Tarsem's Mirror Mirror is a gorgeous and good-humored version of the "Snow White" tale with great visual depth and texture, a classic but slightly cracked approach to the story and fun performances from all. I haven't found a lot of critics who agree with me on this, but I have to say I believe it's as good as the most famous version by Walt Disney and is a truly great movie overall.
The film opens with an animated narration of the backstory (spoken by the Evil Queen, played by the excellent Julia Roberts), with a fairytale kingdom full of dancing, happy citizens led by the widowed King (later Sean Bean), who loves his beautiful daughter, Snow White (later the charming Lily Collins), so named for her pale skin and dark hair. The King endeavors to give her everything she needs, and to teach her everything she needs to know to be a princess, and perhaps later Queen of the realm.
Enter our narrator into the main thread of the story, our Evil Queen, who, playing on the King's desire for a mother who can teach Snow White about feminine things, and using her Magic Mirror, convinces the King she is the right woman for him to marry. When the King is called away to fight, the Queen takes over and confines Snow White to a room high in the tower of the castle, spreading rumors of mental and physical infirmity throughout the land to explain Snow White's absence from public view.
The King is soon assumed dead, the people stop dancing and suffer from oppression and overtaxation to support the Queen's overindulgence in luxuries. This is where our story stands as it begins, with Snow White's 18th birthday.
Not everyone has forgotten the old state of affairs. In particular, a baker in the palace kitchen, Margaret (Mare Winningham), remembers the King and knows his daughter well. Having been shut up for so long, Snow White is largely ignorant of the world beyond her bedroom walls, but Margaret arranges for her to make an undercover birthday visit to the main village of the capital to see what the Queen's stewardship has wrought.
Along the way, Snow encounters a wandering prince, Alcott (Armie Hammer, The Social Network, just right) and his aide in the dark forest which separates the castle from the village, and rescues them from a tight spot they've been put in by a gang of bandits, but only after insisting on teaching them a little about manners. The Prince and Princess are immediately attracted to one another, but both must continue on their paths, Snow to the village and the Prince to the castle, where his romantic inclinations will be sorely tested by the grasping Queen and her penchant for love potions.
The story of Snow White itself is a slender reed, and needs embellishing. This has been done rather expertly, I thought, in this film's script, which enfolds and winks at elements from Disney and other fairytale versions (Nathan Lane, fantastic as the queen's head servant, Brighton, even quotes some of his own lines as Timon from The Lion King), Shakespeare, Jay Ward's "Fractured Fairy Tales" (a dwarf quotes George of the Jungle's theme song: "Watch out for that tree!"), Terry Gilliam films and more influences too numerous to list here, certainly including Tarsem's previous feature film work. The depiction of the seven dwarves, played by Danny Woodburn, Sebastian Saraceno, Martin Klebba, Mark Povinelli, Ronald Lee Clark, Jordan Prentice and Joe Gnoffo, is inspired and effective in every way, not to spoil it in this review.
There are many stunning vistas and imaginatively depicted characters and scenes, but I'll preview one in particular. The Magic Mirror is presented as a reflection of the Evil Queen's evil soul, and as a shimmering silver lake surrounded by mountains and housing two wooden huts, one in which the Queen schemes from all angles, the other never visited, containing perhaps an evil spirit, the Queen's most sordid dreams and the key to the beast of the forest. Despite the over-the-top or sillier elements of the story and visual style, with costumes by Tarsem's late, great costume designer Eiko Ishioka, the feeling of evil is not greatly diminished nor trivialized in its effect, though it's also probably not too scary for most young children.
Mirror Mirror is bright, silly, smart, fun and worth seeing for any kind of film fan or just as a light diversion or a good film for the whole family to attend together. Its flaws are only minor to vanishing. Stay into the beginning of the credits for an entertaining music video/mashup which is pleasant and witty and sends you out of the theater tapping your toes after seeing one of the best movies of the year so far.
Internet Movie Database Entry
Roger Ebert Review
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