There is something delightful about a movie in which the handsome Prince insists that it must be him who saves the lovely damsel, and not vice-versa, because “it does well with carefully studied focus groups”. This comes right after the damsel, Snow White (Lily Collins, daughter of Phil Collins) exclaims that “it’s time to change that ending”. Mirror Mirror is the type of self-reflexive, sly in-joke fairytale within the tradition of the original - just the original and not the sequels - Shrek, and it carries a freshness we haven’t seen since.
I’ll be honest, after The Immortals I had lost all faith in Tarsem. Sure, his visuals were as good as ever but the story there lacked everything a story needed to uphold itself: character, pace, sense, and the audience’s attention. Mirror, Mirror is not a throwback to Tarsem’s earlier work as in The Cell or The Fall - it is not as “artsy”. But I’ll say that it is a successful step towards a more mainstream style. The genre is still fantasy.
Like the other movie premiering later this week Mirror Mirror is a non-faithful retelling of the Snow White story. This time the story is being narrated by the destitute Evil Queen (Julia Roberts), whose opening narration is beautifully rendered using a mix of animated dolls and live action. In it the Queen informs us that she married a King whose convenient disappearance shortly after the wedding left her as the ruling autocrat in the kingdom. That is until his daughter, Snow White, turns 18 and rightfully inherits her throne. We are also informed Snow White was named such because the King could not think of a more pretentious name.
However it is not long before the Queen, like many autocrats before her, drives her kingdom into financial ruin. Conveniently, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) has stumbled into the kingdom and if he were to marry the Queen all her financial troubles would be solved. There is just one problem, Alcott has already met Snow White and has been infatuated by her sweet and innocent smile.
The mandatory seven dwarfs also make an appearance. And here they are a gang of jolly thieves who steal from the Queen and give to the poor. Each of the seven dwarves is well characterized and distinct - together they make a good band of friends and you feel the camaraderie. They and Julia Roberts steal the show. The Queen here never asks the mirror who is the fairest of them all; she is so vain she consults her own image in the mirror and thinks the story is about her. From her perspective she is the fairest of them all; Snow White just needs to be disposed so the kingdom is ruled by the fairest.
All in all the movie is fun - something rare in a Tarsem film - and looks beautiful - something that is expected in a Tarsem film - but there is a certain lack of energy in places. As always the elaborate costumes and sets in a Tarsem film overwhelm the characters and the story; even when it is somewhat entertaining. And you never really get what Snow White sees in Prince Alcott to save him and marry him in the end. Unlike the Queen, she never sees him without a shirt. And while she is witty and full of charm, he is rather dense and empty headed.