As we all know (or you know if you watch television, go on the internet, or go to the movies), we’re in the midst of a resurgence of fairy tale reinterpretations. Of course fairy tales will continue to be retold, and re-envisioned, for a very long time, but the end of last year and blockbuster season of this year brought a very abrupt eruption of fairy tale re-imaginings. The most popular story to redo has been Snow White. Now some would argue that these new versions of the story are meant to empower the once helpless-victim type that Snow White was in the original story and Disney’s feature film. These director’s embolden their heroines with a warrior’s spirit, courage, leadership, and create characters who are anything but damsels in distress. But these characters tend to fall flat for some reason. That’s because, I believe, this fairy tale movement isn’t so much focused on the heroes as it is on villains. The center of this Snow White movement has never been primarily concerned with the titular character. The focus, and the most interesting part, of these revived stories is the wicked queen.
Disney left its mark on villainy with their version of the Queen. Ollie Johnston, an animator for Disney, said this of the Queen: “[Walt Disney] never made another villain that scary, that real, that menacing, and he kept holding us back when we would ask for a stronger villain in any picture.” It cannot be denied that the Queen/Witch is the center of the Disney Villain canon, and Disney has made a name for itself partially because of its stupendous villains. Johnston also states that Walt Disney himself worked very meticulously on the Queen’s dialogue, picking the perfect words for the a black-hearted woman who sought to destroy pure innocence on the basis of envy alone.
Fast forward to late 2011 and 2012. Three big-budget fairy tale productions are released, and each one gives special attention to the Queen.
The first is Once Upon a Time. Personally, I love this show. I’ve been hooked for a while, and I find it just delightful. I also think that its Queen (Regina Mills) is pretty astonishing. She can, at times, seem either one-dimensional or poorly acted, but Lana Parrilla (the actress portraying Regina) does some really subtle stuff. She actually comes across as a very believable psychopath. She has all of the grandeur, calculation, and vindictiveness we expect from such a renowned character, but, unlike the mirror into which she constantly gazes, she is very cracked: fractured. There is something very wrong with this woman at her core. I find the performance pretty exhilarating.
Next we have a Julia Roberts vehicle called Mirror Mirror. The less said about this the better. Since Julia Roberts was attached to the project, I’m sure the production team was given more money than they knew what to do with. The script was absolutely ghastly. And I’ll admit that I was a little excited about it because something about Julia Roberts and high-evil just makes sense. Yes, she is decked out in glorious outfits, but that’s about the only redeeming part of the movie. We know Ms. Roberts can act, but in this little movie it was Julia Roberts…being Julia Roberts. I mean it isn’t hard to imagine her saying most of her lines in real life. Also, Nathan Lane was there. Not that I’m against gratuitous usage of Nathan Lane, but it was weird.
Now let’s move on to the movie that I was looking forward to for months: Snow White and the Huntsman. Yes, it “stars” the universally despised Kristen Stewart, but that’s not why you wanted to see it. No, you wanted to see it cause Charlize Fucking Theron was playing the Queen, and you fucking knew she was going to be GLORIOUS. And she was! Gurl, she ate that role up! She was, undoubtedly, the strongest part of the movie. Every part that didn’t have her was stale and left you bored. But when she was on the screen, your inner…(witch-lover?) went “FUCK YEAH!” Also, this movie did something that most Snow White films don’t. The Queen is supposed to be the fairest in all the land. In a lot of these movies, I don’t buy it. Once Upon a Time does it (Lana Parrilla is gorgeous), but it is something you don’t see very often. In Snow White and the Huntsman, Charlize was BY FAR the most beautiful woman in that movie: she was breathtaking. She was stunning, her acting was stunning (minus a little bit of scenery-chewing), her outfits were stunning, the writing for her character was stunning, and the part where she BEAT THE EVER-LOVING SHIT out of Kristen Stewart was worth the price of admission alone.
I just wanted to write this because people don’t seem to realize what all of these fairy tale revivals focus on are the villains, specifically the witches. Now I have literally a dozen theories as to why this is happening—ranging from trends in film character focus and historical analysis to feminist interpretations—but I’ll spare you those digressions.
I would like to leave you with two movie suggestions if you’re interested in this renewed fascination with Snow White. Again, both of these suggestions tend to focus on the queen. The first is Snow White: Fairest of Them All. This one is really aimed at children and is just supposed to be cutesy. I haven’t seen it in years, but I remember the Queen, this time played by Miranda Richardson. Miranda Richardson is like the go-to actress for witches. I think I added it up once, and I believe she’s played five witches during her film career. Anyway, the film is kind of creative, but Richardson was on fire!
If you haven’t realized this by now, I’m a great lover of fictional witches. One of my absolute favorites is Sigourney Weaver playing the Queen figure (Lady Claudia) in Snow White: A Tale of Terror. This film tries to emphasize the darkest aspects of the story and turn it into a horror film. Sometimes it is successful; others not so much. I think it is a pretty solid film, though. It was released in 1996 I believe? It didn’t get a cinematic release, so it aired on Show Time. Many of the major plot elements from Mirror Mirror and Snow White & the Huntsman are taken from this film. This was probably the first Snow White film to focus more on the Queen figure than the heroine. Sigourney Weaver is fucking perfect in this movie. No matter what she does, Weaver always delivers pitch-perfect performances, and her wicked Queen is no exception. She transforms a fairy tale character into a very realistic woman with convincing motivations and makes the character extremely disturbing. I’ll never understand why Sigourney Weaver isn’t on the same level of celebrity as Meryl Streep (whom I love, don’t get me wrong). Weaver is a profoundly good actor whose masterful intellect shines through in her craft. So yeah, check out Snow White: A Tale of Terror. I think the whole movie is on youtube FOR FREE!
I probably should have oriented this tumblr more towards villains in retrospect.
PS - Images appear in the order that they are referenced.