Review: ‘Emily the Criminal,’ starring Aubrey Plaza

August 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Aubrey Plaza in “Emily the Criminal” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment)

“Emily the Criminal”

Directed by John Patton Ford

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and Mexico, the dramatic film “Emily the Criminal” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latin, white, Asian and a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman, who works at a low-paying job for a food delivery company and is heavily in debt, turns to a secret life of crime to pay off her debts. 

Culture Audience: “Emily the Criminal” will appeal primarily to people are are fans of star Aubrey Plaza and well-acted movies about desperate people who do desperate things.

Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi in “Emily the Criminal” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment)

More than being typical crime caper, “Emily the Criminal” is also a scathing portrayal of getting trapped in gig economy work and student loan debt. Aubrey Plaza gives an intense and memorable performance in this suspense-filled drama that might leave some viewers divided about how the movie ends. “Emily the Criminal” doesn’t pass judgment on the people involved in the criminal activities that are depicted in the movie. Instead, “Emily the Criminal” puts a spotlight on why some people commit these desperate acts in the first place.

Written and directed by John Patton Ford, “Emily the Criminal” is Ford’s first feature film, and the movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The movie’s protagonist and namesake is Emily Benetto (played by Plaza), who is in almost every scene in the movie. Emily, who is in her 30s, lives in Los Angeles and is a bachelorette with no children. “Emily the Criminal” opens with a scene of Emily being interviewed for a job in an office at an unnamed medical company. Within the first minute, it’s obvious that things aren’t going well for Emily in the interview.

The interviewer (a man who is not seen on camera) informs Emily that a full background check was done on her before the interview. Emily admits that she has a DUI (driving under the influence) arrest on her record. She says the DUI was a mistake on her part, and the incident happened when she drove a drunk friend home from a concert. The interviewer then mentions that the background check also revealed that Emily was convicted in 2016 of assault, which she does not deny either.

The interviewer then tells Emily in a very condescending manner: “This is a very important job. You’d be handling important medical files.” At this point, Emily knows she’s not getting hired at this place. She snaps at the interviewer: “Fuck you! I don’t want this job!” And then she quickly leaves the office in a huff.

Why is Emily looking for a job? She has student loan debt totaling about $70,000. And she currently works as a delivery person for a company that’s similar to Uber Eats or DoorDash. It’s the type of job where the delivery employees are considered independent contractors, and are therefore not entitled to full-time staff benefits, such as health insurance or a retirement plan, even if they work at least 40 hours a week.

It’s also an example of “gig economy” work, which is the term for any work that relies heavily on independent contractors or freelancers. Worker turnover is high in these types of jobs, because the salaries are usually low, the jobs are short-term, and the workers have to pay for certain job-related expenses that would be covered by the company if the workers were full-time staff employees. Gig economy workers are almost never represented by unions.

Emily is barely making enough money to pay her other bills that are not related to her student loan debt. She currently lives with two roommates, who stay out of Emily’s personal life, and she stays out of theirs. It’s revealed later in the movie that Emily went to a prestigious liberal arts university and majored in art (her specialty is painting portraits), but she hasn’t able to find any work as an artist. Emily feels bitter and hopeless about her situation.

One day, a co-worker named Javier Santos (played by Bernardo Badillo) asks Emily on short notice to cover a delivery shift for him. It’s a work shift that Emily is reluctant to take because it’s in downtown Los Angeles at night, which can be unsafe. But she needs the money, so she takes the shift.

Javier is aware that Emily is having financial problems because he says that he can hook her up for a “dummy shopper” job that would pay her $200. He gives her a phone number to text for more information. An anonymous person replies that she can make $200 an hour for this job and gives her an address to go to the next morning if she wants more details.

The night before she goes to this mystery job, Emily goes to a bar to hang out with her talkative and extroverted friend Liz (played by Megalyn Echikunwoke), who works as a photo editor at a fashion magazine. Liz and Emily know each other because they went to the same high school in their hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Emily is embarrassed that her art career is going nowhere, while Liz is thriving in her chosen profession.

