Photo: Universal Pictures
Oh, readers and parents, it's tricky to decide whether the PG-13 fantasy "Snow White and the Huntsman" is kid-friendly. It does come from that fairy tale about Snow White (Kristen Stewart); her vain, evil stepmother (Charlize Theron); and the hunter (Chris Hemsworth), whom stepmama sends to the dark and icky forest to retrieve her errant stepdaughter. Yes, there are dwarfs, too. The central problem is the movie's inconsistent tone: At some points, it revels in whimsical fairy magic, while at others, it slips into "Game of Thrones" territory, with a neomedieval realism that's even more shocking than seeing Stewart with continually dirty fingernails but a lovely coat of foundation and subtle blush.
What do I mean by that? When violence is both intimate and graphic, it becomes increasingly disturbing. In an unabashedly erotic scene early in the movie [[spoiler alert]], newlywed Queen Ravenna plunges a silver dagger into her surprised groom (Snow White's hoodwinked father) on their wedding night. She then sucks the life out of the poor king, while hissing her anger about men who love her for her beauty. There is nothing wrong about this scene from a cinematic standpoint, and it's not revealing in terms of breast or thigh, but the heady brew of sex and death reeks of German opera. In fact, it's a neat explanation of how the villainous queen got so bad, but it's not at all kid-friendly.
For me, that bedroom sequence was the moment I began to think "SW&TH" was not a kid's movie. Sure, Ravenna's obviously close relationship with her equally blond brother hints at incest (OK, it screams incest) and echoes "Game of Thrones," too. Still, kids might not really read too much into that -- they often skim the adult relationships. But the battlefield bloodshed has a disturbing visceral quality. This is not the flying monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz," which are terrifying, but you never actually see them ripping flesh from flesh (although what they do to the Scarecrow is unforgivable). There is an edge of "Braveheart" brutality to the swordplay; it's ugly and relentless. Broadswords slash and come away slick with blood, though thankfully not dripping with entrails.
Perhaps more disturbing to children who fear beasts in the closet and under the bed among the dust bunnies is the way the movie makes the dangers of the forest explicit. When Snow White arrives at the woods on the lam from her stepmother's metal claws and scorched-earth policies, the beauty first passes a barrier of deep mud. There, she watches her beautiful white charger sink and, presumably, die a grisly death. Following that, while we're still mourning the pretty pony, Snowy runs through a forest landscape filled with ominous black vapors, scurrying beetles, battering bats, and branches that come alive as snakes. Truly scary movie stuff!
It could be argued that any preteen who survived the horrifying birthing scene at the end of Stewart's "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" can pretty much go anywhere this film goes. And my response is: You know what your children can handle. But if one standard is whether a movie will give kids nightmares and fuel existing fears of things -- like sex -- that they currently only guess about, then "Snow White and the Huntsman" more than deserves its PG-13 rating. Keep the kids out and the tweens close at hand, my pretties. Cue wicked, throaty female laughter.
The cast of "Snow White and the Huntman" talk to Yahoo! Movies: