When Charles Perrault penned the original Little Red Riding Hood (Le Petit Chaperon Rouge) in 1697, he had a distinct purpose in mind: to warn children, especially “pretty little girls” of the wicked dangers of the outside world. Following the traditional cautionary equation (if x does y, then z will be the horrible outcome), Perrault’s centuries-old folktale endures because – as we’ve all been told – pretty little girls (x) should never talk to strangers (y) or they will be eaten all up (z).
And even though in Perrault’s version, Little Red Riding Hood does nothing to help feminism or the equality of the sexes with a resume of skill sets such as “running after butterflies, and gathering bouquets of little flowers,” and she’s not going to win any Mensa prizes for being one of the smartest women in literature (the girl actually takes “off her clothes” when the wolf tells her to get into bed with him), and she is too weak to defend herself from being raped as the “wolf [falls] upon” her, Perrault’s 314 year-old folktale is still a far superior narrative than Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood feature film fiasco.
Now before I proceed to illustrate the film’s many failures, let me acknowledge that I am not alone in my response to the calamity of Hardwicke’s modern adaptation of the classic cautionary tale. Not being an authority on all things tween, I thought it wise to bring a few experts to the screening: my twelve-year-old twin daughters. Who would be a better voice from the teenybopper nation than my Twilight induced, Justin Bieber bandwagon, Wizards of Waverly Place addicted 7th grade girls?
So when the first words out of their mouths were, “That was kind of bad” and “My favorite part was the popcorn,” I knew I wasn’t too far off the mark with giving Hardwicke’s latest film a D grade. Trite, clichéd, vapid, unoriginal, dull… pick your adjective of choice. Red Riding Hood has them all.
And if a good story is about an interesting character (protagonist), who wants something badly (goal), but is having trouble getting it (obstacles), Red Riding Hood successfully fails in all three areas.
Protagonist: In order for us to care about the hero, we must hope and fear for her. And especially when delving into the genres of fantasy, romance and horror, it helps exponentially to create a likable, sympathetic character, with whom we can empathize with. At the very least, we must have the empathy. And although Amanda Seyfried (Valerie/Red Riding Hood) does her best with the unimaginative dialogue and action she’s given, in the end, she’s still just the “prettiest little girl” in a medieval village, who has very little substance. She is piercingly pale, however. Clearly a staple in a Hardwicke film. The Skin Cancer Foundation should be proud.
Goal: Kill the wolf, I guess? But really, that’s a stretch. Valerie/Red is never actively working towards mounting the wolf’s head in her cottage cabin. The baton to that desire is handed off directly to the vengeful and unscrupulous werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), who is the only character with whom we have some empathy – the guy actually had to kill his own wife (a werewolf) in order to save his children. It’s true that screenwriter David Leslie Johnson tries to give Valerie/Red a romantic goal, but the love triangle is completely banal and unoriginal. When the resolution finally arrives, we don’t even care if Valerie/Red is eaten by the wolf or ends up with her true love or not. Everything is forced. Stereotyped. Conventional. A paint-by-numbers kit near the check out aisle at your local Dollar Store.
Obstacles: Okay, so there are obstacles. (Hence Red Riding Hood escaping the dreaded F grade). But when we don’t care about any of the characters and we don’t care about any of the stock goals, it’s incredibly difficult to care about the hackneyed conflict. Sure, the werewolf is going to kill some people. (Oh, well.) Sure, the woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) loves Valerie/Red, but the blacksmith Henry (Max Irons) is the one she is betrothed to of her parents’ choosing. (And we haven’t seen this one zillion times before?) Sure, the werewolf happens to be someone Valerie/Red loves. (And we didn’t see that coming?) And sure, labored twist upon telegraphed twist upon badly executed twist desperately tries to make us guess who’s who of werewolf possibilities. (Whatever?) The mere fact that someone living among them for twenty years who has turned into a werewolf at least 240 times over that time span and still nobody has figured out who happens to be missing every single full moon is enough for me to wish them all to be ripped apart.
The Twilight Rip-Off: And this one comes directly from my twin tweens. I get that Hardwicke has the Twilight megahit under her belt, but seriously, with all her considerable strength and energy, she couldn’t collaborate to come up with anything better than an inferior Twilight repeat?
Henry (Red Riding Hood) vs. Jacob (Twilight): They both share a passionate love toward a girl they can’t get. Both get hurt. Both help the one that owns the girl’s heart. Basically, both are push-over-nice-guy-dweebs with well-defined biceps.
Peter (Red Riding Hood) vs. Edward (Twilight): They both win the girl of their dreams. Both are brooding, quiet, full of angst, with way too much hair gel. Both leave the girl they love behind in order to protect her from themselves.
Victoria (Red Riding Hood) vs. Bella (Twilight): Both have two guys to choose from. Both know the one they love will never hurt – or bite – them. And both are really, really, really Casper white pale. “Say no to indoor tanning.”
So if Perrault’s moral was to warn little girls to safeguard their own virginity, this review’s message is to warn you against the ravenous attack of horrendous movie making: if Hardwicke (x) directs another inferior play-by-play Twilight rip off (y), be prepared for a repeat Red Riding Hood disaster.