Emily swallows her pride and tells Liz that she desperately needs a job, and if she can’t find one, she’ll probably have to move back to New Jersey to live with her stepfather. There’s some unspoken history in this conversation implying that Emily doesn’t like her stepfather, and moving back in with him would be a very unwelcome last resort for Emily, who is an only child. Emily’s mother is apparently deceased.

Liz is sympathetic to Emily’s plight and tells her that she will inquire about any openings at Liz’s place of work and recommend Emily for any job that fits Emily’s qualifications. Liz is confident that something will work out because Liz says that her boss Alice (played by Gina Gershon) admires Liz. Emily and Liz then do cocaine in the bar’s restroom and enjoy the rest of their time in the bar. Later in the movie, Liz helps set up a job interview for Emily at the place where Liz works. It leads to one of the best scenes in the movie in showing how Emily reacts when things don’t sit well with her.

Emily might be desperate, but she’s no pushover, and she hates it when people try to take advantage of her. Her assault record indicates that she will get into physical conflicts. The details of why she was arrested for assault are left purposely vague in the movie, which keeps people guessing on how much of a “bad girl” Emily is willing to be to get what she wants.

Out of curiosity and with nothing to lose, Emily goes to the address of the mystery job. It’s at a warehouse-styled building, where she is immediately asked to hand over her driver’s license. The license is then photocopied and given back to her. She is then sent to a room, where there are about 20 other people gathered.

The leader of this group interview is named Youcef (played by Theo Rossi), who tells all of these job applicants up front that the job they would be expected to do is illegal. He says that if anyone has a problem with doing something illegal, they should leave immediately. Some people leave, but Emily decides to stay and hear more.

Youcef then explains that the job is to take stolen credit card information that’s on forged credit cards, go to stores to purchase big-screen TVs with these forged credit cards, and then hand over the TVs to the people working for his shady operation at a pre-determined drop-off location. The workers (who are responsible for whatever cars they use in these thefts) are told that they have to leave the store in eight minutes or less after making the purchase, which is the approximate time needed before the store finds out that the credit card is fraudulent. The pay is $200 a hour for this job. A worker cannot go to the same store twice.

It’s already revealed in the movie’s title and in the movie’s trailer that Emily ends up working for this criminal operation. Emily soon finds out that during the time that this orientation meeting was taking place with the potential workers, her driver’s license photo that was copied when she arrived was turned into a fake photo ID with someone else’s name on it. It’s the photo ID that she uses to get the TVs with the fraudulent credit cards. Later, Emily finds out that she can make $2,000 a day from this operation if she gets involved in actually forging credit cards by using the necessary equipment.

At first, Emily thinks it’s just an easy way to make money, but what she ends up going through is intense and harrowing. Complicating matters, Emily and Youcef have a growing attraction to each other. It’s a relationship where their loyalty to each other will be tested. In this operation, Youcef reports to his cousin Khalil (played by Jonathan Avigdori), who is a ruthless thug who doesn’t hesitate to get violent.

One of the most accurate things about “Emily the Criminal” is how it shows that committing crimes can be addicting for criminals. Many thieves say that it’s often not about the money but the adrenaline rush of committing a crime and getting away with it. Emily’s criminal record is a sign that she’s no stranger to getting in trouble with the law. However, viewers will get the sense that her involvement in this group of thieves has a lot to do with getting back at a system that punishes her for having a criminal record when she’s trying to find honest work.

“Emily the Criminal” is gripping not just because of the story but also because of Plaza’s fascinating performance. There’s nothing trite or stereotypical about it. Emily is not a hero, but Plaza gives a nuanced performance indicating that not everything about Emily is a villain either. From Emily’s perspective, life is not completely black and white. She’s someone who prefers to think of life of being in shades of grey.

