There are a few directors who have a visual style that’s a draw in and of itself, and Tarsem is certainly one of them. Fairy tales seem to be the order of the day, and Mirror Mirror is his take on Snow White. Of course it’s gorgeous to look at, but of the two adaptations coming out is year, this is the one aimed at the younger audiences; it may not sit as well with an older crowd. Still, while it can get silly it’s far from the inane tests of parental endurance all too many kids’ movies can be.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire life the basic story should be familiar: young, beautiful princess with skin as white as snow and name to match (Lily Collins) emerges as a threat to a vain, aging queen (Julia Roberts), who tries to dispose of her; add seven dwarves (Jordan Prentice, Mark Provinelli, Joe Gnoffo, Danny Woodburn, Sebastian Saraceno, Martin Klebba, and Ronald Lee Clark), one prince (Armie Hammer); shake; serve.
This time around, the princess’ father has been killed by a beast inhabiting the forest outside the castle and nearby town. The queen is broke, despite exorbitant taxation, and is trying to avoid having to marry a local baron (Michael Lerner) whose looks she doesn’t like while maintaining her position, including her chief executive lickspittle (Nathan Lane). When the prince shows up from a rich nearby kingdom the queen sets her sights, and casts Snow White out into the forest when the prince turns out to prefer her.
Snow White, of course, falls in with the dwarves. No industrious miners, these are a band of highwaymen equipped with telescoping stilts. To the movie’s credit, it goes for no cheap gags at the dwarves’ expense; the one character who tries receives a swift comeuppance. In fact, their exile from the town is yet another example of just how awful the queen is. And Snow White — by her acceptance of them — is brought in and trained, and joins them as both a moral compass and a fellow partisan against the queen’s efforts.
The presentation is admittedly silly, including putting the prince under a “puppy love” spell which Hammer throws himself into with aplomb. The dialogue is an oddly stilted mixture of fairy tale language and modern colloquialism, which is cute at first but felt old after a while; kids may well find it makes the story and characters more relatable, though. The humor is a bit broad, but never really lowbrow or mean; there are no fart jokes, and I’m pretty sure nobody even gets kicked in a strategic location, both of which seem to have become pretty much standard even in PG fare.
But Tarsem makes up for the less-than-stellar story with some spectacular visuals. I’ve always thought he could do well with a kids’ movie, which none of his features to date have been. He infuses an Eastern influence into one of the most classic Western fairy tales with the architecture of the castle, the style of some of the costumes, Snow White’s makeup, and even a Bollywood number — impressively sung by Collins herself — that is sadly relegated to the credits sequence.
There are so few kids’ movies that aren’t actively stupid that it’s a pleasure to see one under any circumstances. To couple it with Tarsem’s visuals makes it that much better, if still not all that great for those looking for more mature storytelling. For that, we hold out hope for the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman.
Worth It: definitely if you’ve got a kid to entertain; less so if not.
Bechdel Test: pass.