With Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham. Written by Melissa Wallack & Jason Keller. Directed by Tarsem Singh. Rated PG (for some fantasy action and mild rude humor). 106 minutes.
MIRROR, MIRROR is the first of two live-action Snow White movies coming out this year. This is the comic one with Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. Later on will be “Snow White And The Huntsman” with Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen, and which promises to be much darker. In both cases, no doubt, watching the movie will cause one to be running through memories of the classic Disney animated version.
Directed by Tarsem Singh, who made the visually super-amped “The Cell” and “The Fall,” this is a candy-colored retelling of the story with the Queen as narrator, and fresh spins on several of the elements of the story. For example, it’s not about the beautiful princess passively awaiting rescue. Instead, it’s about Snow White (Lily Collins) finding the means to help herself. If the Handsome Prince (Armie Hammer) can be of some help, that’s fine – but she won’t be sitting around and waiting.
In a cleverly animated prologue, we get the story of how Snow White was left in the care of the Queen after her father disappeared and was presumed dead. Snow White has been banished to her room in the castle, barred from any of the queen’s fancy balls that have bankrupted the kingdom. On her 18th birthday, she emerges but the Queen is having none of it, eventually sending her minion Brighton (Nathan Lane) to take her into the woods and kill her.
You know what happens then, but the seven dwarves who rescue her are thieves who have been living by their wits since the queen banished all “ugly” people from the kingdom. The script allows each of them the opportunity to develop into a distinct personality and the actors run with it. Indeed, Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half-Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joe Gnoffo), Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Butcher (Martin Klebba), and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark) are colorful enough to warrant a film of their own.
Collins is feisty as Snow White, and Nathan Lane provides ample comic relief as Brighton, but the weight of the film falls on Roberts, who may be easing herself into character roles with her performance here. She plays the nasty Queen with relish, alternately oozing false charm and snapping out commands. Hammer gets his moments, but is essentially here as eye candy. In this version, his prince needs rescuing as much as Snow White.
Combining the performances with the colorful (if outlandish) costumes and equally imaginative production design, “Mirror, Mirror” turns out to be an entertaining and creative retelling of an old fairy tale that should entertain children and adults alike. Whether audiences are ready to sit through another rendition of the same story in just a few months remains to be seen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.