What six Brit wits did for King Arthur in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the Teutonic twits behind “Seven Dwarves” do for — or to — the Brothers Grimm. Anarchic, satiric and silly enough to ignite a midnight movie-style cult following, this comedy-as-cudgel from Sven Unterwaldt could, with appropriate handling, break out of the foreign film/festival forest and make some real noise at the international box office.
“Seven Dwarves” is a fairy-tale cartoon populated with adults — mixing the world of fable and fantasy with characters who have real-life problems: The dwarves — Cloudy, Sunny, Bubi, etc. — seem much taller than dwarves should be (“It’s a common misperception,” is their refrain), and they’ve all had bad experiences with women.
Behind the comedy, the conflicts are about gender conflict and identity crises. The Evil Queen, for instance, is a platinum blonde who laughs hysterically at brunette jokes.
The dwarves themselves are hardly immune to women; their peaked caps become extremely peaked when royal escapee Snow White wanders into their encampment. She, natch, is the bete noire of the Queen, whose Enchanted Mirror says not that the young beauty is the “fairest of them all,” but that, “She’s got it going on.”
The film, shot entirely on a Cologne sound stage and bearing the gauzy look befitting a dream, varies its comedic attack from the kind of slapstick and burlesque that was old when sound came in, to rather sophisticated references to literature and film: A satiric Gandalf-ian figure out of “The Lord of the Rings” wanders through the narrative; director Michael Curtiz (“Captain Blood,” “Robin Hood”) is referenced on a few occasions. As at least one German commentator has noted, the sets suggest Siegfried’s ride through the studio forest in Fritz Lang’s “Die Nibelungen.”
Mostly, however, Unterwaldt is out to send up the Grimm stories, addressing what they might have been like if more regular people had played the parts of gnomes, ogres and Little Red Riding Hood. And while it’s all wildly uneven and hardly German in flavor, when it’s clicking, it’s hilarious.