If you were looking for a director who’d be a perfect fit for adapting a fairy tale, Tarsem would be a safe bet. The man behind such eye-popping films as The Cell and The Fall (not to mention November’s terrible, though ‘visually intoxicating’, Immortals) has a knack for creating eye candy anytime he gets behind a camera.
For his fourth film, Tarsem chose to give the Brothers Grimm’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” a stab. The result, Mirror Mirror, is a mixed bag overall, but there are enough fun, wink-and-nod moments to make it a worthwhile ride.
In Tarsem’s world, the tale becomes a quirky yarn laced with dry humor, occasional slapstick, and none other than Julia Roberts as the wicked queen. There are also, of course, seven dwarves, a poison apple, and a dashing prince. And then there’s Snow herself, here played by stunning, porcelain beauty Lily Collins (Abduction).
After Snow’s father is lost in the woods and presumed dead, her stepmother The Queen takes over the kingdom and commences to treat young Snow like, well, a fairy tale stepdaughter. One day, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) comes wandering through the kingdom “seeking adventure”, and The Queen quickly realizes that marrying him could save her now-destitute kingdom, but Snow has eyes for him, too. It’s not long before The Queen orders Snow to be taken to the woods and killed.
There she meets the dwarves, including Chuck, Wolf, and Napoleon (R.I.P., Dopey, Bashful, and the boys). They’re living in the woods as a gang of thieves, and they happily take the left-for-dead Snow into their care.
Of course everything is heading toward a happily-ever-after conclusion (this is a PG-rated family film, after all), but it’s how Tarsem gets there that makes it worthwhile. The innocent, by-the-book sweetness of the 1937 Disney animated classic is gone, replaced with a loopy, fractured feel that makes for a generally amusing time.
Roberts is a delicious mix of wicked and droll as The Queen, and Collins and Hammer both keep their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks throughout, but the real stars of the show are the twisted, marzipan-colored costumes from the late, great Eiko Ishioka (who lent her magic to all of Tarsem’s films) and the whimsical score from Disney vet Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Enchanted).
The screenplay by Jason Keller (Machine Gun Preacher) and novice Melissa Wallack is sometimes goofy, and sometimes the humor is drier than 60-grit sandpaper, but there’s plenty to chuckle about, and quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, too.
Tarsem keeps the proceedings visually fun, and even though there are times when the festivities seem to drag a little, there’s always a bit of craziness around the bend to pick things up.
Mirror Mirror may occasionally be a bit too tense for the very young (say, five and under), but for everyone else, it’s a nice little, candy-coated joyride.