If the trailer for Mirror Mirror had you turning up your nose a little, don’t worry, because that poorly assembled two minute tease is thankfully not representative of the finished article. Perhaps the film’s sweet-natured tone, unique among many current live action films, just didn’t suit being removed from its greater context.
Tarsem Singh’s adaptation of the classic Snow White fairytale stars Julia Roberts as Queen Clementianna, a vain, preening Monarch who drains her country’s resources in order to fund her extravagant lifestyle. Trapped in her castle is Snow White, who isn’t allowed outside and who knows little of the wider world. As we all know from the original story, the Queen is jealous of her step-daughter’s purity and good looks. This film takes various liberties with the material, but most of the fundamentals are there in some form or another.
The great difference from previous adaptations is the general look and tone of the film. Singh’s usual visual excess is on full display but, unlike in his insufferable Ancient Greek epic Immortals, is pleasantly and sumptuously integrated with the story. Rare instances of CGI conspire to ruin the effect at times, but this remains an attractive film to look at. The sprightly, saccharine tone is entirely intentional, and the triumph of the film is that it works. The trailer inadvertently gives a crass, sickly-sweet impression, whereas the film itself is actually charmingly self-effacing and unashamedly targeted at a broad family audience. As a result it feels neither calculated nor cynical.
It is that lack of cynicism which makes the script’s intermittent forays into sarcasm feel so anachronistic. Julia Roberts is good as the Queen, and is not afraid to poke fun at herself, but she also gets the most of these misfiring quips. When the film is simply being sweet and good natured, it’s much more successful. And from that good nature comes a breed of family-friendly comedy which is actually quite funny at times. There are some good recurring visual gags and the dynamics between the seven dwarves, and between the Queen and her long-suffering butler Brighton (Nathan Lane), are good fun.
I said the film stars Julia Roberts because despite not playing the titular character she probably gets the most screen time. That said, Lily Collins is wonderfully sweet as Snow, and Armie Hammer (The Social Network) is just as good, playing the handsome but hapless Prince Alcott. Of course, Lily Collins isn’t the only Snow White we’ll see on the big screen this year, as Kristen Stewart is due to take up the mantle in a much more action-orientated fantasy epic later in the year, Snow White And The Huntsman.
This film was a relief to watch after Singh’s bungled action spectacle last year, and while it isn’t as good as The Fall, it does at least get him back on track. Its affable nature is hampered at times by misjudged dialogue quirks, there is a framing device around the narrative which doesn’t really amount to much and the ending doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head (save the bizarre musical number over the closing credits), but this is a surprisingly likable revisionist take on the popular story.