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Movie Review

'Mirror Mirror' offers reflection on Snow White

By Rob Rector | Apr 09, 2012

Snow White has been quite fortuitous for the world of cinema. There have been more than 20 adaptations dating back to 1902, covering every genre from horror to comedy to porn (and yet, Snow's most embarrassing career low point was dancing with Rob Lowe at the 1989 Oscars).

The Grimm Brothers fairy tale was cleaned up a smidge (the queen no longer had to literally dance to death in iron-spiked-insole shoes) and became Disney's first venture into feature-length animation. It’s not that the tale was overwhelmingly sought after by the studio, but rather it was free (it was one of many tales in which the copyright had expired and it was free for adaptation). This is perhaps why there is such a proliferation of “Snow White” interpretations, for there are few royalties to pay. There are four films with Ms. White scheduled for this year alone, including another big-budget version later this year and two cheapies, one of which stars Maureen (Marcia Brady) McCormick as the evil stepmother.

The Mouse House had success in transforming its animated tales “101 Dalmatians,” and “Alice in Wonderland” into live action a few years back, and both “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” are apparently in the works.

Which brings us to “Mirror Mirror,” Relativity Media's extreme makeover of the classic tale. Following "Wonderland's" lead, the film plays rather loosely with the tale, transforming Snow into a "Hunger Games"-like warrior in no need of a prince to save her from slumber and adding a heavy dose of snark and irony to the oft-told tale.

Snow is played by newcomer Lily Collins (daughter of musician Phil), who is pretty and perky and as colorless as her character's name. Nathan Lane is cast for comic relief, Armie Hammer as the princely eye candy, but, as the poster suggests, the real star is Julia Roberts as the evil queen.

Much like Glenn Close in "Dalmatians," Roberts revels in being nasty, and she's rather fun when she's given the chance, but the film has more dead wood than a haunted forest.

Let's start with the direction. Tarsem Singh has always favored style over substance (from his arresting-but-empty debut "The Cell" to his unintentionally hilarious trash-of-the-titans take on mythology, "The Immortals." And while his visually sumptuous tendencies work best in a film with more dream-like narratives ("The Cell"), they are not comfortably at home in comedy.

The core of the narrative magic apple is the same: Snow, after her father's passing, has been held captive by her wicked stepmother, the Queen. There are magic potions, dwarves, charming princes, etc., but none of it threatens to erase the memory of the classic Disney ‘toon.

The problem with "Mirror" is that it wants its fairy-tale whimsy, its silly humor and its post-ironic skewering of these very same fairy-tale conventions in equal measure, and it's an uneven potion at best. This can be handled deftly; just go revisit the wonderfully warped humor of the animated "Fractured Fairy Tales" of long ago, but too often it goes for the cheap, odd yuks resigned to the latter, unnecessary "Shrek" films. Here, the jokes only push audiences away from a story they are supposed to find involving.

Singh does manage to employ an abundance of dazzle for the film's set design, though, and for the many faults "Mirror Mirror" may reflect, boredom is certainly not one of them. Roberts also plays a big part in this, as she seems to splash about this wonderland without the restraint she so often chooses.

But she alone cannot cast a spell large enough to mend this "Mirror." While it may engage the youngest of viewers and satiate those who wish to do no more than soak in some pretty pictures, "Mirror, Mirror" is minor, minor, and only leaves us hungry to see just what the tale may awaken in the upcoming dramatic retelling, "Snow White and the Huntsman," when it arrives in June.

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