Mirror mirror, on the wall, which is the fairest Snow White film of all? The last year has seen two vastly different versions of the classic fairy tale racing to the big screen, with Tarsem Singh’s vibrant Mirror Mirror taking a huge risk by jumping to the head of the pack. That forced the visual auteur to cram the shooting schedule to a ridiculous degree, but it doesn’t appear to have affected his gifted touch for lavish color palettes and soapy storylines. Unlike Snow White and the Huntsman, which has staked its ground firmly in gloomy Lord of the Rings territory, Mirror Mirror is a cheeky, deliriously beautiful romp with a malicious edge thanks to Julia Roberts’s most inspired performance in years as the Evil Queen.
In fact, it’s precisely because we see the story told form the Queen’s despicable point of view that it works so well. The villain is always the most interesting character, and in this case it is particularly true. Beginning with a snarky, self serving introduction by the Queen, her gold digging history is retold through graceful, porcelain marionettes. The original story isn’t altered very much, with the Queen repainted as a money grubbing man eater who goes through husbands as fast as she can change her many outlandish outfits. Her last husband, the former King(Sean Bean), went missing, and she’s been left to raise his daughter, Snow White(Lily Collins). Her hatred for the girl literally drips from every venomous syllable, while Snow is blissfully unaware. Ruling like some sort of mad Marie Antoinette, the Queen has spent herself into bankruptcy with grand parties and taxed the kingdom into ruin, but that’s the least of her concerns. Vanity begins to take hold as the Queen starts to show signs of age, “Those aren’t wrinkles, they’re crinkles”, and to maintain her place as the fairest woman in the land, Snow White must die. Little does she know that Snow has seen how the country has fallen into despair under her rule, and joins forces with a band of merry band of thieving dwarves to help set things right. Not that the Queen cares, as she’s too busy trying to woo the pants(and money) off the courageous but hapless Prince Alcott(Armie Hammer).
The dwarves are an instant delight, vast in personality and humor, playing thieves in the vain of Robin Hood rather than just goofy miners who whistle while they work.They bicker like brothers and their quirks clash to a hysterical degree, yet they are all unique and each gets their moment to shine.The dwarves neatly fit into the not-too-serious tone of the entire film. It feels light, airy, and has a hint of comedic self awareness similar to Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, or even The Princess Bride. Similar to those wonderful fantasy tales, there are a wealth of memorable portrayals, starting obviously with Roberts, but also extending to the dwarves and Nathan Lane as the Queen’s beleaguered assistant, always the brunt of her most sadistic urges. Hammer perhaps had the most intriguing role of all, as his Prince Charming is far from Snow’s dashing hero. He’s basically a moron with a heart of gold, while Snow is the swashbuckling warrior. The script twists and joyfully plays with classic story in little ways like this that keep it fresh.
Such a broad array of wonderful portrayals only highlights the deficiencies of Lily Collins. She’s too subdued, too rigid, and not at all in keeping with the whimsical and overly theatrical spirit. She’s completely devoured by Roberts in practically every scene, and even fades into the background amongst her dwarven co-stars. Collins does improve as Snow gains in strength and confidence, becoming an alluring, likable heroine, but never to the point where you wish for the devilish Queen to be defeated. She’s just so nasty! Even her reflection hates her guts.
Singh’s simple, imaginative special effects give the impression of a fairy tale pop-up book, although they do him a disservice when action and a little bit of fear is called for. That tends to be the case with all of his films, however. They’re too glossy and pretty to ever truly be dark and terrifying. The humor is mostly aimed at the Disney audience, especially with silly gags like the Prince getting hit by a “puppy love” spell that has him literally barking, however there’s plenty of mature gags, mostly involving the Queen’s insatiable lusting. Parents will probably be kept busy staring at all the garish costumes and wild hairstyles. Look for the kingdom elder with a similar hair cut as Mickey Rourke’s ridiculous clawed outfit in Immortals.
The right choice was made by Singh to rush Mirror Mirror out the door because it’s such a cheery wisp of a film that it would be all but ignored against the blockbusting, CGI heavy ‘Huntsman’. Farcical, gorgeously crafted, and more than willing to poke fun at itself, Mirror Mirror may just be the fairest when all is said and done, and if not at least we know everyone had a good time taking second place. Who knew that Roberts could make evil look so darn fun?