What It Is
You’ve heard Snow White’s story before. But you may not have heard the Wicked Queen’s. As Clementianna (Julia Roberts) tells her version at the beginning of Mirror Mirror, animated figures act out an increasingly dark tale, wherein Snow White’s mother dies in childbirth and her father disappears into the woods one night — after he takes a moment to marry Clementianna, who is left behind to care for her stepdaughter. Afraid the child will grow up to become “the fairest of them all,” the evil queen keeps her locked inside the castle, while she visits regularly with the source of her power, a magic mirror where she faces a pale, digitized version of herself.
The movie’s present-day story begins as Snow (grown up to be the very fair Lily Collins) tries one more time to leave the castle. The queen refuses and so the girl sneaks out anyway, whereupon she encounters the handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). Following a brief exchange of glances and quips, they’re both smitten. Now the movie only has to sort out how to get them together.
First, Alcott spends some days visiting with the queen, who decides to make him her next (fifth) husband. Determined that Snow will not distract him, Clementianna sends her faithful servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) into the woods to kill the girl. He doesn’t: he lies to the queen and Snow finds shelter with the seven dwarves. She cooks for them and in return, they train her to swordfight and run a few martial arts moves. As the queen continues to tax the impoverished townspeople to support her own lavish life, Snow and her new friends — including boastful Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), good-natured Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark), and grumpy Butcher (Martin Klebba) — steal from the rich to give back to the poor.
Snow embraces her new role, part Robin Hood, part Wendy Darling, and occasionally slapsticky romantic comedienne. Still, she’s sad to learn the announcement that the prince will be marrying her stepmother (this after he’s slipped a magic potion by the queen). She and her team decide to rescue Alcott, leaning to fights and chases and showdowns.
Why It’s Fun
This update on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, written by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller, is very keen to make Snow a capable action hero, as well as the cleverest, nicest, most stunningly beautiful girl you can imagine. As such, she’s actually quite fun, unencumbered by the kinds of ethical questions or family responsibilities that might bother, say, Katniss Everdeen. This makes her part of the film very energetic: she runs about, jumps and flips and throws her (father’s) dagger.
The movie also sets up Snow with helpful and utterly loyal supporters, from Brighton to the royal baker, Margaret (Mare Winningham), to the dwarf Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), who has an unrequited and frequently remarked crush on her (a series of jokes premised on the absolute impossibility that she would be attracted to a dwarf... or on the absolutely crucial plot point that the prince is her one and only true love). She’s charming with all in different ways, and makes an appealing protagonist, alternately vulnerable and valiant.
The film’s primary draw, however will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a film directed by Tarsem Singh: the set designs, costumes, and makeup are brilliant. The evil queen wears outrageous and brightly colored gowns and throws a party where everyone has to be dressed in fairy tale costumes — the prince comes as the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, the queen as the Red Queen, and Snow as a swan. The action outfits are also great: Snow looks sharp in her bandit’s slacks, and the dwarves menace their enemies and targets by loping bout the woods on giant springy stilts: these allow them to leap and pivot, kick and tumble in weird and cartoony ways.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the fairy tale may be intrigued by the changes in plot, which have Snow doing her own work and not sleeping until she’s rescued.
Fans of recent girl-oriented adventure stories will appreciate Snow’s gumption and especially, her rejection of the “time-tested, focus-grouped” plot the prince wants to run through, where he saves her.
Younger viewers might get a kick out of Alcott’s odd behavior — whimpering and licking and panting — when the queen mistakenly doses him with a “puppy love” potion.
Everyone will be impressed by the production design, color, and costumes. Even the ideas that don’t quite work — Clementianna’s bizarre walks through water, onto a bridge and into a grimly grassy hut to meet with her decidedly creepy mirror image — are original.
What To Be Aware Of
The movie includes some dark ideas, including the early tragedies of Snow’s lost parents. Such darkness — brought on by the evil queen — is embodied by a dragon-bodied, furry-faced beast in the woods, who mostly streaks by at the edges of the frame, until the end of the movie when you learn the beast’s true identity.
The darkness is also contrasted repeatedly with the perfectly pure Snow. Clementianna goes so far as to make fun of the name, Snow White: “the most pretentious name they could come up with.” And this is a second element that’s helpful to know going in: the verbal jokes can be clever, they can fall flat, and they can also be vaguely crude. Most of these, concerning the queen’s lusty interest in the prince’s body, the fact that when the dwarves rob the prince and his aide, they strip off their clothes, or the fact that the queen dresses them in less than masculine “coverings” when they come to her castle.
As well, when the queen turns Brighton into a cockroach for several days, he comes back looking dazed, and claims that, “In a strange turn of events, a grasshopper took advantage of me.” You can call that very strange.
To file under “ewww”: the queen undergoes a “treatment” that involves the melting of bird doo-doo, then applied to her face, as well a dousing with some sort of white goop all over her body.
7 out of 10
Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Ronald Lee Clark, Robert Emms, Martin Klebba, Mark Povinelli, Jordan Prentice, Sebastian Saraceno, Danny Woodburn
Studio: Relativity Media
US Premiere: March 30, 2012
UK Premiere: April 2, 2012