A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Huntsman: Winter's War is both a prequel and sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, following the origin story of how Eric (Chris Hemsworth) became a huntsman. Like its predecessor, the film is violent and dark, despite the fairytale references and themes. Kids may think it's going to be like the hit TV show Once Upon a Time, but the movie has intense scenes like an infant's death, startling betrayals, and many deaths (though only a few are shown up close). Both queens (played by Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron) kill, albeit in different ways, and there are scary, horned, ape-like goblins that pursue and nearly kill the protagonists. While there's little in the way of language or drinking, there are two sensuous-but-not-graphic love scenes -- expect to see kissing and bare shoulders/backs.
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What's the story?
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR is both a prequel and a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. At first, the story takes place nearly 20 years before the events of Snow White, when Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has a beloved but (until then) unmagical younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who's pregnant with her lover's (an engaged man) child. Ravenna tries to convince Freya that love never works out, but Freya refuses to believe that ... until her beloved burns their baby girl in her crib. At that moment, Freya's magic is unleashed, and she becomes an ice witch (think Elsa in Frozen). She flees her sister and creates an empire where love is a sin by raising an army of huntsmen -- children whom her minions kidnap. A decade later, Freya's two best warriors, Eric (Chris Hemworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), fall in love; Sara is killed, while Eric is banished in punishment. Then the action shifts to seven years later, after Snow White defeats Ravenna. Eric is commanded to destroy the Magic Mirror before Freya takes possession of her late sister's most valued object. But not everyone presumed dead is actually gone.
Is it any good?
Despite a fabulous cast, Theron's absence for most of this visually outstanding but underwhelming film takes away its most compelling element -- a treacherous villain. Blunt is a wonderful actress, but her Freya, while fascinating, isn't as interesting as her older sister. She's like Elsa with a big army and a frozen heart, but she's not convincingly eeevil like Ravenna. The romantic subplot between Eric and Sara is predictable from the first time they lay eyes on each other as kidnapped children, and no time is spent on how their forbidden love managed to grow in a kingdom where they're supposed to feel only loyalty. The messy plot doesn't allow viewers to see more than that they were the best and prettiest and therefore fated.
By the time Theron finally pops back into the picture, it's too little, too late to save it from mediocrity. Her slithering, scheming queen is the brightest part of the movie, and even the talented stars and funny cameos from Nick Frost, Sheridan Smith, and two other British comedians as dwarves can redeem this confoundingly boring mess. The only saving graces (besides the stars) are the gorgeous costumes and the visually impressive enchanted forest. Otherwise, seeing this is merely an exercise in supporting quality actors stuck in a subpar sequel which is made even more infuriating by the obvious way it leaves room for yet another installment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Huntsman: Winter's War works as both a prequel and sequel. Is it successful in bringing the Snow White story forward? Do you need to see the first movie to understand/appreciate this one?
Discuss how women are depicted in the movie. What are the positive representations of women? What are the negative representations? What's the ultimate take-away?
- In theaters: April 22, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: August 23, 2016
- Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt
- Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Fairy Tales
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: fantasy action violence and some sensuality
- Last updated: January 9, 2020
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