Mirror Mirror (2012) – Directed by Tarsem Singh – Starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba, Sebastian Saraceno, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli Joe Gnoffo, Ronald Lee Clark, Lisa Roberts Gillan, Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham, Michael Lerner, Sean Bean, and Frank Welker.
I love MIRROR MIRROR.
Tarsem Singh’s style-over-substance retelling of the Snow White fairy tale is beautiful to look at and whimsical to experience. Whatever it lacks in depth of characters and story it more than makes up for with a sumptuous visual feast. I’m tempted to say that MIRROR MIRROR is the best live-action cartoon since Speed Racer (and if you don’t love Speed Racer, go watch it again). I’m also tempted to say that it’s the best play ever filmed for the cinematic screen. Instead of trying to shoehorn it into another category, however, let me just say that MIRROR MIRROR is a fairy tale told less to educate or frighten as it is to entertain. The phenomenal, uplifting, ridiculously happy Bollywood-esque closing number, “I Believe in Love,” is the movie boiled down to its core desire – to get to a place where the characters can revel in the happy, and by extension, the audience can join in on the fun, too.
There is a love story here and there is a coming of age tale here, intertwined through Snow (Lily Collins) falling in love with Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), a love that is formed largely because she thinks he looks good without a shirt on. For me, though, MIRROR MIRROR is less a love story or a coming of age tale as it is a love letter to happiness.
The King (Sean Bean) has a daughter, and his wife dies in childbirth. He eventually remarries Clementianna (Julia Roberts) who is wicked and obsessed with power. The King goes missing and she take control of his kingdom, keeping Snow locked away in the castle. The nearby town feels the biggest effect of the King’s alleged death, as the Queen’s love of money causes taxes to rise and instead of crown and citizen leaving in harmony, the new head wearing the crown sees the town as a resource to exploit. When Snow sneaks away on her eighteenth birthday to visit the town, she finds a poor, unhappy place. She remembers it as a place of song and dance, but she hasn’t been to town since her mother-in-law ascended to the throne and did not realize how bad things have become.
If I have a complaint with MIRROR MIRROR it’s that I would have liked to seen that music = happiness vibe played a little more strongly, so when we get to “I Believe in Love” it feels like the moment’s true climax instead of the best wedding party ever.
Clementianna is wary of Snow’s burgeoning beauty, and her Magic Mirror (Lisa Roberts Gillan) tells her that Snow’s beauty will soon pass hers. This is bad for the Queen because she’s vain. This is also bad for the Queen because she’s financially broke, and wants Prince Alcott to herself, so his cash can refill her coffers.
Also, because she thinks he looks hot without a shirt on.
Julia Roberts is fantastic as the Evil Queen, playing Clementianna with the right mix of playful wickedness. Insisting at the start of the film that this is her story, she casually and effortlessly orders her plans into action. She gives the duty of disposing of Snow to Brighton (Nathan Lane), her right and left hand Yes Man, a task that Brighton does not want to fulfill, but does because he is the kind of man that stays in his place by always acquiescing to his superior’s commands. Managing to gather up whatever ounce of courage he has, Brighton spares Snow when they get to the forest, ordering her to go away and never come back. To prove to Clementianna that he’s done the deed, he brings back a bag of cut meat from a butcher shop, knowing that his spinelessness is matched by the Queen’s disinclination to attend to matters beneath her own twisted happiness.
I can certainly understand someone’s frustration with watching all of these surface-oriented characters push themselves predictably around the board, but depth of character isn’t always a necessity to a good time. Watching pros like Roberts and Lane inject these predictable characters with a spark of life makes MIRROR a fantastic viewing experience. I don’t need anything more than Tarsem gives us to enjoy myself because the acting performances are so engaging and the sets and costumes are so eye-popping.
After Snow runs away from both Brighton and the legendary Beast (computers for the action, the legendary Frank Welker for the vocals)
that lives in the woods, she winds up at the home of the Seven Dwarfs: Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Butcher (Martin Klebba), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joe Gnoffo), and Chuck (Ronald Lee Clark). These dwarfs are not honest, hard-working Disney-esque miners, but formerly honest and hard-working citizens of town who were cast out because they were different. Now, they hide their shortness via stilts and costumes and steal from travelers to get by. Maybe that does not make the most narrative sense, but it does allow for several terrific fighting sequences, as they best one foe after another, including Alcott on multiple occasions.
While I roll my eyes quite a bit at Snow’s silly crush passing for love with Alcott, I adore her relationship with the dwarves. They agree to let her stay (although Butcher takes some convincing) and she rewards them with a prepared meal when they return home. Lest you worry that Snow is simply some kind of domestic fantasy come to life, she is shocked to learn that the dwarves are thieves and after hearing their story of how they came to be thieves with some sympathy, she tells them in no uncertain terms they cannot continue being thieves because the tax money they stole belongs to the town’s citizens, and not the Queen, which is how the dwarves were justifying their thievery.
Snow returns the gold to the townsfolk, but gives the dwarves full credit for capturing it back from Brighton, which puts the dwarves back in favor with the town that had run them off.
I love the way the dwarves look at Snow when they realize what she’s done as they realize they’ve been outsmarted by a girl who managed to give them back a piece of their own, lost happiness. Snow is both naive and clever, and Collins plays her with such an honest heart I find it impossible not to be won over to her performance as easily and quickly as the dwarves are to her.
I also love the training sequence as the dwarves teach Snow how to fight and use a sword, which puts her in conflict with Alcott, who has agreed to help Clementianna because he’s been told Snow is dead. There’s an alternative reason, too, as Alcott has been embarrassed by his defeat to the dwarves and wants some revenge. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Brighton is explaining to the Queen that her tax money has been stolen and, when she’s not looking, he flashes Alcott a sign to let the Prince know it was the same dwarves that had done him in.
The fantastical fighting sequences are spectacular. At the start of the movie, there’s a puppet-like animation used to background the Queen’s voice over, and later, the dwarves are attacked by two giant marionettes, thanks to the dark magic of the Magic Mirror.
Fairy tale that MIRROR MIRROR is, the evil Beast turns out to actually be the King, the puppy love spell the Queen casts on Alcott is reversed by a kiss from Snow, the Queen is defeated, and everyone (but Sean Bean) dances. (It’s nice to see a movie where Sean Bean comes back to life instead of dying for the 1,800th time.) There’s no shame here about the fact that they’re doing a fairly tale. There’s no DreamWorks-esque jibes at Disney, and no Enchanted-esque self-parody. Instead of being ashamed at the subject matter, Tarsem and his cast embrace it to the fullest. There is no Snow White and the Huntsman-like attempt to ground the story in a grim reality. MIRROR MIRROR accepts itself for what it is and attempts to give you the most enjoyable version of itself that it can.
I love it for that. But I also love it because it’s such a fun, light-hearted, visually-stunning spectacle, in all the right ways. I saw the film for the first time the other night, nearly two years since it was released on my birthday back in 2012. Belated though it is, I’d like to thank the cast and crew of MIRROR MIRROR for one heck of a birthday gift. MIRROR MIRROR is a big, bright, fun, optimistic spectacle.