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Mirror, Mirror (Frank's take)

01/05/2012. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Mirror, Mirror in the USA - or Buy Mirror, Mirror in the UK

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Reinventing a familiar and favourite fairy tale that has been told over and over in many various generational television and movie adaptations is taking on a tall order of high expectations. After all, the gamble is a fifty/fifty proposition—either your latest version is considered ambitious and challenging or foolishly recycled and futile. Well, the latter option is probably the more apt selection in this case.

The effort behind the whimsical and lavish retelling of the Snow White-themed Mirror, Mirror is well-meaning and somewhat inviting but falls short of its goal as a cockeyed confection of schmaltzy storytelling.

Filmmaker Tarsem Singh, known for his visually stunning and stimulating touches to flourishing fare such as The Cell, The Fall and Immortals, distributes a generous share of cotton candy vibrancy to the bouncy Mirror, Mirror that recalls a majestic playfulness that surely will resonate with the kiddie crowd. The garish girl-power spunkiness is accentuated and the spirit of the movie is uplifted by serviceable doses of slapstick humour and occasional camp-inspired breeziness. However, Mirror, Mirror fails to reach any distinctive depth beyond its fluffy flamboyancy.

Singh’s “Once Upon a Time” clichéd concept is stretched to the limit rather tediously. Screenwriter Jason Keller (“Machine Gun Preacher”) overloads on the whimsy sentiments in an otherwise conventional, cotton-tale caper that teeters along in its candy-coated landscape of eye-popping set designs and charming costumes. Imagery is never a concerning factor in Singh-tailored sweeping productions. Unfortunately, the flat script is needlessly pedestrian and this overshadows what few genuine giddy-minded laughs and aesthetically charged essence that Mirror, Mirror radiates confidently.

Lily Collins (daughter of legendary musician Phil Collins) assumes the role of a thickened caterpillar-eyebrow Snow White, a disillusioned 18 year-old gal who terribly misses her absent father The King (he disappeared in the mysterious woods never to be heard from again). Sadly, Snow White must learn to coexist with her evil and self-absorbed stepmother The Queen (Oscar-winner Julia Roberts) and her duplicitous servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) that carries out his wicked she-superior’s noxious agenda.

Obnoxiously, the Queen has bankrupted the kingdom with her selfish and careless spending tactics that put the entire region in jeopardy. Her financial ruins may be rescued by the arrival of a handsome but not-too-swift Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). The opportunistic Queen sees Prince Alcott as the husband-to-be that can bring financial stability and nobility back to the kingdom that she fiscally destroyed. But Prince Alcott has other ideas in terms of where his heart will flutter romantically—in the direction of the teenaged treat Snow White and her goody two shoes attractiveness.

Naturally, the sweet and pretty Snow White is an immediate threat to the conniving Queen. She arranges to fix the fate of poor Snow White by making the young girl’s life miserable—namely ordering her flunky Brighton to drop off the seemingly vulnerable lass in the same dark woods where her father disappeared so ominously. Perhaps Snow White will encounter the unforgiving beast that may have been rumoured to devour her Daddy Dearest as a walking slab of an appetiser?

Not too long afterwards Snow White encounters seven diminutive woodsmen that join up with her and share in the misadventures in the woods. These shortened souls were banished to the woods for being considered “different” and ambitiously resourceful by the judgmental and mean-spirited Queen. The running gag—get this—is that Snow White’s bite-sized buddies get kind of touchy when being referred to as dwarves.

There are no tasty surprises in the mediocre Magical Kingdom in Mirror, Mirror. Everything is pretty much pat and predictable—an emotionally hobbled heroine, a handful of bickering fantasy Mini-Me wannabes, the obligatory royal wicked witch and her sidekick weasel, the Queen’s wry mirror as a symbolic gesture of empty and droll vanity—all necessary staples in the Snow White story universe. Still, you hope that these characterisations would deviate from their expected blueprints and provide something more offbeat and intriguing. Basically Mirror, Mirror plays it safe while never once considering straying away from the classic fairy tale’s connect-the-dots obviousness.

As Snow White, Collins is adequately passable in her first big screen featured role as the put-upon princess dripping in gentle-minded angst. At times Collins is a bit bland and mechanical but she hits the spot more times than she misses it. Roberts tries to ham it up as an insufferable crown-wearing She-Devil but is nothing more than an atmospheric ranting bitty going through the cartoonish motions as a catty cardboard Queen of Mean. Jordan Prentice is a hoot as Napoleon, the leader of the dwarves with a “little man complex” hang-up.

It is too bad that Mirror, Mirror squandered its opportunity to bring freshness and feisty frivolity to a classic children’s tale looking for an impish and invigorating facelift. Maybe another Snow White interpretation due to be released later in the year—the cynically conceived Snow White and the Huntsman—will be the suitable antidote to match the way we “live happily ever after” in surviving lame fairy tale remakes?

Mirror, Mirror (2012) Relativity Media/Studio Canal
1 hr. 35 mins.
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer, Jordan Prentice, Robert Emms, Danny Woodburn, Mark Povinelli, Joe Gnoffo
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: Science-Fiction/Fantasy/Children’s Fable

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

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