Some viewers might not like how the movie doesn’t reveal too much about Emily’s background to explain why she makes the decisions that she does. However, it’s ultimately a wise choice to keep her background vague, because the point of the movie is to explain who Emily is now (not who she was in the past), and that she made these decisions of her own free will and under terrible financial strain. Her life of crime is not something that can be blamed on a bad childhood or someone in her life who led her astray. On a wider level, the lack of background information about Emily is the movie’s way of saying that the circumstances that led to her choosing this life of crime could happen to a lot of people of any background who find themselves in dire financial situations.

“Emily the Criminal” is not a perfect movie, since the last third of the film seems to cram in a lot of problems for Emily in a way that looks a bit too contrived. However, writer/director Ford has a knack for intriguing storytelling, and he made very good casting decisions with this movie. “Emily the Criminal” does not make Emily’s choices look glamorous, but it is an effective story in showing how this unhappy and restless person has to come to terms with who she really is and what type of life she really wants to have.

Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment will release “Emily the Criminal” in select U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022. The movie is available to rent on DirecTV, as of August 30, 2022. DirecTV has exclusive rental rights for a limited time.

Review: ‘Cagefighter,’ starring Alex Montagnani, Jon Moxley, Jay Reso, Luke Rockhold, Chuck Liddell and Gina Gershon

December 1 , 2020

by Carla Hay

Alex Montagnani and Jonathan Good (also known as Jon Moxley) in “Cagefighter” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)


Directed by Jesse Quinones

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and Los Angeles, the mixed-martial arts (MMA) dramatic film “Cagefighter” features a predominantly white cast (with a few people of color) representing the middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: A world champion in MMA has conflicts with a pro wrestler who wants to break into MMA and become the world champion. 

Culture Audience: “Cagefighter” will appeal primarily to fans of the real-life MMA fighters and wrestlers who are in the movie, which has substandard acting and an extremely predictable, badly written story.

Chuck Liddell, Gina Gershon and Alex Montagnani in “Cagefighter” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

If you put the entire cast of “Cagefighter” in an arena filled to the brim with melted cheddar, that still wouldn’t be enough to equal the amount of cheesiness in this so-bad-it’s-almost-funny movie. No one is expecting junk like “Cagefighter” to be high art, but the movie (written and directed by Jesse Quinones) doesn’t even have exciting fight scenes, which is supposed to be the film’s main attraction. Almost everything in “Cagefighter” is formulaic, unimaginative and executed like someone who’s drunk-driving a bulldozer.

At the beginning of “Cagefighter” (which also has the title “Cagefighter: Worlds Collide”) viewers see the movie’s British protagonist Reiss Gibbons (played by Alex Montagnani) win his fifth world lightweight championship title for a mixed-martial arts (MMA) promotion called Legends. It’s a championship belt that he won undefeated. And because of his amazing winning streak, Reiss has become a very famous MMA fighter.

The movie is vague about the origins of Legends. Almost all of the people who work for Legends seem to be American, but for whatever reason, most of this story’s action takes place in London. “Cagefighter” was actually filmed in London, Los Angeles and the Canadian city of Regina.

Montagnani is a real-life professional MMA fighter who goes by the nicknames “The Mean Albatross” or “Mean.” Although he was no doubt cast in this movie for his real-life experience as a professional MMA fighter, it’s clear that the “Cagefighter” filmmakers didn’t care if he had any real acting talent. Montagnani is not the worst actor in the world, but his attempts at being a serious, dramatic actor are more painful to watch than the scenes where Reiss gets beaten up in the ring.

Reiss is supposed to be a “good guy” fighter who does things like give his time to charity and teach underprivileged kids some MMA techniques. He also believes in always treating his fans with respect.

Reiss overcame a troubled background on his path to athletic fame, fortune and championship titles. The oldest of three kids, Reiss and his siblings experienced a tragedy when their parents died when Reiss was 15 years old. After the death of his parents, Reiss had a rough upbringing in a not-so-nice environment.

