It's a bold choice to make the first move in a battle. This year's first entry in the dueling Snow White adaptations keeps to the lighter side of things, focusing less on impressive combat and more on making the audience laugh. It's hard to expect something serious from a movie where the seven dwarves are a roving band of thieves on stilts made from accordions. One of them thinks he's Napoleon.
Of course, in lampooning fairy tales, there's always the danger of trying too hard, and that's certainly present in this movie. Can Mirror Mirror stand up to its competition, or will a few forced jokes make it completely forgettable?
Mirror Mirror's take on Snow White (Lily Collins) is a secluded princess unable to leave the castle walls. After her abusive stepmother (Julia Roberts) ignores her yet again on her eighteenth birthday, Snow decides to see what's out there. She finds Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) tied up with his manservant in the woods, and cuts them loose before heading off to the village. Her stepmother has been taxing the people to death to keep up with her lavish spending, and Snow vows to take back the kingdom and help the people. It's up to her and the roving gang of dwarven bandits to stop the Queen for good.
The story is a bit odd. The mirror is supposed to have some sort of extra magic to it other than the ability to tell people who's hot and who's not, but while there's a lot of setup for something more intricate and intense, there's not much payoff. This makes what little explanation there is feel hollow and more confusing than it should be. One of the key parts to any fantasy universe is fleshing out the details, and even in a comedy, it's important to feel immersed. Leaving out those details is just alienating.
The pacing is relatively steady until the end, when things just sort of fall apart. It feels like there's too much time spent on telling the audience over and over again that Snow White is compassionate and strong. There are a couple of scenes that showcase this, so it feels a bit like being beaten over the head. The character of Snow White has always been a bit of a Mary Sue, given that she's a gorgeous girl that humans and animals love immediately, and Mirror Mirror tries to make her into an activist to explain why people like her. It's still there, but she does feel like a much more interesting person. Those caterpillars on her face sure seem to like her.
The other characters are hit or miss. The writing thinks it's a lot more clever than it is, and it shows. Julia Roberts' character is a prime example of this: she's clearly a talented actress, but her lines are supposed to be the “wittiest” of all, and it makes her performance seem absolutely atrocious. The dwarves are also guilty of this at times, but at least some of their lines are genuinely funny. The lines seem to work better when the actors play up the cheesiness of them instead of thinking they're comedic genius. Armie Hammer is consistently entertaining, and has some of the best one-liners in the movie.
Tarsem Singh is known for his visuals, and the use of color is certainly striking. The costume design is lavish and colorful, and since the backgrounds are all muted colors or snow, they stand out all the more. The downside is that if you look past the costumes and actually check out the background, it's pretty disappointing. Most of the action takes place in a snowy forest in one of the most sparsely-decorated sound stages out there. The ground is perfectly flat, the trees are all the same and very evenly spaced, and the snow is neatly piled in the same way at the base of each tree. Given how intricate all the interior sets are, the forest is incredibly distracting.
The movie sets out to be a comedy, and overall, it succeeds. There are plenty of flaws and it could have been a lot better, but it produces a few really good laughs even considering all the jokes that fall flat. The kids in the audience were certainly enjoying the movie, and even though a lot of the humor is more adult in nature, it's all the sort of thing that will go over a kid's head, making Mirror Mirror a good choice for a family matinee. It may not have the timeless charm of Disney's original classic, but it's a hell of a lot more entertaining.
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