Hollywood’s latest salvo in the war on originality comes in the form of Mirror Mirror, the umpteenth feature based on the story of Snow White, and the first of two such films to arrive this year, within mere months of each other (Snow White and the Huntsman being the second). But happily, it seems these two films will be able to coexist.
Mirror Mirror is a lighthearted, family-friendly treatment of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale that doesn’t stray too far from previous versions. Snow (Lily Collins) is the rightful heir to a faraway wintry kingdom, but her evil stepmother, the queen (Julia Roberts), has held fast to the throne and secluded Snow in the castle ever since the benevolent king went missing in the forest years ago. On her 18th birthday, Snow begins to question the queen’s worthiness to rule, sneaking out of the castle to see what life is truly like for the queen’s subjects. While on her excursion, she has the requisite meet-cute with Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), who’s been strung up by the septet of dwarves, who here are roguish but amiable bandits. The queen, wanting the prince for herself and already jealous of Snow’s beauty, decides it’s time to take her out once and for all.
The film hews very closely to the modern-day Disney approach to storytelling: a strong-willed, independent heroine; a handsome but soft, and occasionally buffoonish hero; and contemporary speech patterns. Disney actually came to mind several times during the film because, at the risk of being corny, it could have used an injection of the Mouse’s magic. Aside from a beautiful animated prologue featuring porcelain figures, director Tarsem Singh’s signature visual style seems surprisingly reined in here, used primarily when it comes to the queen’s magical mirror. In one of the more original concepts, it acts not as a static wall hanging, but as a portal to a mystical hut on a black sea, where the queen goes to converse with the mirror’s image—a more ethereal and moral version of herself. The mirror acts as her conscience, as well as controls all uses of magic, at the queen’s behest. It’s a neat idea, though not explored in any great detail.
Restraint also seems to be the watchword for the film’s humor. This is Tarsem’s first “funny” movie, and it shows. Much of the dialogue is underplayed and conversational, lacking the kind of punch necessary for this kind of material. Much of it just doesn’t land, creating some awkward, flat moments. There are some genuine laughs, coming mostly from Julia Roberts, surprisingly enough, as well as her attendant Brighton, played earnestly by Nathan Lane. But more often than not the pacing and direction just sag.
Still and all, Mirror Mirror definitely has its heart in the right place. It’s good, harmless fun that kids will enjoy, and parents might, too—even if it aims for the stars, but only brushes the treetops.
Director: Tarsem Singh
Writers: Melissa Wallack, Jason Keller
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane
Release Date: Mar. 30, 2012