However, Reiss was taken under the wing of a tough-but-tender MMA trainer/coach named Marcus (played by real-life MMA fighter Chuck Liddell), who helped Reiss become the champ he is today. Reiss says, “Marcus taught me to remain humble, in victory or in defeat.” Reiss has remained loyal to Marcus, who is still Reiss’ trainer/coach. Marcus (who is American) is a strong and mostly silent type, but Liddell still shows a lot of stiff and uncomfortable acting in this film.

As Reiss says in an interview: “If I didn’t have fighting to fall back on, I would’ve been over in a cell or in a box.”(Translation: He would’ve been in jail or dead.) Reiss’ manager and longtime friend Reggie (played by Elijah Baker) also comes from a working-class background. And just like Reiss, Reggie has the thick Cockney accent to prove it.

After winning his fifth Legends world lightweight championship title, Reiss gets flooded with offers from people in the entertainment industry. (The movie lazily depicts this showbiz courting of Reiss by having a montage of different people meeting with him in the same pub and at the same table.) Out of these offers, one of them is a deal to star in a movie, while other deals include endorsements.

Shortly after winning this championship, Reiss is relaxing in his home with his American wife Ellie (played by Georgia Bradner) and Reggie. They’re watching TV when they see an over-the-top blowhard American professional wrestler named Randy Stone (played by Jonathan Good, also known as real-life pro wrestler Jon Moxley), who’s trash-talking Reiss on TV and bragging that he could easily win in a championship MMA fight against Reiss.

Reiss’ immediate reaction is to laugh, since pro wrestling (which is very staged) is a very different type of competition than MMA fighting. MMA fighters are taken seriously as athletes, while pro wrestlers often are not. However, Reggie sees an opportunity to make more money with a crazy idea that wouldn’t work in the real world but is supposed to work in this movie since it’s the basis for the entire plot: Reggie thinks that Reiss should fight Randy for the championship title in Randy’s first professional MMA fight.

Reggie takes his idea to the chief promoter of Legends, a swaggering wheeler dealer named Maxine “Max” Black (played with almost-campy gusto by Gina Gershon), who wears a lot of black leather and thinks she’s always the smartest person in the room. Max cares less about who wins a match and more about how much money and publicity a match will get for Legends. Reggie’s idea is a very hard sell to Max, whose first reaction is to say no.

Max thinks that putting a wrestler in the ring with a well-respected MMA champ will cheapen the sport of MMA and possibly alienate some MMA fans. Reggie pitches the idea to Max by saying that it will be a “win win” for Legends, because Randy has a fan base large enough to fill an arena (the type of large-scale spectacle that Legends would want), while Reiss will probably win over a lot of Randy’s fans, which will help sell tickets to future Legends matches featuring Reiss.

“Think about Conor McGregor when he fought [Floyd] Mayweather,” Reggie pleads to Max. “Do you know how much money that guy is making in endorsements? Millions are coming out of that guy’s ass. And he didn’t even win.”

One thing that Max and Reggie agree on is that Reiss will most certainly win this match against Randy, who doesn’t have a lot of experience in MMA fighting. And so, Max says they can do the match. Reggie then has to convince Reiss, who thinks at first it’s a ridiculous idea, until Reggie says the magic words: “It’s easy money.”

In the lead-up to this championship fight, Randy (who talks as if he’s had too much caffeine or maybe a much stronger stimulant) continues his public insult campaign against Reiss. In media interviews, when people question whether a pro wrestler has what it takes to win a fight against a five-time MMA world champion, Randy arrogantly tells them that he can do it, because he’s in intense MMA training. The non-stop trash talking is what you would expect from a pro wrestler, so Goodman/Moxley doesn’t have to do much acting, but that doesn’t make the “Cagefighter” screenplay less cringeworthy.

During an interview, Randy boasts about himself and continues to degrade Reiss: “I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m stronger than him. I’m bigger than him. I’m tougher than him. I’m better-looking than him. I have no respect for him.” Meanwhile, “nice guy” Reiss sees Randy’s high-octane ego posturing on TV and says, “I want to stick a fork in him, because he’s done.”

