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September 30, 2007

Bynes outshined by her dwarf contingent in fairy tale update

Sydney White is a modernization of the famous Snow White fairytale. Far from the original Disney movie of years past, this film sets the action on a nondescript college campus, where Sydney, as Snow, is an entering college freshman with aspirations of joining her mother’s former sorority.

Amanda Bynes, as the titular character, is supremely disappointing. Whereas in other films her bizarre sense of timing and acting seemed to carry plots, the plot and supporting characters carry her in this movie. Bynes, though never seen as a merit-worthy actor, fails to produce the charm of her comedic style in this movie. She seems out of place and, frankly, quite orange. It is as though the directors missed the point of naming Snow White Snow. In fact, her orange color is often distracting and frequently calls attention to the miscasting of Bynes. Though the film is supposed to be a vehicle for her, she does not fit in and is not terribly Snow-worthy.

Another disappointing casting decision was the prince, Tyler Prince (Matt Long). At 27, he is the second oldest of the film (Grumpy is, in fact, 34). He looks too old to be in college, and he is not a terribly intriguing representation of a prince who ought to kiss Sydney to wake her from her slumber. Instead, he feels like a run-of-the-mill boyfriend who keeps Sydney occupied while waiting for her real prince. He is presented as a suitable prince, with great wealth and position within the college, but really, he’s just boring, unlike any true prince.

However, on the sidelines, the seven dorks, representing the seven dwarfs, make the film worthwhile. The major player of these dorks is Sneezy (Jack Carpenter). Actually named Lenny, Sneezy has become a hypochondriac with a fanny pack who spends the movie advising Sydney. Though he is supposed to be an outcast, he is quite cute and far more appealing than Tyler. It feels as though Lenny should end up with Sydney, not Tyler. To perhaps assuage the audience, Lenny too has a romantic interest, which, while a bit forced, at least does not leave him single.

The other dorks are very funny but muddy in their representation. By the middle of the movie, it is clear which dork represents which dwarf. For the first 30 minutes or so, though, it seems that only Sneezy and Grumpy are clearly portrayed. Doc (Terrance, played by Jeremy Howard) is a genius and conducts complicated experiments, but we are told that he has yet to graduate from college and subjects himself to the strange experiments he comes up with. He also lacks social skills, but the original Doc was a highly social dwarf and possibly the nicest to Snow White. Furthermore, Bashful could easily have been Dopey, until we are told that Dopey can’t tie his shoes. And it was also difficult to distinguish Happy (Samm Levine as Spanky, well known from his Freaks and Geeks days—or perhaps not). He was more like Horny. As mentioned earlier, the oldest actor in the movie is the balding Danny Strong. He seems way too old, but as Gerkin, or Grumpy, he is funny and fits right in as a dork.

The last of the referential characters is Sarah Paxton, who portrays the wonderful queen and witch Rachel Witchburn. Though she is supposed to be an untrained actor, she has nasty down. This leads to the famous quote “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” The question is posed not to a mirror, but a computer whose sole purpose is to show Witchburn the “Hot or Not” list, on which she maintains the top spot. That is, until Sydney comes along.

The movie makes many cute comparisons to the original story, the most intelligent of which is the poisoned apple. While Snow fell into a deep sleep upon eating the apple, Sydney falls asleep when her Apple computer is given a virus, and she is forced to rewrite a paper in one night.

This is not to say that the plot of the movie is terribly interesting or makes much sense. But the supporting characters of the movie carry it to the finish, with 90 minutes of pure fun.

As a student of the University of Chicago, the on-screen presence of seven dorks among the many Greek students made it feel welcoming and perhaps more enjoyable. Besides Bynes and Long, the actors portray their characters with gusto and comedic intensity. Though not an A+, Sydney White is definitely worth a rental on DVD.