Singh gets the first crack at Snow White in Mirror Mirror
Lost in the hysteria of superheroes, aliens and hunger-centric games is the fact that 2012 is the year of Snow White. With not one but two films about the raven-haired princess due, director Tarsem Singh (Immortals, yes, that guy) strikes first with Mirror Mirror, a revision of the classic fairytale borrowing from the many variations of the story whilst adding some new elements to the mix. The result is not the disaster one might expect, but neither does it provide any true movie magic.
Mirror Mirror’s back-story is conveyed via slick CG animation; slick as in the characters appear disturbingly rubbery. It is at once both beautiful and creepy- welcome to Singh’s world of Snow White. In switching over to live action Julia Robert’s wicked (and so very sarcastic) Queen declares this to be “my story, not hers” as Lily Collins is introduced as the film’s famous heroine. Collins gives a soft-spoken and demure performance as Snow White, the orphaned princess who is loathed by her monarch step-mother. It’s not long before the adventure seeking Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) enters the kingdom and is targeted by the financially troubled Queen who quickly demands the death of Snow, her most serious threat to the throne. All of which sets up Snow’s alliance with the seven dwarfs. With names like Napoleon, Grub, Chuckles and Half Pint, these aren’t the typical Disney dwarfs most will know. Instead writer Melissa Wallack has gone back to the drawfs’ roots and re-establishes them as a band of thieves with a relative edge to them. The premise is actually quite good in theory, but the flat execution is where Mirror Mirror cracks.
Singh has brought together an eclectic cast with A-lister Roberts giving the evil Queen her snarky all. Her role is a large one and it’s Robert’s performance that keeps Mirror Mirror afloat, even when delivering some dreary lines about how “Snow would have to fall”. Collins is likable enough as Snow White, even if she never quite fits (and it takes a few minutes to adjust to those wild eyebrows). As a character that needs no prince to save her, Collins’ Snow White continues what appears to be a trend this year of strong female characters, a welcome change of pace indeed. Aiding that cause is Hammer’s goofy object of affections, Prince Alcott. There’s no arguing that Hammer throws himself into the role, but following his performance in The Social Network hopes would be higher for him than resembling a wrinkled old penis in J Edgar or pretending to be a dog here. Nathan Lane walks the thin line between silly and unbearable as Brighton, the Queen’s lackey while the dwarfs are well represented by the likes of Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld, Death to Smoochy) and Mark Povinelli (Water for Elephants) and their stature is handled with respect on the whole.
While Mirror Mirror is unarguably gorgeous, the film falls victim to Singh’s emphasis on style over substance. The script has some clever moments but lacks any real spark and too many of the jokes land with a thud. A scene featuring giant marionettes is a great idea that feels wasted here; another example of a visually appealing element that feels meaningless due to its handling. It’s great that Mirror Mirror isn’t the embarrassing debacle it easily could have been, but it has far more potential than what Singh and Wallack deliver on.
Mirror Mirror may be this first Snow White flick out of the gate in 2012, but it’s likely to finish a distant second to its closest competition. Full of good ideas that deserve better presentation, there is some amusement to be found as the film plods along, just nowhere near as much as there should be. Mirror Mirror is a vast improvement over Singh’s previous outings, but while it may be a feast for the eyes, it’s a sedative for the mind. 6/10