There would be no “Cagefighter” movie if Reiss easily beat Randy in this big showdown. Things go wrong for Reiss throughout the movie. And the question becomes if he can make a comeback from all of the setbacks that he experiences. Along the way, Reiss becomes distant from his longtime trainer Marcus and hires a new trainer named Tony Gunn (played by Luke Rockhold), who works with Reiss during a part of the movie when Reiss goes to Los Angeles to train for a big fight.

One of the worst things about “Cagefighter” is how all these extreme, unbelievable things happen in the MMA world during a period of time that’s supposed to be less than nine months. A buffoon pro wrestler like Randy is suddenly able to catapult into the MMA world, and his first professional MMA fight is a world championship title with the reigning champ. And in another part of the movie, Reiss has only three weeks to prepare for a big fight.

How do we know that this story arc happens in less than nine months? Because it’s mentioned in the beginning of the movie, after Reiss won his fifth championship title, that Ellie is pregnant with her and Reiss’ first child together, and the child is born during the movie. However, Ellie never looks pregnant during the months where her pregnancy is supposed to be showing.

And in different parts of the story, there are some really dumb switches in re-classifying Reiss and Randy from lightweight to heavyweight, even though their bodies do not change during the entire movie. The MMA fight scenes are beyond ridiculous, with some heinous and illegal actions during a match (strangling and head-butting) that don’t get any MMA fighter disqualified in this movie. “Cagefighter” is presumably aimed at MMA fans, but the filmmakers don’t have to insult the fans by putting things in the movie that a fan would immediately know are illegal in the sport.

“Cagefighter” also has some almost laughably bad camera shots (parts of the fights in slow motion and melodramatic close-ups of Reiss in agony) and major problems with editing and continuity. After Reiss gets badly pummeled in a fight, his bruises, cuts and other wounds have vanished a few days later. Swollen eyes and deep gashes on Reiss’ body have disappeared faster than you can say, “People should get a refund if they’re unlucky enough to pay money to see this crappy movie.”

The music in “Cagefighter” is a weird mishmash of a score that’s reminiscent of 1970s/1980s TV dramas; modern-ish reggaeton tunes; and generic sports background music. And the production design and cinematography are sloppy, since wide shots of the arena audience look like stock footage, while closer shots of the MMA matches look like the matches are taking place on a movie set instead of a real arena. The shots of Reiss and Randy doing their gauntlet walk into a match are examples of how inauthentic the art direction looks. The fight scenes are actually quite predictable and veer into cartoonish territory, which is what you’re supposed to see in pro wrestling, not in MMA fighting.

As for the shoddily written characters in the movie, Max and Reggie seem to be the only ones who have any semblance of personalities that are somewhat entertaining to watch. Fast-talking Reggie and quick-thinking Max are both hustlers at heart, so their scenes together are the closest thing this movie has to unique liveliness. However, the lines that they have to deliver are so bad that there’s a scene where Baker (who plays Reggie) has trouble keeping a straight face and actually laughs a little when he’s not supposed to be laughing.

The character of Ellie is just another two-dimensional wife in this type of movie. Badly made sports movies like “Cagefighter” only seem to cast the wife/girlfriend/love partner of the male protagonist for the sole purpose of making sure that the protagonist has a pretty woman waiting for him at home or being a spectator during the athletic competitions to show her support.

And as an example of how poorly written the “Cagefighter” screenplay is, Ellie and Reiss never talk about their child. Viewers of this movie might forget that Ellie and Reiss are expectant parents until there’s a brief montage that includes Ellie and Reiss with the baby, who is seen on screen for only a few seconds and then never seen again.

During the end credits for “Cagefighter,” Gershon’s Max character is shown during a heavily edited monologue where she rambles on about different ideas that she has for Reiss and Legends to make more money. It’s obvious that the filmmakers told Gershon to just improvise in character, and she seems to be having lot of fun doing this improv. All this proves to viewers is that you know a movie is terrible when the footage in the end credits is better than almost the entire movie.

