Once upon a time, “Mirror Mirror” must have seemed like a good idea.
Retell the Snow White story, but add humor, attitude and contemporary language and really go to town on the sets and costumes. It’ll be like “Shrek” or “Hoodwinked!” but with live actors.
Somewhere between the pitch meeting and the movie's opening, this sadly earthbound fairy tale lost its happy ending. “Mirror Mirror” is minor minor.
It has its moments, many of them thanks to the late Oscar winner Eiko Ishioka’s stunningly inventive and over-the-top costumes, but it's far, far away from a classic.
The film is directed by Tarsem Singh (“Immortals” and “The Cell”), whose movies are better known for their extravagant look than their narrative coherence or performances. He does a little better here at keeping the story together, but the film is still woefully uneven, seesawing awkwardly between comedy, action scenes and grandiose visuals.
Like those old “Fractured Fairy Tales” that used to turn up on “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “Mirror” puts a decidedly modernist twist on the familiar Snow White story. Although the film’s characters wear fanciful period clothes and wigs and live in castles and a village that look like something out of an MGM back lot extravaganza from the 1930s (but in color), their attitudes and actions are very up to date.
Snow White (Lily Collins) here is every bit the equal if not better than her hunky Prince (Armie Hammer, who continues to impress), who is himself the object of frankly lustful gazes and comments by the evil Queen (Julia Roberts). The dwarfs who befriend Snow White are now a band of wisecrackers who’ve turned to thievery after being banished from the village by the Queen, who’s anti-little people.
Occasionally, the attempts at humor pay off, especially in amusingly silly scenes between the grasping, imperious Queen -- Roberts is having a grand time here, but there’s nothing subtle in her performance -- and the somewhat dim bulb Prince. And Nathan Lane, playing a toadying courtier to the Queen, always manages to land his laughs.
Part of “Mirror’s” problem is that the screenplay, credited to two writers and with a third getting a story credit, is all over the place. At times, it seems that the movie is a satire about anxiety over aging, as the Queen frets over who’s the fairest in the land. But it also hints at a political agenda, as when the villagers are told that the onerous taxes collected by the Queen are being used to keep them safe, and at being about feminism, as when Snow White and the Prince battle for the upper hand while bickering or crossing swords.
The film is likely to appeal most to younger viewers, say tweeners and early teens, who will enjoy the slapstick, a poop joke and the blatant rudeness of the Queen. Adult viewers, however, will find themselves comparing this fairy tale comedy to “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Princess Bride” and the “Shrek” movies, with “Mirror’s” shine a dull reflection of those earlier films.