Saturday, September 26, 2020

Family Fun Saturday - Snow White (1987)

The Cannon Group, 1987
Starring Diana Rigg, Sarah Patterson, Nicola Stapleton, and Billy Barty
Directed by Michael Berz
Music by Michael Berz and Arich Rudich; Lyrics by Michael Berz and others

This was the fifth of the nine released "Cannon Movie Tales," musical versions of beloved fairy tales. This time, they dive into the famous story of the beautiful girl who flees her wicked stepmother and is cared for by seven little men. We're also honoring the late Dame Diana Rigg, who passed away earlier this month. This would be one of her few onscreen musical roles. How does the popular tale look in this low-budget retelling?  Let's start at the castle, where the Queen (Dorit Adi) is wishing for a child with skin as white as snow, and find out...

The Story: The Queen does finally bear a lovely child who is exactly as she hoped, but dies shortly afterwards. The King (Doug Sheldon) remarries, but his wife (Rigg) is cold and cruel, only caring about her beauty, fine clothes, and magic mirror who tells her how fair she is. After the mirror claims Snow White (Stapleton) is more beautiful, she orders her Huntsman (Amnon Meskin) to kill the child and cut out her heart. He can't do it and turns her out into the woods instead. 

The little girl wanders into the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs, who search for rocks and bones and other treasures in the mountains. They end up raising her into a lovely young woman (Patterson). The Queen discovers she's still alive and tries to have her killed three times. The third time seems to be the charm. The heartsick dwarfs build a glass coffin for her...but then a prince (James Ian Wright) comes along and falls instantly in love with her...

The Song and Dance: One thing I really like about this one is how straightforward it is, especially compared to other film versions like Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman that add way too much padding. This is about as close to the original Grimm's Fairy Tale as you're probably going to get in an adaptation intended for families. Rigg dominates as the heartless ruler who will do anything, including donning some pretty strange costumes, to stay the fairest woman in the land. She relishes the role, snapping at couriers and purring at her creepy magic mirror. 

Favorite Number: We open with "Let It Snow," as the ladies of the court revel in the chilly weather and the Queen dreams of having a child. The young Snow White shows just how much she loves her father when she and the king sing and dance on "Daddy's Knee." Rigg sings to Meskin how she doesn't want anyone to be more beautiful than her in "More Beautiful Than Me." The dwarfs have a rollicking dance routine at the house to teach Snow White their names (and introduce them to the audience) in "My Name Is Biddy."

Trivia: This was the only Cannon Movie Tale to receive a PG rating on cable.

What I Don't Like: While not as overtly cheap as some of the other Cannon Movie Tales, the dwarfs look more like oversized furballs than little men and are frankly scarier-looking than the queen. The Mirror, with its frame surrounded by grinning white faces, is pretty creepy, too. The lousy special effects don't help there, either. You barely see the prince, and when you do, he has nothing to do with saving Snow White - that literally happens on accident. (Granted, that's in the original story - kissing Snow White is strictly Disney.) The background score is still annoyingly tinny, and the songs just aren't that memorable. Also, beware of Rigg's Japanese saleswoman trying to give Snow White a poisoned comb towards the end. Many people would consider it to be a rather annoying stereotype (complete with silly accent) today.

The Big Finale: If you want to show your kids what the real story of Snow White is like, this might be an appropriate place to start if they can get past the cheap production.

Home Media: For many years, this was one of the harder-to-find Cannon Movie Tales. It's now a part of MGM's made-to-order Limited Edition Collection and is free to stream on Amazon with a Prime membership.

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