Screen Media Films released “Cagefighter” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on October 9, 2020. The movie’s release date on Blu-ray and DVD is December 1, 2020.

Review: ‘Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs,’ starring the voices of Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Claflin, Gina Gershon, Patrick Warburton and Jim Rash

September 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jack (voiced by Frederik Hamel), Hans (voiced by Nolan North), Arthur (voiced by Simon Kassianides), Snow White/Red Shoes (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz), Merlin (voiced by Sam Claflin) and Pino, Noki, Kio (all three voiced by Frank Todaro) in “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” (Image courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs”

Directed by Sung-ho Hong, with co-direction from Moo-Hyun Jang and Young Sik Uhm

Culture Representation: This animated re-imagination of the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” features an all-white cast of characters.

Culture Clash: The Seven Dwarfs are cursed by a spell that has made them into dwarfs, and Snow White’s evil stepmother wants possession of the red shoes worn Snow White, because the shoes can make someone look young and beautiful .

Culture Audience: “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” will appeal to anyone who’s a fan of the original “Snow White” fairy tale and anyone who’s looking for a mildly entertaining and predictable reimagination of this classic.

Magic Mirror (voiced by Patrick Warburton) and Regina (voiced by Gina Gershon) in “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” (Image courtesy of Lionsgate)

Imagine the classic fairytale “Snow White” reimagined as a story about the importance of judging people for who they are rather than for their physical appearances. It’s this positive message that uplifts the lightweight and mostly enjoyable animated “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs,” which can be entertaining to watch for people of any generation. The story will be completely predictable to adults, but the appealing animation and the briskly paced adventure aspects of the story (the movie is 92 minutes long) should keep most viewers interested from beginning to end.

Written and directed by Sung-ho Hong (and co-directed by Moo-Hyun Jang and Young Sik Uhm), “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” begins with a twist on the origin story of the Seven Dwarfs. It’s explained that they used to be tall, good looking young men who were members of a heroic group known as the Fearless Seven. They are described as “the greatest heroes of Fairy Tale Island.”

However, one day the Fearless Seven made the mistake of attacking a fairy princess who looked like a witch, so she cursed them by turning them into green dwarfs. The only way to break this curse is for them to get a kiss from the most beautiful girl in the world. Feminists might cringe at this aspect of the story, but if you’re easily offended by stories that have old-fashioned ideas of the roles of males and females, then avoid fairy tales altogether.

The Seven Dwarfs (formerly known as the Fearless Seven) have become outcasts in society and their only mission now is to find the most beautiful girl in the world. As far as the world is concerned, the Fearless Seven have disappeared and have been missing for more than a year by the time that the Seven Dwarfs meet Snow White. The Seven Dwarfs are so ashamed of how they look that they deny that they are the Fearless Seven if anyone suspects that they are.

The Seven Dwarfs are Merlin, the group’s friendly leader (voiced by Sam Claflin); Arthur (voiced by Simon Kassianides), the often-impulsive warrior who tries to pull his Excalibur sword out of a stone; Jack (voiced by Frederik Hamel), a finicky Frenchman; Hans (voiced by Nolan North), a gung-ho German; and triplets Pino, Noki and Kio (voiced by Frank Todero), who are relegated to sidekick roles with personalities that can’t be distinguished from one another.

Meanwhile, an evil witch named Regina (voiced by Gina Gershon) has a pair of high-heled red shoes that have the power to make the person wearing them look young, thin and conventionally beautiful. These shoes are her most-prized possession because wearing the shoes can changes Regina’s appearance from a mean-looking old hag (her real physical appearance) to someone whose physical appearance is in keeping with conventional standards of beauty.

Snow White (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) is a princess who lives with her widower father, the king of the land. The major difference between this Snow White and other versions of Snow White is that this Snow White happens to be plus-sized and self-conscious about her looks. However, her father accepts and loves her for exactly who she is. At the beginning of the story, Snow White has just turned 18 and is set to inherit adult royal duties.

