Forget the story you know, or think you know. Tarsem Singh (The Fall, Immortals) takes the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale and looks at it through his insanely stylized goggles. Add to it an Oscar-winner, a dash or two of campiness, some wonderful set designs and the result is something that even the happiest fairy tales couldn’t come close to. While the trailers looked to contain off-putting levels of saccharine laced kid friendly material, there’s actually a lot of fun that won’t necessarily cause parents’ eyes to continuously roll. Simply put you don’t have to go in with low expectations to have a good time.
Snow White is the fairest maiden in the kingdom and the evil queen envies her youthful visage and so…you get the idea and if you don’t know the story by now, this isn’t the site to fill you in on the details. Since everyone on the planet knows the story, what Tarsem does with Mirror Mirror is take the bare bones and weaves a fun revisionist yarn just enough to make this retread (one of two this year alone) worth telling. First off, calling this film Mirror Mirror should be a telling clue that this isn’t solely the tale of Snow White. In what might be inspired storytelling we get a good chunk of this tale told from the Queen’s (Julia Roberts) point of view. Similar to what Dreamworks did with the Shrek series, Mirror Mirror acknowledges that things in fairy-tales are hokey and to the point of being self-aware, peppers the story with healthy levels of sarcasm. Ultimately that works in the film’s favor which makes it funnier than just being another straight up tale of an angry antagonist (who really does antagonize) plotting against two goodie-goodies.
Julia Roberts is known for all kinds of cute and plucky roles from Tinkerbell to Pretty Woman. As such, her reputation for playing adorable characters just doesn’t prepare you for her slightly jarring turn as such a smarmy and snarky villain. Yet there’s a limit of believability to which Roberts could be taken seriously as a “bad guy” so while she’s the heavy she still plays it light, all the while just nailing her sarcastic role. With her role, Tarsem gives a little more depth to the part as her famous “mirror” is actually the Queen’s repressed better judgement/conscience. It actually make perfect sense and is a neat way to justify her motivations. She’s vain so by talking to “herself” she continuously fuels her own vanity and narcissism.
Playing the young leads are Lily Collins (The Blind Side) and Armie Hamer (The Social Network) who do their best to embody the other two main characters Snow and The Prince. They do their best to deliver the cheezy lines and try to believe in the world even though it clearly has a staged feel to it all and as so much attention is spent on looks, the story unfairly suffers. The characters, despite the liberties and modern sensibilities, are still very two dimensional. Collins is lovely and with every other word she seems likely to break into song (but thankfully this film is sans musical numbers). Hammer is a far cry from The Social Network’s Winklevoss twins and just can’t bring anything to the borderline soap opera dialog. Not his fault as any great thespian would fail to give an Oscar-caliber turn in this role. In terms of expanding his reputation, this doesn’t do much for his resume save for maybe getting a younger demographic interested in his upcoming Lone Ranger.
Once the story gets moving and the hammy/tongue-in-cheek deliveries subside, Mirror Mirror keeps a pretty even pace that doesn’t make you constantly steal glances at your watch. Then when things start to wrap up the story can’t fight the narrative and all signs inescapably point to a happy ending. But hey that’s a fairy-tale for ya right? However there is one element that fired on all cylinders; the re-imagined 7 dwarfs. You’ll be hard pressed to find any similarities between Sleepy, Happy and the Disney bunch and the delightful personalities of Napolean, Grub and the rest of the new dwarfs. As they are such a welcomed addition to this story and ceaselessly entertaining it’s best to go into the movie knowing next to nothing about them. But guaranteed, they’ll crack smiles and warm hearts.
As this is a Tarsem Singh picture, whether or not you find the story fulfilling/entertaining, you can be sure you’ll be wowed by the visuals. However, since this is a much more light-hearted fare, this is almost like Singh reigned himself in a bit. We’re not treated to trippy or mind bending sequences yet the production team looks like they’ve spared no expense on high end Broadway set-pieces. There are vastly intricate and lavish sets, wardrobes etc.so much so that this whole film looks like a literal interpretation of any number of fanciful Disney animated films. Further the excess of style and color (which admittedly is laughable more than a handful of times) would make many Bollywood productions envious. Finally, the music from Alan Menken brings that decidedly Disney feel and becomes the icing atop a multi-layered cake of gooey kiddie-centric storytelling.
Based loosely enough on the beloved story’s source material and the manner in which Tarsem delivers it, Mirror Mirror is really more fun than it should be. Sure as a fairy-tale movie, some thing’s you can’t avoid but it’s all in good fun. You might even be surprised that not all of the kiddie humor is going to be lost on the adults. The fun along the way is rather fulfilling especially to anyone who grew up wathcing and loving films like The Princess Bride, Willow and any of Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam’s lighter fares. This might be a film you’ll be going into with lowered expectations but whether or not you do you’re bound to find something to enjoy in Tarsem’s vision of Snow White. Mirror Mirror is nowhere near perfect but for the parts that work it’s highly enjoyable, charming and really funny.