After 10+ years of production, a marketing fiasco, and a delayed release, Hong Sung-ho’s “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” finally hit Korean theaters on July 25. The CGI animation had previously been under fire at Cannes 2017 for its not-so-family-friendly content: promotions for the film received backlash for implied fat-shaming, and the 2017 preview depicted two Dwarfs peeping on an undressing Snow White. After deleting the trailer from Youtube and a massive apology, Locus Animation finally presents a renewed version of the Snow White classic. “Red Shoes” suggests that more exists than what meets the eye — especially in a hodgepodge fantasy-world full of magic.
The story deviates from the original Grimms fairy tale from the get-go. An overweight Snow White (Chloe Grace Moritz) innocently picks a red apple from a cursed tree. The apple morphs into a pair of coveted scarlet heels that transforms its user into the “most beautiful woman in the land” — so in Snow White’s case, she dramatically slims down. The withering Witch Queen (Gina Gershon) chases the princess out of the kingdom to take over the throne, forcing Snow White to flee. Upon a stroke of serendipity, she stumbles upon (or more accurately, crashes) into the home of the Seven Dwarfs.
The embellished Snow White introduces her alter-ego as “Red Shoes.” Like the Disney’s 1937 film “Snow White,” the Dwarfs fall to her charms; however, they are nothing like the emotive helpers of the original. Instead, these Dwarfs are actually members of the “Fearless Seven,” a celebrity group of monster hunters now cursed into their current form. Herein lies the main conceit: the Dwarfs need the kiss of a princess to return to their more attractive, human selves. Snow White, on the other hand, rather enjoys her new slender, spellbound body. Between a mad bounty hunt, enchanted wood animals, and the classic search for true love, the film stresses that outer appearance doesn’t matter so much as the beauty within.
While the tale bumbles along with good intent, “Red Shoes‘” supposedly feminist message feels awkwardly stitched together. Unlike the Disney version, Snow White is by no means a housewife. However, she is still a static character in 2019, looked upon as an object of implied sexual gratification. The Dwarfs do not welcome, but woo her; they pamper her with donuts and diamonds in desperation for a kiss. To them, she is no friend. She is merely a pretty opt-out of their curse, a prize to be won so that they may assume their true form.
Moreover, Snow White does not mature beyond the pretty face. Even when she affirms her true identity aloud, the red shoes – of which only attach themselves to those who desire their magic – imply that Snow White’s desire to look different (read: skinnier) lasts throughout the majority of the film. She skirts around her lurking body dysmorphia, only solving her overwhelming desire to be beautiful through male approval. The modern Snow White is still nothing more than a vacuous feminine object, and perhaps even an extended metaphor of her red shoes: she is a glittering object to be ogled at, a prize to be won without any deeper character.
“Red Shoes” melodically falters as well, wavering between the lyricism of Disney to the slick modernity of dialogue. Like a broken engine, the film starts and stops its musical numbers, abruptly starting the score with imaginary transitions and suddenly cutting it short for the sake of a punchline. Moreover, the visuals simply do not catch up to the voices. Longer conversations have characters lag behind their words, as if the film cannot sustain a longer lip sync cycle. This is especially evident with the Dwarfs. A pan-European melange with overdone accents for under-exaggerated expressions, the gaggle of green represent a series of nationalized stereotypes that seem excessive – and even borderline cringe-worthy – for the characters’ subtle gestures. The film loses its fantastical touch in its weak attempts to be funny.
In spite of all of this, “Red Shoes” is still an exciting pioneer considering its context. For one, the film marks the highly-anticipated return of Disney superstar Kim Sang-jin (more commonly known as Jin Kim in the West) to the Korean animation industry. Known for his contributions to “Tangled” (2010), “Frozen” (2013), “Big Hero 6” (2014), and more, the renown character designer worked on “Red Shoes” as the film’s animation director. Moreover, “Red Shoes” is Locus Animation’s first feature-length film. Its English voice acting cast indicates the film’s transcontinental outreach, pushing Korean home-grown animation abroad. Just as Disney’s first full-length feature was based on Snow White, perhaps “Red Shoes” too is a nod to Locus Animation’s own debut in the global animation distribution.
“Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” is far from perfect. It wrestles with tricky elements, getting tangled up in its internal tug-of-war between female objectification and feminism, over-the-top voice acting and underdone visuals. However, the creative twist to a timeless classic does end on a feelgood note, and the underlying morale ties the film together. As Locus Animation’s first feature, “Red Shoes” shows a lot of promise. It just has a rough start.