Like the falling snowflakes that dominate many of its key sequences, Mirror Mirror is a weightless confection that evaporates almost on impact. Clumsily orchestrated by the usually visually exuberant auteur, Tarsem Singh (Immortals), this post-modern revamp of the classic Snow White story suffers from a lack of palpable energy in its feeble attempt to put an ironic spin on very familiar material. Even more troubling is Mirror Mirror’s pandering sense of humor, which is basically dictated by children’s jokes and repetitive sight gags. It begs the question: who is this film’s audience? A bit on the dark side at times, but also blatantly fluffy at others, Mirror Mirror feels caught in a hapless tonal limbo it’s not smart enough to escape.
Mirror Mirror opens in voiceover, like so many fairy tales do, with a calm and relaxing vocal tenor contextualizing the magical story about to unfold. Except this narrator is anything but welcoming: The Queen (Julia Roberts) immediately establishes herself as sarcastic, vindictive, and calculating, a self-aware viper always ready to strike. She uses the narrative spotlight to wax wise about her manipulative ascent to power and utter hatred for Snow White (Lily Collins), the pristine and lovely offspring of her dearly departed husband, The King (Sean Bean). Immediately, Tarsem favors relentless spoken banter over visual audacity, even as some of his impressive shots sweep over the forested kingdom in stunning CG aerial camera movements. Maybe it’s because The Queen loves to talk, but her endless preening and verbal jabs at the hired help (Nathan Lane suffers the most as her butler) grow tedious quickly, and makes for a debilitating contrast to Snow White’s hollow (and mostly non-verbal) sweetness.
For a film that claims to uproot the conventions of the classic fairy tale, Mirror Mirror blatantly adheres to traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Tarsem posits Snow White as a feminist symbol, a confident young woman taking control of her kingdom and suffering citizens through action. Except the entire narrative doesn’t shift into gear until the hapless Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) stumbles into the kingdom by accident. Later, even as Snow forcibly takes control of the story, it’s only for a fleeting moment, one that is dashed by Alcott’s slapstick heroism. Expectedly, this simplistic sense of cause and effect lines up with the film’s overall lazy approach to storytelling. Dramatic and romantic events just seem to happen in Mirror Mirror simply because they were destined to, which is ultimately one of the worst sins a film can commit.
There are flashes of artistry in Tarsem’s vision, like the intricate set and costume designs, or the glorious Bollywood-inspired dance sequence that plays over the credits. However, the film’s best moment comes when the Seven Dwarves glide through a densely forested region using xylophone stilts. Here, size and cliché doesn’t dictate our expectations for character, and Mirror Mirror opens up to include a cinematic space both deep and textured. Unfortunately, this motif fails to resonate with any other character, most heinously Snow White (and Collins), who feels like a passive heroine wandering aimlessly though a thematic landscape she doesn’t understand. Ultimately, this is what makes Mirror Mirror such a forgettable and taxing exercise in cinematic revisionism: the characters themselves appear consistently disinterested in the surrounding story. And if they could care less, then why shouldn’t we?