"Davenport Films calls this production an American version of "Snow White," but that description undervalues this exceptional work. "Willa" artfully interweaves the classic tales of "Snow White" and "Romeo and Juliet," and throws in hints of the Wizard of Oz to boot. This iconoclastic combination works remarkably well. The result is charming, funny, unpredictable, and deeply touching.
At the outset, a young girl named Willa tries to win the affection of her stepmother, an accomplished actress now past her prime. Unable to cope with her stepdaughter's beauty and talent, the mother sends her driver to murder the girl. Instead, the driver drops Willa in the woods where she stumbles upon a trio of itinerant performers.
This beautifully produced and well-acted production (the cast was recruited from Washington DC's American Shakespeare Theater) is the first feature-length adaptation by Davenport Films. The company has previously produced several excellent films adapted from Grimm's fairy tales. Of the half a dozen Davenport Film productions I've seen, this is the company's best work so far."
Children's Video Reports Vol. 11 No. 4/5 1997 (4 stars) Ages 10 and up.
"Tom Davenport's latest production in his Brother's Grimm series is this stylish remake of 'Snow White,' set in early-twentieth century America. While warily warm at the outset, the relationship between beautiful, young Willa and the older Regina, a famous stage actress who had married Willa's late father, deteriorates, setting the stage for the older actress's spiral into jealous madness. Willa escapes Regina's revenge, joins a medicine show and its three odd showmen, and, in her travels, comes across her (eventual) "prince charming" -- a movie producer on his way to California. The acting is superb, with parts convincingly portrayed, often with a telling glance or body position. Davenport's use of light and camera angles reflects the darkness of the original tale; this production, however, is not dark, for its is sprinkled with humor. There is a murder and a fiery death, but the effective editing allows the mind to imagine rather than the eyes to see too much. An excellent addition to the filmmaker's folktale series, it will be enjoyed by both older children and adults."
Debbie McLeod Booklist (The American Library Association)
"Once upon a time there was a filmmaker in Virginia named Tom Davenport who had the uncanny knack of being able to create winsome live-action American Versions of classic fairy tales in a multi-award winning series called From the Brothers Grimm... and, by golly, he's gone and done it again! In Willa: An American Snow White -- based on the timeless tale of monstrous vanity transforming into a murderous jealousy -- the young Becky Stark is radiant as the photogenic orphan Willa. Having lost her mother and later her (remarried) father, poor Willa now lives with her aging stepmother Regina (Caitlin O'Connell), a former queen of the stage who carries a certain mirror which reassures her regularly that she's the bee's knees.
"Although Willa tries to court her stepmother's favor, she makes the nearly fatal error of attending a house party looking better than her stepmother; an offense which is, of course, punishable by death. Taking mercy on the child, Regina's henpecked servant Otto (Mark Jaster) takes her into the woods, where she later hooks up with a traveling medicine fair (the story is set circa 1915) and -- sweet irony -- ends up playing Snow White on stage to rapt small-town audiences.
"From a business standpoint, naturally, the play is not the thing; what's important are the commercials. Which is why the crowds are regularly regaled with eloquent sales pitches for Chief Tonka's Elixir of Life (the innocent Willa, when questioning the potion's actual efficacy in alleviating all and sundry woes is told succinctly: "It's not meant to cure, it's meant to sell.")
"Needless to say, complications arise when Regina discovers that her stepdaughter is not only still sucking in oxygen, but playing to (relatively) packed village fields, a fact which really makes her come unglued in a kind of Gloria-Swanson-Sunset Boulevard-ish way. Clever scripting, wonderful comic timing, Davenport's trademark faithfulness to the darkness of the tales (this is not the Care Bears version), and sly asides on the thespian trade, make Willa an altogether enjoyable addition to the impressive Davenport oeuvre, which includes Ashpet: An American Cinderella (VL 5/91) and Mutzmag: An Appalachian Folktale (VL-7/93) Highly recommended. Aud: I, J,P"
Randy Pitman, editor Video Librarian (September-October 1997) Cover story
"An evil and jealous stepmother, a pure-in-spirit girl, and oddball sidekicks are the essential ingredients that make up this entertaining contemporary version of the fairy tale, Snow White. Set in rural Virginia in 1915, this version is characterized by strong performances by actors from the American Shakespeare Theater, elaborate sets, and beautiful natural scenery. It preserves the original tale's themes of death and resurrection, and betrayal and friendship. Cleverly incorporating the actual tale into its story, Willa is an excellent addition to the film series, and proves engrossing and suspenseful. Families watching at home, and teachers and students in classrooms, will find the film of interest not only because of its high quality, but because of the interesting comparisons to be made with its better known inspiration."
Barb White, Akron Summit County Public Library, OH. School Library Journal Nov 1997