs (2019)

Once upon a time, Disney was so successful at telling fairy-tales in their movies, that for many years the genre came to dominate animated feature films in the west. Eventually, audiences grew weary, Disney's renaissance fizzled out and the CG movie took over.  The 2001 release of Shrek ushered in a new era, when any fairy-tale movie released would have to subvert or parody the genre. But the massive success of Frozen in 2013 (and to a lesser degree, Tangled three years earlier) made it OK for fairy-tale animation to be sincere once again.  Nearly a decade later Red Shoes And The Seven Dwarfs arrived- from South Korea of all places. But is it a Shrek-style parody or a straight-up fairy tale in the classic mould? In truth, it's somewhere inbetween.

Red Shoes And The Seven Dwarfs- also known in some territories as Snow White And The Red Shoes is written and directed by Sung-ho Hong and co-directed by Moo-Hyun Jang and Young Sik Uhm. It was released in South Korea in July of 2019. The voice director was Tony Bancroft and the voice cast features Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Clafin, Gina Gershon, Jim Rash and Patrick Warburton.

As both of the titles it has been released under will tip you off, the film's chief inspiration is the fairy tale Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.  However, they have taken only the most basic elements of the story- the dwarfs, the evil stepmother and the magic mirror- and thrown the rest away to create an original story.  It takes the name (and nothing else) from Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale The Red Shoes, throws in touches from other fairy tales here and there and makes a strange story of its own.

This version of Snow White is not your average fairy tale princess. No demure and dainty damsel, we first meet her trying to mount a daring rescue to save her father from her wicked stepmother. She also happens to be a few stone overweight.  Escaping from her stepmum she finds a pair of magical red shoes that transform her into a much more typical vision of a princess- described as "the most beautiful woman in the world".  Hiding in the woods she meets seven dwarfs who agree to help. But unbeknownst to Snow, the dwarfs actually have motivation of their own. They're actually seven adventurer princes turned into that form by an angry fairytale, and only the kiss of their true love can turn them back.

The film's initial advertising drew controversy, as it was accused of "fat shaming" and was criticised, even by star Moretz. But the filmmakers' claim that it would not be representative of the complete film is backed up by the finished product. Snow White herself is never shown in anything other than a positive light and there are not really any jokes at the expense of her size. It's definitely a positive thing to have a plus-sized princess. But I'm not sure how much credit they really deserve seeing as she spends the majority of the film as the typical slender, big-eyed beauty who stars in almost every other fairy tale. If they'd had the confidence to put her true form on-screen the whole time, it would be a different story.

At its heart Red Shoes has a positive message about true beauty being on the inside, that is valuable for the young audience. It's also got kid-pleasing visual humour, fun set-pieces and cute creatures- shout out to the giant wooden bunny- that will ensure younger viewers will remain entertained throughout.

For adults though, there's much less here to keep you interested. The story is pretty messy and many of the plot elements feel just thrown in- two of the dwarfs are the future King Arthur and Merlin for some reason- and the script is pretty flat. There's some fun to be had from this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, but it doesn't really have anything to say beyond its core message, so as satire it's ultimately pretty toothless.

The voice acting is perfectly fine for the most part. In the leads, Moretz and Claffin give the kind of competent, non-descript performances that are typical of on-screen actors not used to voice-acting and that career VAs could no doubt do much better. Stand-outs are the always game Warburton as the Magic Mirror and Community's Jim Rash as the weasely secondary antagonist Prince Average ("It's pronounced Aver-arge", the film's only joke I still remembered after the credits rolled).

With not that much going on under the surface, that leaves the animation itself to try and win you over. It is a pretty nice looking film overall. The animation sometimes has the sense of weightlessness that CG can fall prey to, but the character designs (credited to EunJeong Ahn) are appealing.  The way the prince's looks are transferred into their dwarf forms is done really effectively. The fact that they don't look like your average dwarf (and have green skin for some reason) gives them a bit of originality. And the design of Snow White's true form is genuinely bold. Amusingly, wicked step-mother Regina's true form is a dead ringer for Michelle Pfeiffer's witch in ace Neil Gaiman adaptation Stardust.

There are also some nice examples of a change of style, where 2D animation is used unexpectedly. A flashback is used early on, that employs some really nice looking hand-drawn work. The end credits are also accompanied with 2D animation, that continues the story post happily ever after, with a really cute storybook style. On an aesthetic level, there's nothing too dazzling, but there's just enough to make me interested to see where its creators go next.

The packaging and promotional material for this make it look like one of those generic knock-offs that turn up in supermarkets when a new Disney film is out to try and hook a few unsavvy customers. It's not nearly that bad. I don't want to come across as overly harsh as this is well made, good looking family film that has its heart in the right place. But for grown-up audiences with no kids to entertain this will have much more limited appeal.