And it’s around this time that Regina shows up in town with a strange mirror, and people in the town start mysteriously disappearing. Regina, who has disguised herself as a beautiful young woman (thanks to wearing the red shoes), has found a way to charm the king and get him to marry her, but the king disappears not long after the marriage. Snow White finds the magical red shoes, turns into a thin and conventional pretty young woman, and flies away on a broom to look for her father. An enraged Regina then does what she can in her royal stepmother power to find Snow White and the red shoes.

During Snow White’s quest to find her father, she encounters the Seven Dwarfs. They think she could be the most beautiful girl in the world. Therefore, much of the movie revolves around the Seven Dwarfs trying to find out if Snow White is the one who can break their curse. Meanwhile, because she has other people do the dirty work for her, she is seen back at the castle with her talking Magic Mirror (voiced by Patrick Warburton), which gives her advice on what to do next.

Snow White has been declared a fugitive thief, so when she meets the Seven Dwarfs, she lies and tells them her name is Red Shoes. She wants them to help her find her father, but they don’t want to admit that they’re the heroic group called the Fearless Seven. However, they all have to dodge people who are out to get Snow White, since there’s a reward for anyone who can capture her.

There’s kind of a cringeworthy scene were Arthur awkwardly tries to kiss Snow White/Red Shoes, but she’s resistant because she’s not attracted to him at all. And it should come as no surprise to people looking for a fairy tale romance in this story that Snow White falls for another dwarf in the group. It’s very easy to guess who it is. The movie plays around a lot with the idea of whether or not this budding romance will survive if Snow White and her would-be beau have their true physical selves revealed to each other.

There’s also a subplot of a spoiled royal named Prince Average (voiced by Jim Rash), who is throwing a birthday party for himself, and he’s obsessed with getting “beautiful people” to attend his party. What he wants most is for a beautiful princess to be his date for the party, so he sends his minions to go out and find one and bring her back to him. It’s really not all that much different from real life, when rich people hire supermodels to be at their parties.

In fact, some parts of “Red Shoes” have some underlying sly commentary about how shallow people can become so obsessed with youth and beauty that it can turn them into soulless people who lose sight of what really matters in life. This isn’t a movie that needs to be over-analyzed, but there is an interesting metaphor that can be found between the Magic Mirror and what’s going with a lot of people who over-use Instagram and other social media for ego validation. “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” essentially has the message that people who put a fake image of themselves out there the world so that they can be rewarded for it in some way end up doing the most damage to themselves.

In an animation world where movies from Pixar, Disney Animation and DreamWorks Animation get most of the major awards and blockbuster sales, “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” (from Locus Animation Studio) isn’t going to make a dent in that domination. However, the animation and other visuals in “Red Shoes” are very good for a movie that has the fraction of the budget that a movie from Pixar, Disney Animation or DreamWorks Animation would have.

If “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” looks and sounds very influenced by Disney, that might be because the movie’s character design and animation direction are by Jin Kim, whose credits include the Disney animated films “Fantasia 2000,” “Frozen II” and “Tangled.” Also complementing the film well is the musical score by Geoff Zanelli, whose movies credits include the Disney live-action films “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” However, there are elements of “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves” that are also influenced by a film from a Disney rival: DreamWorks Animation’s first “Shrek” movie.

The subplot with Prince Average makes the story a little cluttered at times, but the movie doesn’t drag too much and there’s enough humor in it so that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. And as is the case with many reimagined fairy tales that have been updated with modern sensibilities, this Snow White is definitely not a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued by a prince at the end of the story.

Disney’s 1937 animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” stuck to the fairy tale that had traditional gender roles in who does the rescuing. The overall message of “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” has a more impactful message about how true love can be found if it isn’t based solely on how someone looks and if you have self-acceptance first.

Lionsgate released “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” on digital and VOD on September 18, 2020, and on Blu-ray and DVD and September 22, 2020.

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