(CBS News) Mirror Mirror on the wall, who's the fairest critic of them all? Is it David Edelstein?
A friend recently showed her daughter the wonderful mock fairy tale "The Princess Bride," from 1987, and the little girl was horrified when the hero and heroine were attacked by a giant rat.
It's not that it was violent. It's that the princess didn't pick up a sword. What's the matter with her? Does she expect to be, like, RESCUED?
Fairy tale princesses have come a long way, baby, and it's nowhere more obvious than in "Snow White & the Huntsman."
Like every storybook heroine these days, she FIGHTS.
Take the heroine of the other recent Snow White picture, "Mirror, Mirror," who fights duels with the Prince and tells him she's tired of stories in which damsels take their distress lying down.
That's what Snow White did in the 1937 Disney movie, which was largely faithful to the 1812 Brothers' Grimm tale, although the Grimms' dwarves had no silly names. The heroine is very young, and very passive, and she matures from child to woman by - what else? - cooking and cleaning for little people!
And she's saved by the love of a prince.
Our new heroine is not your Uncle Walt's, and the movie itself is brutal, nightmarish, set against barren landscapes and medieval battlements. It's practically a horror picture.
It's also influenced by a lot of modern thinking about why Snow White has such staying power.
Charlize Theron's Queen Ravenna proclaims that in a world where men subjugate women, "Beauty is power." EVERYTHING depends on her looks - the ultimate judgment, ironically, coming from a mirror with a MALE voice. She suffers, this Queen. To stay unlined, she must vampirically suck young girls' essences. She wants to eat Snow White's heart! The mother-daughter sexual rivalry at the story's core has never been so clear.
The film is overlong and the action choppy, but after so many camped-up fairy tales, its harshness is bracing.
Kristen Stewart is perfectly awkward as a Snow White with no regard for her looks, who pities the Queen her enslavement to superficial beauty - even while leading an army to destroy her.
Of course, this Snow White won't please everyone. You can almost hear her future mother-in-law: "She doesn't cook, she doesn't clean . . . "!
Edelstein also endorses: