Presented as a live-action family film, Mirror Mirror is the first of two very different, but equally high profile 2012 adaptations of the iconic tale of a princess named Snow White and her quest in finding her handsome Prince Charming. Aiding in that pursuit, are seven dwarves who work with Snow White in helping her vanquish an evil queen and restore a wondrous kingdom to its rightful heir. It is indeed a tale that has been told, interpreted, and reinvented countless times, but in all honesty, “Snow White” seems a story well suited for the dazzling and innovative director Tarsem Singh.
Singh’s approach to the story, Mirror Mirror features a fair amount of alterations made to the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale, but essentially this is a simple take on the classic tale; one which seems to have an eye towards a possible franchise moving forward. The evil queen (Julia Roberts) is “raising” her orphaned step-daughter, the beautiful and kind-hearted Snow White (Lily Collins), who is banished to her bedroom. Snow White’s father left her the gift of a dagger and promised to return as he set off to battle, but he never came home and his wife, the queen, controls his and his daughter’s kingdom. The opulent palace they call home is bathed in a stunning colorful palette with its architecture and is an extraordinary backdrop to the queen’s expensive and lavish parties and galas. Just outside the queen’s palatial estate however, the neighboring towns are bleak, dark, and destitute.
Throwing a gala for Snow White’s 18th birthday, the queen is advised by her loyal footman, Brighton (Nathan Lane), that she is simply out of money. The queen’s solution is to return to the village and raid the population for more taxes, which Brighton willingly does but the queen has her eyes set on finding a new husband to make her rich. Disappointed with the current selection of potential suitors, she turns her eyes on the handsome Prince Andrew (Armie Hammer), who finds himself in the queen’s presence after he and his friend Charles (Robert Emms) were outsmarted and captured by seven feisty dwarves, hung upside down from a tree and discovered by Snow White, who finds them after secretly sneaking out of the palace to see the town’s deplorable conditions firsthand.
The queen becomes smitten with the handsome Prince and arranges for the Prince to attend the birthday ball for Snow White. Immediately, the queen becomes angered when the Prince appears to fall for the beautiful young girl, and the queen arranges for Brighton to take her step-daughter to the woods and end her life.
Most everyone will know what happens from here. Brighton cannot bring himself to commit the deed, instructs Snow to run, and she encounters those dwarves, whose names are refashioned as Butcher, Chuckles, Grimm, Grub, Half Pint, Napoleon, and Wolf. They gave her a place to stay, with certain house rules and provisions of course, and they eventually play an integral role in helping Snow White return home to attempt to seize back her rightful kingdom once and for all.
Tailored for younger viewers, Mirror Mirror is light, rather slight, and in terms of a screenplay to consider, pretty much paint-by-numbers. Screenwriters Jason Keller (Machine Gun Preacher) and first-time writer Melissa Wallack have played things quite safe and while the film is amusing, the gut-busting laugh-out-loud moments are scant and few. However, Mirror Mirror is not a bore. In its weaker moments, essentially the second-half of the film, the movie just meanders along with Julia Roberts being all evil and mean and Lily Collins playing a direct antithesis to her co-star. The dwarves are obviously designed to steal the show and to their credit, a few of them, especially Butcher, played by Martin Klebba (the only saving grace in the atrocious 2012 R-rated comedy “Project X”), deliver a few memorable moments that win you over.
Save the laboring second-half, there is not a great deal wrong with Mirror Mirror though. Director Tarsem Singh (often credited as Tarsem, but cited here by his full name of Tarsem Singh Dhandwar) has thus far been associated with darker and more edgier content found in his films The Cell, The Fall, and 2011’s Immortals. Mirror Mirror represents the first chance that wide-ranging audiences (i.e. families) will get to see Tarsem’s unique and unquenchable imagination. Likely, from a visual standpoint, few, if any, viewers will be disappointed with the film’s presentation and I quickly became quite taken with the appearance of Mirror Mirror. Aiding in the visual beauty of the film is the work of the late costume designer, Eiko Ishioka, who passed away in January 2012. Fingers crossed that Ishioka’s work is remembered come Oscar nomination time – her work here is quite incredible.
The bottom line for a film such as this is whether or not Mirror Mirror is worthy enough to take family members and/or younger viewers to go see. While it succeeds in rendering the darker themes of the story palatable in unique and lofty ways, the film seldom does enough in the first-half to hold your interest through a lackluster second-half. I wish the film, as a whole, was tighter and better executed, as surprisingly the movie seems disjointed in balancing between the evil queen, the handsome Prince, and Snow White and those seven dwarves. However, Julia Roberts settles in just fine as a villainous queen, even if at first she seems badly miscast, and Lily Collins is someone to keep an eye on, blossoming with a somewhat thankless role, which, in terms of telling the story of “Snow White” as a family film, will forever be defined by Disney’s iconic character image.
I liked Mirror Mirror just fine. Tarsem’s visuals and inventive set pieces solidify the film as a success, even if the story is uneven and suffers from a storytelling standpoint. There are more than a few individual moments which younger viewers will laugh at and appreciate and the parents or adult viewers will stay interested and amused. Mirror Mirror may not blow the doors off the theater, as some feel the darker, PG-13 rated, Kristen Stewart/Charlize Theron-led Snow White And The Huntsman may do in the summertime, but this serves its purpose well and may bring Lily Collins a great deal of fame and opportunity if the movie becomes a success.