The moral of “The 7th Dwarf,” driven home by its diminutive hero and a dreadfully repetitive end-credits anthem, is that “size doesn’t matter.” It’s a crass (but kid-friendly!) formulation that also happens to be perfectly true: At half the length or twice the budget, this CG-animated musical mash-up of fairy tales would still be a pretty pathetic excuse for children’s entertainment, short on charm and utterly devoid of magic. A 2014 German production making a brief North American stopover in an English-dubbed version, the film offers a witless recombination of elements from classic Grimm stories and some of the bigger U.S. toon hits of recent vintage — a pandering strategy that seems unlikely to translate into the box office equivalent of true love’s kiss.
Directed by Harald Siepermann (who died mid-production in 2013) and Boris Aljinovic, “The 7th Dwarf” is an animated extension of a franchise that includes two prior live-action features: “7 Dwarfs” (2004), which was one of the most successful Teuton titles of that year, and its lower-grossing sequel, “7 Dwarfs: The Forest Is Not Enough” (2006). Where those pictures freely sampled from the likes of “Snow White,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” the new film largely riffs on “Sleeping Beauty,” starting with a princess named Rose (voiced by Peyton List) who dwells in the castle of Fantabularasa, and who was cursed at childbirth by an evil witch named Dellamorta (Nina Hagen).
In this case, the old hag could have cast her spell with a bit more verbal precision: Only the most mature adults in the audience will be able to suppress a giggle when they’re told that Rose will sleep forever “if she ever gets pricked by something before she turns 18.” Continuing the unintended chastity metaphor, Rose is forced to wear a suit of armor until the night of her 18th birthday, though that tactic doesn’t stop Dellamorta’s curse from taking hold at the last minute and plunging not just Rose but the entire kingdom into eternal slumber. It’s no great loss, really, insofar as the ensemble consists largely of stock fantasy figures (a towering ogre here, a bland Puss in Boots there), with the unwelcome exception of Rose’s BFF, Snow White, presented as a preening bimbo in a miniskirt.
As female characters go, the witch is scarcely more enlightened. In a twist that renews one’s appreciation for the much more nuanced revisionism of Disney’s “Maleficent,” Dellamorta reveals in her big musical number (one of several strenuously unmemorable songs by co-scripter Daniel Welbat) that she once loved Rose’s father, whose rejection stirred in her an all-consuming desire for revenge. And lest you fear that women get to hog all the degradation here, rest assured that the movie also finds time for a pair of noxious racial caricatures named Sherman (a purple-fro’d fish-like creature) and Herman (a fat, blinged-out walrus), whose contributions to the hip-hop canon include singles like “Seaweed Clan” and “Merman’s Paradise.” Regrettably, we get to hear a sample.
The dwarfs, by contrast, are a pretty inoffensive, forgettable bunch, whose names alone (i.e., Cloudy, Sunny, Cookie, Speedy) serve as a reminder of just how hard it has become to put an original spin on public-domain fairy tales outside the Disney studio auspices. (The heroic seventh dwarf of the title, a dim-witted fellow who literally doesn’t know how to tie his shoes, goes by the name of Bobo but might as well be called Dopey.) Everything here smacks vaguely of mass-market imitation: Dellamorta’s icicle-strewn cave and chilling effect on everyone around her suggests a reheated “Frozen,” while a winged fire-breather named Burner (voiced by Norm Macdonald) could have been imported directly from “How to Train Your Dragon.”
The animation quality is fair but unremarkable, which could also be said of the story’s shopworn themes and the obligatory romance between Rose and Jack, the kitchen boy who will wind up rescuing her and the kingdom from ruin. It all ends well, perhaps, if by “well” you mean predictably and with an utter aversion to suspense or surprise. From the first five minutes of “The Seventh Dwarf,” you know that everyone in this derivative fairy-tale universe is destined to live crappily ever after.