As could be expected, “Mirror, Mirror,” Tarsem Singh’s version of the beloved fable “Snow White,” is visually inventive, thematically flawed, dramatically uneven, and ultimately incongruent.
Even so, the film is sporadically entertaining, largely due to the self-consciously campy takes of Julia Roberts in playing the Evil Queen, and Nathan Lane as the Queen’s hapless, bumbling servant.
In trying to make the often-told tale more modernist and relevant to today’s marketplace, the filmmakers have taken an ultra-episodic approach, which makes the “old-new” text here change in tone from scene to scene, or rather from one set-piece to another.
In 1937, Disney produced the indelible screen adaptation, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which garnered Walt Disney a Special Oscar. The Academy’s plaque read, “in recognition of a significant screen innovation, which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.”
That version was also Oscar nominated for, but did not win, Best Score, credited to Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, and Paul J. Smith, and orchestrated by Harline, head of Disney’s Music Department.
Tarsem may not win Oscar nods at the end of the year, but like his predecessors who have tackling the narrative, he has imbued it with his own, idiosyncratic and fantastical imagination, resulting in a sharply uneven spectacle, which offers more pleasures to the eyes than to the ears or the mind.
The screenplay is the product of three writers, each with different sensibility: Marc Klein (“Serendipity”) Jason Keller (“Machine Gun Preacher”), and Melisa Wallack (Meet Bill), who is credited with the screen story. There is no way to weigh in the precise contribution of each scribe to the final film, which may be perceived as a pop culture product.
The work of the Brothers Grimm enjoys right now some kind of resurgence in American culture, on both the big screen and the small screen. Later this year, we’ll be seeing another version of the famed fable, “Snow White and Huntsman,” starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron as Snow and the Queen. On TV, you can see “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time,” both inspired by the prolific fabulists.
While enriching the tale, the colorful casting also contributes to the disjointed nature of this tale, as each performer employs a different acting style (this is also a function of the writing), and often arbitrary, incongruent accents.
For those who need a reminder of the basic elements of the plot: After the disappearance of the King, his selfish, ruthless wife, Queen Clementianna (Roberts), seizes control and keeps her beautiful 18-year-old stepdaughter, Snow White (Lily Collins), hidden away in the palace. But when the princess attracts the attention of a charming and wealthy wondering Prince Andrew (Armie Hammer, tall and patrician), the jealous Queen banishes the girl to the forest.
Adopted by a clique of rebellious but kind dwarfs, Snow White transforms into a brave young woman, determined to save her country from the Queen. With the support and commitment of new friends, Snow White reclaims her birthright and wins back her Prince.
“Mirror, Mirror” is a youth-oriented film that, for a change, does not contain vampires or werewolves—just enchanted forests, fair and pale beautiful girl, “criminal” but good-hearted dwarfs, and a sexy, shirtless Prince.
Calculated as to appeal to various demographic groups, “Miror, Mirror” contains straight, sweetly naïve sequences that should be embraced by young girls. And there’s enough campy humor and outrageous, eye-popping design (sets and costumes) to appeal to more mature viewers, including the gay bunch.
For the record: As they seldom get credit for their work, the dwarfs are played (in alphabetical order) by Ronald Lee Clark, Robert Emms, Martin Klebba, Mark Povinelli, Jordan Prentice, Sebastian Saraceno, and Danny Woodburn.
Having directed before “The Cell” (which I had reviewed for Variety) and “Immortals,” Tarsem tries to varying degree of success a new genre with “Mirror, Mirror”: A family-friendly fable, which combines action, comedy and intrigue with his signature visual touch, postmodernist strategy, and plenty of CGI effects.