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"Mirror Mirror": Snow White gets a makeover, "Princess Bride" style

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Reel Mama: "Mirror Mirror": Snow White gets a makeover, "Princess Bride" style

Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Mirror Mirror": Snow White gets a makeover, "Princess Bride" style

Some might argue that Snow White has been done to death, that the premise is a little tired and beginning to show its age.  I had my doubts about subjecting myself to yet another rendition, but I started to warm up to the idea when I realized that the newest incarnation, Mirror Mirror, gives the Brothers Grimm classic fairy tale a fun and fresh contemporary makeover.  The filmmakers had the inspired idea to make a broad romantic comedy with lots of slapstick in the vein of The Princess Bride. Not only the premise, but Snow White herself has received a makeover as a liberated princess who doesn’t need rescuing, thank you very much.  Snow (Lily Collins) says she wants to rewrite the endings of all the fairy tales she’s read, where the princess is always rescued.  She wants to create a new story, where the princess saves the day. 
As Mirror Mirror opens, it is Snow White’s eighteenth birthday. Since her father’s tragic disappearance, the evil queen (Julia Roberts) has forced Snow to live in the palace as a shut-in.  Snow longs for a taste of freedom and decides to sneak out of the palace to discover what’s become of her father’s kingdom since the queen took power.  Meanwhile, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) of Valencia is on the hunt for adventure, but unfortunately meets with a band of thieving giants in the woods, who reveal themselves to be dwarves on stilts after taking the prince for all he’s got. The prince insults them by calling them children, and to make him pay the dwarves steal his clothes and string him up by his feet.  Snow White finds the prince in this most vulnerable position, a remarkable difference from the Disney original, when the prince is a fully-clothed man who doesn’t snag his tights as he leaps over a wall to serenade Snow White at their first meeting.
Lily Collins’ Snow White rescues the prince, who makes his way back to the castle, where the evil queen immediately wishes she could sink her cougar claws into his hairy chest and goes about plotting to make him fall in love with her.  Yet the prince only has eyes for Snow, who crashes the ball the queen throws in his honor.  With jealousy eating her alive, the queen orders her “executive bootlicker” Brighton (Nathan Lane) to kill Snow White in the woods.  Brighton doesn’t have the heart and lets her go free, but later swears to the queen that he did the deed.  Wandering in the woods, Snow discovers the dwarves’ hideaway.  More surprising and pleasing departures from the Disney original ensue to help this version feel contemporary, including Snow becoming a warrior princess of sorts.

Snow White (Lily Collins)
and her merry brigade of thieving dwarves

Julia Roberts takes up the mantle of evil queen, following in the footsteps of Oscar nominees Sigourney Weaver and Miranda Richardson.  Personally I would love to see Angelina try her hand as the queen.  J-Lo would be another very interesting, sassy choice, though it’s not easy for Hollywood’s most beautiful leading ladies to admit that another is fairer than they.  Julia is still drop dead gorgeous, and it is daunting for any young actress to try to upstage her, but spunky and brave Audrey-Hepburn-clone Lily Collins is willing to give it a shot.  The daughter of music icon Phil Collins, Lily Collins was performing smaller roles and was featured on the 2009 TV remake of the 1990s classic Beverly Hills 90210.  Collins really proves herself in this breakout role, and if given a chance she could have a lot of staying power with a long career ahead of her as a romantic comedy leading lady, Julia style.
The rest of the cast is also fun to watch.  I always get giddy when I learn that I’m getting to see a movie with Nathan Lane, one of my all-time favorite actors of stage and screen.  His role as the obsequious Brighton is extensive but not always laugh-out-loud funny.  He’s enjoyable in the role, but it doesn’t provide enough moments for him to shine and yes, steal the show, though when the queen works her magic on him, he is a riot. 
The dwarves, a band of merry thieves (instead of miners as in the Disney original), are at the top of their game with comic timing.  It’s nice to see the dwarves imbued with a real dose of humanity and individuality.  Purists might miss Grumpy, Sneezy, and company, but these dwarves provide a nice change of pace with names like Half Pint and Chuckles.  It’s always a pleasure to see Jordan Prentice, a veteran of comedy who has displayed his acting prowess in films like In Bruges, and he’s the dwarf with a conscience and, perhaps, a Napoleonic complex, since his name is Napoleon.

If looks could kill: Julia Roberts
as the evil queen in Mirror Mirror

Director Tarsim Singh is famous for his stunning visuals, especially memorable in his films The Cell and The Fall, and here his production design delivers once again.  The costumes alone make the film worth seeing.  They are deliciously over-the-top, especially the elaborate ensembles worn by the courtiers.  These are just the kind of outlandish, artistically exquisite get-ups I was hoping to see on the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games.  The sets are eye popping and whimsical, for example the moving clouds on the walls of the queen’s throne room.  Other special effects are fabulous too: for instance, in order for the queen to consult her mirror, she must travel through the mirror and underwater to a strange and remote island structure. 
Lots of crackling anachronistic quips make this version of Snow White good, almost clean fun.  (Example: Two palace guards say they’ll “pinky swear” that they won’t tell the queen when Snow leaves the palace.)  There’s no bad language to speak of, but there are a few mildly off-color jokes.  There is some slapstick violence that might make even the three stooges wince, as well as some violent confrontations between the forces of good (team Snow White) and evil (the queen’s black magic and her minions) at the climax.
I wouldn’t be giving away too much to say that Mirror Mirror has a happy ending, though ultimately Snow White isn’t as empowered as I might wish her to be.  Also, the moral of the story that growing older is a fate worse than death is shallow and passé, especially considering that Julia, now in her mid-forties, continues to kill it onscreen in terms of her beauty, talent, and box office caché (i.e., her ability to put tushies in seats). 
Nevertheless, Lilly Collins’ Snow White breathes a breath of fresh air into the role of a princess who is often controversial because of her passivity in the Disney original.  Young girls will enjoy seeing this film, perhaps not with the same passionate fervor that their moms enjoyed The Princess Bride, but it’s sure to be a fun slumber party favorite for years to come.
Screenplay by Melissa Wallack & Jason Keller
Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for ages eight and up.

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