This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 1st April 2012
You wait years for a live action Snow White movie, and two come along at once. As we wait a few more months for Kristen Stewart’s darker tale, first off the blocks is the lovely Lily Collins (Abduction), clad in conventional fairytale ballgown and wide-eyed naivety, in an initially orthodox rendition that swiftly attempts some genre-bending.
The story has been ever-so-slightly rejigged (here the seven dwarves are not hard-working miners, but a multicultural mob of witty and emotionally intelligent bandits), but the key elements remain. There are spells and apples, and a mirror that knows all.
And every good fairytale needs an evil stepmother. As such, it is actually Julia Roberts who rules this version’s roost, exhibiting great comic timing as she takes a cougarish fancy to the young Prince. The scenes between Roberts and the ludicrously handsome Armie Hammer (who played both Winkelvoss twins in The Social Network) have the greatest spice, from the moment he appears before her, his garments having been stolen by “giants”. (“The Prince is bashful and requires, sadly, a covering,” she pouts.) By comparison, the central love affair between Snow White and her Prince, full of plucky swordplay and feminist principles, requires a higher degree of make-believe.
There are some lovely touches early on as Snow White’s backstory is told in clever animation, and the lavish sets and aspirational costumes provide female wish fulfilment. While there are knowing references to the genre (as the Prince tries to persuade Snow to let him save her, he says “Don’t mess with tried and true storytelling – it’s been focus-grouped, and it works!”), the production itself is theatrical and fanciful, as befitting a fairytale imagining. With a merest hint of Bollywood infused into the closing credits (director Tarsem Singh made music videos before advancing to feature films like the flamboyant Immortals), Mirror Mirror tries at times to be novel and on-trend, but winds up feeling pretty traditional. It is nonetheless a jolly romp with some hugely enjoyable performances.