There has been a massive change of late in the way Hollywood and its audiences think of entertainment. Bleak and gritty stories seem to dominate the landscape, even when it comes to fairy tales, fantasy, and films targeted toward younger audiences. Mirror Mirror is that breath of fresh air; a delightful, comical and light-hearted take on the classic tale of Snow White. Though its uncertainty in parts ultimately hurts the film, charming and often hilarious performances and the usual breathtaking visuals from Tarsem, help to justify Mirror Mirror as the fairest of them all.
Julia Roberts stars as the “Evil Queen” – I put that in quotations because she isn’t so much evil as a deeply insecure, selfish, and power-hungry woman – who has inherited the throne after her husband, the King (and Snow White’s father), mysteriously vanishes in the dark woods. Deeply jealous of her beauty, the Queen keeps Snow White (Lily Collins) hidden away in the castle, under her watchful eye. It is when Snow White decides to venture out of the castle to explore her kingdom that she meets the charming Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), who is immediately taken with her beauty. Jealous and angry, the Evil Queen desires to marry the Prince herself, so she hatches a plan to have Snow White killed by her bumbling servant, Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Unable to go through with the plan, Brighton abandons Snow White in the woods, where she is rescued by a group of bandits: the seven dwarves. The dwarves are a perfect example of where Tarsem has taken creative liberties over this classic tale, infusing personality and character into these confidants of Snow White. The seven dwarves are pitch-perfect, with numerous recognizable faces amongst the bunch, including Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld), Jordan Prentice (In Bruges), and Martin Klebba (Project X). With the help of the seven dwarves, Snow White hatches her own plan to win the heart of Prince Alcott and overthrow the Evil Queen in the process.
Tarsem never tries to make the film anything more than its story, with numerous laughs and some terrific over-the-top, self-aware performances from Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer and Nathan Lane, not to mention the terrific give-and-take displayed by the seven dwarves. Mirror Mirror thrives in its oddball fun, campy humor that never outstays its welcome, and goodhearted ways, all wrapped up in outstanding visuals. Where the film suffers is in its trepidations in fully embracing these aspects of the film.
There’s a truly hilarious moment in which Snow White proudly states she’s tired of all the classic stories having the Prince save the Princess, and maybe its time for a change. In a self-aware way, Prince Alcott pronounces that “they’ve focus-grouped this before” and “it works.” Gleefully “meta” aspects of this statement aside, it’s unfortunate that Mirror Mirror seemingly falls to the “focus-grouped” type mistakes in story. The film is unable or perhaps unwilling to fully commit to its special type of humor and story-telling, as it feels obligated to hit the usual narrative beats and often abandon what keeps this film alive: its offbeat humor and fantastical elements.
Perhaps where this is most evident is in Snow White herself. Lily Collins is able to display that she has the ability in there somewhere to match wits and talent with those she shares the screen with, but the film isn’t committed to making her character all that interesting or unique, particularly when compared to the colorful characters and settings throughout the film. Collins displays a quiet and sincere sweetness in Snow White, as well as moments of surprising strength and independence. With precious few moments where she is allowed to break out of this shell, it is the unfortunate case where Snow White is often outshone by the film around her.
At its best, Mirror Mirror is able to showcase the immense visual talent of Tarsem Singh, with utterly hilarious and impressively committed performances – particularly from Armie Hammer, who steals the show – and a campy, sincere, and colorful vision of the classic Snow White tale. While at times feeling unaware of what it really wants to be, Mirror Mirror is a pleasantly delightful family fairy tale, which is a largely enjoyable, if not uneven, fairy tale.
Note: This writer strongly encourages you to stay through a good portion of the credits. (You’ll thank me later!)
Rated: PG (for some fantasy action and mild rude humor)
Mirror Mirror opens nationwide on March 30, 2012.