Director Tarsem Singh must have a hat fetish. In last year’s ugly Immortals (which I really, really didn’t like), Singh gave us gods wearing grills on their heads, oracles flaunting lampshades and Mickey Rourke crowned with a golden crab claw. In Mirror Mirror we have human chess pieces wearing battleship hats that fire at one another as well as all manner of pompous wigs. That’s not even mentioning the ridiculous ball in which characters dress up as animals, one guy even wears cockroach antennae on his head – let’s not talk about the walrus.
At least this time the costuming doesn’t feel at odds with the tone of the movie, unlike in Immortals which was trying oh so hard to be a serious epic. Mirror Mirror however, is much more light-hearted. It’s a decidedly Disney-esque affair, with bright colours and a whimsical approach to storytelling, so when a character showed up wearing a top hat with bunny ears I just kind of shrugged and went with it.
In case the title didn’t clue you in, this is yet another adaptation of the Snow White story (not to be confused with Snow White and the Huntsman to be released later this year). Sadly, despite its visual inventiveness, the plot doesn’t take you anywhere new or surprising. Julia Roberts (Larry Crowne) is the vain and greedy Queen, played this time as less evil and more insecure, who prides beauty over all else. She’s envious of the Princess, Snow White (Lily Collins; Abduction). Snow has huge eyebrows, white skin and raven hair, and is naïve to the ways of the world beyond the castle she lives in (reminding me of the castle from TV series Once Upon a Time). As she soon learns however, it’s not all sugar and rainbows out there. It turns out that the Queen has been taxing the people to the point of starvation. This shocks Snow, who resolves to take action as the rightful ruler.
Armie Hammer (J. Edgar) appears as the requisite Prince Charming candidate. He falls for Snow but the Queen attempts to win him over with a love potion – she swoons after his money and hairy chest. This leads to a funny but overlong segment in which Hammer hams it up as a dog in man’s clothing. The best parts of the film though are surely those involving the seven dwarfs, now a band of rogues who use stilts to masquerade as giants. Also great is Nathan Lane (The Producers), who injects a severely needed dose of fun and energy as Brighton, the grovelling butler to the Queen.
But so much here simply falls flat because of the safe story, and the film ends with a bizarre feel-good song and dance number that plays through the credits and is completely out of place. Collins is ok as Snow, but needs more spunk. Roberts too struggles to leave an impression; a more villainous streak in spite of her insecurity would have helped. And what is the Lord of Winterfell doing here?
It’s a shame because Mirror Mirror isn’t bad, just shallow. It also suffers because of an inconsistent narrative that doesn’t have a clear audience in mind. Is it for kids? Adults? I don’t know, and that’s the problem. My favourite part of the film was actually the opening prologue, which was animated in a way that reminded me of the opening to Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. It’s these occasional moments of wondrous visual artistry – Tim Burton if he did bright and cheerful instead of dark and macabre – that separate Mirror Mirror from the other entries in the storied history of Snow White adaptations.
Not sure of its target audience, Mirror Mirror is an uneven retelling of the classic Snow White story that manages to get by on the strength of its visuals, even if they go from inspired to ridiculous at the drop of a hat.