Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Premise: A retelling of the Snow White story. In this version, a devious queen (Julia Roberts) starves her people to support an extravagant lifestyle. Snow White (Lilly Collins) runs away to the woods where she joins seven dwarfs in robbing the queen’s minions.
What Works: Mirror Mirror is a revisionist fairy tale like Shrek or Enchanted. The film draws attention to the conventions of the genre in an attempt to have fun with it and Mirror Mirror does manage to be amusing. The humor varies between parody, sarcasm, and physical comedy and it will get laughs from both children and their parents. This picture is clearly intended for family audiences although it leans much more toward children and as a kid’s picture it mostly works. Expectations for children’s films are generally lower, and maybe they shouldn’t be, but for moviegoers who are looking for something to take very young children to see, Mirror Mirror will probably fulfill their wants.
What Doesn’t: Viewers who come to Mirror Mirror for reasons other than distracting their children will find this a very underwhelming film. The movie’s problems start with the very things that ought to distinguish it. Mirror Mirror jumps on the self-reflexive bandwagon of many recent family and animated films but it does not execute the qualities of that trend very well. The trouble with this kind of self-aware film is that can easily undermine itself and that is exactly what Mirror Mirror does. The sarcastic and reflexive elements poke the audience in the ribs, drawing attention to the absurdities and clichés of fairytales while the story works its way through them. That’s no different from successful films of this sort, but in this case the movie comes across as disingenuous. It is as though the filmmakers don’t take their own picture seriously so there is no reason for the audience to take it seriously either. The problem is found most explicitly in the miscasting of Julia Roberts as the evil queen. Roberts seems to have been cast because of her likable onscreen persona and she is tasked with carrying a lot of the film’s reflexive moments. It is as though the filmmakers want to have it both ways: on one hand they have hired a likable star but then expect her to fulfill an unlikable role as the villain. Instead of creating tension between audience expectation and the supplied performance, Mirror Mirror finds itself diluted as Roberts slips into her established movie star personality while trying to be a villain. All this does is rob Mirror Mirror of any dramatic tension and further diminishes any possibility of taking the story seriously. Aside from its problem in tone, Mirror Mirror also has a lot of problems with its filmmaking design. The picture was directed by Tarsem Singh, who made a splash early on in his career with The Cell but the director has gradually eroded his promise with a series of bad pictures including Immortals and The Fall. Some of the settings and visual effects of Mirror Mirror are acceptable by many look very cheap; forests look like sound stages and backgrounds appear like bad matte work from the 1980s. None of this is evidently self-conscious and it conspires with the mishandled humor to snap the viewer out of the movie.
Bottom Line: Mirror Mirror is a kid’s film and will probably entertain very young children. Although it is funny in places the picture gives the impression that no one behind the camera was trying very hard and it plays more like Disney’s direct-to-video sequels rather than a big budget Hollywood production.
Episode: #383 (April 8, 2012)