CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) — One of my favorite cartoons as a child was "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," the famous Dr. Seuss tale about the wicked green creature who attempts to do the unthinkable — that is, cancel Dec. 25 — by robbing Whoville of its presents, trees and food. And the Grinch seemingly accomplishes his mischievous deed until he hears the residents of Whoville singing Christmas songs, and he realizes Christmas is not about things, but about something far more significant.
Hollywood, in fact, has given us several stories throughout the decades spotlighting villains trying to steal the "un-steal-able."
The latest such effort is "The Huntsman: Winter's War," which opens this weekend and is sort of a prequel to the Snow White story, following the wicked Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) as she tries to rid her kingdom of love.
"Do not love. It is a sin. And I will not forgive it," she tells a group of subjects who are being trained to become her army.
Love, she tells them, is a lie for the weak-minded. And so she proceeds to raise all the children of the kingdom into little love-less, angry warriors (Huntsmen) who kill and destroy – and thus, expand her territory.
But she soon learns that love cannot be fully eradicated. Her two best warriors, a man named Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and a woman named Sara (Jessica Chastain), begin falling for one another, and they learn that love it is a far greater emotion than the rage and revenge they had learned from the queen.
On the surface, it sounds like a great morality tale, and a G-rated version would make a great children's book that I'd buy and read to my kids.
Sadly, though, the story in "Winter's War" is somewhat dull, if not at times confusing, in addition to not being kid-friendly.
The movie was billed as a prequel – the back story to "Snow White and the Huntsman" (2012) – but it actually is a combination prequel/sequel, since the timeline begins prior to the famous Snow White story and then jumps ahead seven years to the time of Snow White's reign. (Snow White, if you're curious, is not really seen on screen.)
The movie's plot revolves around Freya's hunt for the famous Snow White magical mirror, which Snow White had banished from her presence because it was inhabited with evil. If Freya gets the mirror, we are told, she will become even more cunning and evil. (Her power, if you're curious, is the ability to freeze things – yes, like in "Frozen.")
"Winter's War" has some interesting moments, but mostly suffers from a sub-par storyline.
Of course, with its Snow White angle, many children may want to go see it, particularly girls. "Winter's War" is quite a violent film with about six coarse words and some sexuality (there's no nudity, but we see Eric and Sara kiss several times – including in a pond – and it is implied twice that they had sex).
In fact, the "power of love" angle easily could be seen as the "danger of lust." That's why it's rated PG-13. I wouldn't take my 8-year-old to see it, but perhaps it is OK for teens.
Overall, though, it gets things mostly right on the good-vs.-evil scale, and it even has a major redemptive moment at the end.
"The Huntsman: Winter's War" is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality. It also contains about six coarse words (the worst being a-- and bi---).
Entertainment rating: 3 Family friendly rating: 3
Post-movie discussion topics: the difference between love and lost; the power of love vs. the power of anger; "bad people" – can they change and be redeemed?
Michael Foust has covered the film industry for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter (@MichaelFoust).