A couple things before I begin…
1) I am not the target demographic for Mirror, Mirror (I know, I know… newsflash!)
2) I really, really cannot stand Julia Roberts.
Needless to say, my expectations for the newest take on the Snow White tale were as low as the doorway into the humble abode of the seven dwarfs. So to say that it exceeded my expectations is not so much commending the film or giving it praise; it more or less says it’s not as absolutely god-awful as you think it is.
It’s the same old story, with a twist. Kinda.
So in this case we have the Queen (Roberts, at her most grating – she is unbearable in the “lead” role) that controls the kingdom. All we know is that the King, Snow’s father, went missing when Snow (the relatively new Lily Collins, who exudes just enough charm to make you wish that she was provided better things to say) was just a little girl and the Queen took over from there. She is running the kingdom into the ground, and we know this because they show us poor people seeming very sad. When Snow angers the Queen (doesn’t seem all that difficult to do) by telling her she’s, you know, being a bad Queen, she demands that her lackey, Brighton (Nathan Lane, who appears to hop back and forth between miserable and disinterested) take her out to to the woods and kill her. He doesn’t because, well, that would be a short movie (and he says something about her father always being kind to him – perhaps he saw The Birdcage) and instead lets her loose into the forest.
It’s there that she meets seven bandits who appear as giants, but they’re actually the good ol’ Seven Dwarfs who get their height thanks to stilt-like devices that leave you waiting to hear “Go Go Gadget Legs!” They have names like Wolf (he howls), Grub (he eats), and Napoleon (he wears a hat that looks like Napoleon’s hat). And they take her in, because it’s not like pretty girls come around the forest every day. The dwarfs mostly bicker and act like their names (there’s also Chuckles – guess what he does?) but they are probably the best part of the movie, especially during their interaction with Snow.
Meanwhile, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer, taking a step down from playing the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, sure, but you can see the effort is there) has found his way to the Queen, who immediately wants to make the young man her new husband. He isn’t insane, so this idea doesn’t appeal to him, plus he met Snow once and that’s all he needed to know he loves her. So the Queen does exactly what you think she would do. She poisons him… only it’s not Love Potion Number Nine. It’s Puppy Love, in the most literal sense of the word (I hate when that happens). This gives Hammer the opportunity to act like a puppy and you can practically see his desire to be back in a David Fincher film. The wedding is planned for the next day (why wait?) and when Snow hears of this news, she’s devastated (because she fell in love with him too – that’s convenient!). The dwarfs team up with Snow to save her beloved Prince, but not before a training montage prepares Snow for battle (as long as choosing which cup the strawberry is under and wearing the right bodice is key to victory).
I won’t give away the ending (although there is no twist here – you already know who wins and who loses) but I will say that my favorite moments of the film were at that point. The first was when Sean Bean (good ol’ Ned Stark – “Game of Thrones” reference for those of you unfortunate enough not to know that) showed up as the King. This allowed me to imagine myself back in Winterfell (another “GOT” reference… can you tell I’m ready for Sunday’s Season 2 premiere?) instead of whatever land this was taking place in. There’s also a decent action scene with the “Beast” of the forest and an oddly impressive marionette battle (don’t ask) that should entertain the younger and older viewers alike.
But the film fails to focus on Snow and the Dwarfs enough and instead likes to show us the Queen transporting through her mirror to a floating-on-water bungalow that houses a paler Roberts who acts as the true title character. It’s these scenes where my head nearly exploded, as I finally got the answer to the eternal question, “What is worse than Julia Roberts?” (the answer: TWO Julia Roberts!)
It’s rather telling that the film makes such a point to include magic and poisons, namely the one that makes the Prince “yearn for the nectar of her skin” (yes he says this about the Queen). Because as I sat through Mirror, Mirror I couldn’t help but think that under normal circumstances, that’s exactly what it would take to get me to sit through anything that featured Julia Roberts in such a prominent and truly unlikeable role. It’s unfortunate that the talent of the other leads (Collins is cute and likely has a bright future and Hammer does what he can to maintain his dignity) is wasted on what could have been an interesting re-telling of the classic Disney tale. All I can say is that if you’re going to watch a cutesy live-action version of a fairy tale, and you went to your mirror to ask which one is the “fairest of them all,” the response would not be Mirror, Mirror; your reflection would tell you that you should go and rent Enchanted instead.
P.S. Brett Ratner is listed as a Producer for Mirror, Mirror. Now you have another reason not to see it!