Mirror Mirror is a striking, visual film. There’s a very light, comedic touch to the story and lots of pretty people giving quality performances. While it’s likely to be seen by many as the “other” Snow White film this year, there’s much to recommend it. It’s like a chiffon cake. It’s pretty and light, but it also won’t satisfy completely.
The story is actually somewhat unfamiliar when one considers the Snow White story. In this version, Snow White (Lily Collins, daughter of Phil) is a princess, shut up in a single room in the castle by her step-mother, the Queen (Julia Robert), who’s taken command of the kingdom following the disappearance of her husband, Snow White’s father. The queen has bankrupted the kingdom, throwing lavish parties and dressing in all manner of finery. The kingdom, formerly a place where townspeople literally danced and sang in the streets, has fallen into misery, and a strange beast haunts the dark forest beyond, making the people ever fearful. After being encouraged to see for herself what the queen has done to the kingdom, Snow White runs into a handsome prince (Armie Hammer) and his servant, who’ve been accosted by bandits on the road, the seven dwarves, who use springy stilts to make themselves appear as giants and fight. Returning to the castle, the Prince and Snow White meet again at a ball being thrown in his honor by the Queen, who wishes to marry him to secure her financial future. After recognizing the attraction between Snow White and the Prince, she sends Snow White off to the forest to be killed, either by the beast or by her toady servant, Brighton (Nathan Lane). After that, the story essentially resumes normal course; Snow White meets and befriends the dwarves leading to a climactic confrontation with the Queen and the beast late in the film.
Director Tarsem Singh creates a striking visual world in this adaptation. Vibrant colors are present in nearly every shot at the palace, and there are striking shots throughout the rest of the film. The film’s light, comic tone actually works pretty well for the material, especially since Roberts plays a very different kind of wicked queen, much more sarcastic and mean than menacing. She’s much more willing to make a cutting remark or seek to erode Snow White’s confidence than to have her heart cut out. Collins is the closest approximation to the animated Snow White you might imagine in real life. The seven dwarves are pretty adept at physical comedy and in developing different characters, apart from the classic Disney characterizations, though some stand out more than others. Hammer’s asked to carry a major comedic load and does a nice job, and Lane is his usual scene-stealing self. There are some fun sequences, too, such as a pair of large marionettes who magically try to destroy the dwarves’ home.
There is, however, such a thing as having too light a touch. It seems odd to say, but this is much more the Wicked Queen’s movie than Snow White’s, and that focus tends to lead the audience down plot points and alleys that they may not really desire or care to travel. This isn’t the musical Wicked; there’s no attempt to make the “evil” character more sympathetic or likable, it’s just watching a bad person doing bad things to people who don’t know her very well or can’t seem to stand up for themselves. Using Roberts, who engenders such goodwill from the audience, actually cuts against the movie in this respect. Since there’s little malevolence behind what she does, there no sense of why anyone should really fear the queen. Snow White’s often an afterthought, and we don’t know enough about the Prince character to really care about what his fate is. And some of the dwarves really could have used a little more in the way of focus.
Parents with young children shouldn’t really have anything to fear from this movie, and it’s likely that younger teens will be attracted to the story of the young protagonist and the slapstick comedy of the dwarves. Adults may like seeing a different take on a familiar story, some of the sly nods to past fairy tale adaptations or to see Roberts and Lane in action. But don’t expect to leave the theatre completely filled up.