Mirror Mirror (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
31Mar/122

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Snow White: "It's always the prince who saves the princess. I want to rewrite that ending."
Prince Alcott: "You can't do that! It's the way things are! It's approved by focus groups!"

Retelling the story of Snow White, someone as transparently passive and traditionally feminine as one can imagine, and making her into the recipient of a pseudo-hero's journey with all of the trappings that entails can at best be classified as a fool's errand. How do you risk turning a story known so well into a something that can feel both fresh and similarly timeless?

With that in mind, it's unsurprising that Mirror Mirror, like director Singh Tarsem's previous film Immortals, feels all thumbs. It's like a movie that lurched out of the 90's, where redressing a classic fairytale in more modern ideals was regularly done yet rarely done well.

However, where a lot of films from that decade promised one form or another of facetious 'Girl Power'-- from the hollow vapidities of Spice World to the final kill blow delivered by the Charlie's Angels film series-- Mirror Mirror plays like a sort of natural progression of it. It's still reductive at moments, but it lets its version of Snow White (Lily Collins) show vulnerability but earnestness. This film's message isn't to sit and wait for your prince, but that doing things for yourself while helping others is far more rewarding. 

Hey it's that crazy Julia Roberts laugh again. Don't like that, you won't like this movie.

Of course, that can get lost every once in a while. The film's narrative presupposes itself as actually being the story of the wicked Queen (Julia Roberts) whose enchantments and spells have allowed her to run amok of the mystical kingdom and leave it entrenched in an eternal winter. She's a vain monster, consumed with her own vanity and sanctity of power, and Roberts obviously relishes her role with such an aplomb that it makes it sympathetically creepy.

The Queen lords over Snow White as well as the majestic kingdom, and it looks like her mismanagement will doom the state by means of high taxes. (Those taxes, for you fans of political subtext out there, are justified by claiming its for defense against a mysterious beast in the woods who turns out, in an unsurprising twist, to be at the beck and call of the Queen.) When Snow is encouraged to leave the castle walls upon her 18th birthday, she sees firsthand what her stepmother is doing, and vows to stop it.

This revolution may include enlisting help from seven bandit dwarfs and the foolish Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) whose pride and royal airs continually land him in trouble. For the viewers at home, who may or may not include a great deal of young girls and their mothers, he is often robbed of his shirt and ogled.

Personally, I don't think anyone will object to either.

Ahhhh... huh.

Tarsem's willingness to let the film linger with a feminine gaze makes it unique, and while this film's Snow White may be a good cook and not too handy with a sword, it's because of a sheltered existence and not a mandatory "future homemaker" career path that was once necessary. After some training from the dwarfs-- namely Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joe Gnoffo), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Butcher (Martin Klebba) and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark)-- she becomes a fairly competent swordswoman in less than a half a day.

Speaking of the dwarfs, the film goes out of its way to paint them as fairly morally complex outcasts, each with their own motivations and feelings. While they remain cutesy throughout the film (again, kids movie), there's a rather touching array of emotions from the pack. Quietly defusing that sense of otherness between, well, the tall and not-so-tall, makes them one of the best balls that the director manages to juggle throughout the film.

The film's varied look is a visual feast, and Tarsem does a much better job of fitting the visuals to the story than in his previous pictures. There are still a great deal of flourishes-- the various formal costumes we glimpse at various points are an admirable treat-- but they serve the plot rather than overriding the emotional core. His continued insistence to not rely on CGI where ever possible works wonders here, as it's only near the end that we're treated to any special effect that looks the least bit suspect.

It's a good thing this guy learns his lesson. Too bad he put on a shirt.

That being said, Tarsem still can't direct an action scene very well, cutting where it doesn't feel needed or natural. Several sword fights feel borderline incomprehensible, which is a big disappointment considering how essential they are to the plot. His abilities to create characters also suffers, though that may come from the script's strange insistence that all of the events in this film happen over the course of three days.

But the light touch Tarsem brings to the proceedings and visual flair elevate this far above what one would expect or, probably, deserve. It's a goofy, strange world, and brought to life with such vitality it's amazing how real it becomes once you let yourself get sucked in.

I'm going to touch on spoilers for a bit, so if you don't want to know how this ends (you do), skip past the next picture.

The darkness of the ending probably shouldn't surprise me a great deal-- this is a film where Snow White cold cocks the prince in one punch just because he's acting like a chauvinistic asshole-- but the coup de grace that Snow delivers upon the Queen and its off-screen implications were brilliantly nasty for a family movie. They speak to Snow White's increased confidence, the Queen's endless vanity, and the film's final nod to its title-- in a movie named Mirror Mirror, is it any surprise that practically all of the original story's outcomes are reversed?-- and do an excellent job in paying off their rivalry.

Also, there's a Bollywood-esque dance number to cap things off. I'm not usually a fan of such things-- damn Mars Needs Moms flashbacks-- but this one is lively, festive, and just enough out-of-place that it fits in with the rest of the film's eclectic world.

This looks... familiar. Isn't this from Cinderella?

I will admit, upon originally seeing the trailers for this film, I dreaded a great deal of childish camp, perhaps dialed up to an insane 'so awful it's good' degree-- I mean Nathan Lane is in this, after all-- but came out pleasantly surprised. It turns out that the trailers hid the truth, and that this movie isn't quite for those who have an ironic distance to life but instead is nourishment to the legions of young children out there who need to hear our old stories not so much retold, but made relevant once again.

While Mirror Mirror has enough flaws that it won't probably ever be classified as a traditional 'good' movie, it's earnest and rambunctious, two qualities I'd like to see in more films. I'll probably show it to any possible daughter of my own one day; I can think of no higher praise to give it.

Posted by Danny

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  1. my, i really enjoyed this film. i loved the ending and really appreciated the feminine angle. not sure if collins was the best for this role, but she convinced me in this movie.


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