Snow casts pale reflection in 'Mirror'
By Sandie Angulo Chen
Friday, Mar. 30, 2012
"Mirror Mirror" is a visual spectacular. Its vivid set design, sweeping landscapes and elaborate costumes recall Tim Burton's colorful Wonderland, darkened with a dash of HBO's world-building "Game of Thrones." Director Tarsem Singh has shown a gift for fantastical settings ("The Cell," "The Fall," even "Immortals"), and Snow White's kingdom is no exception. Unfortunately, the star of "Mirror Mirror" offers a pale reflection of her stunning setting.
As Snow White, actress Lily Collins is a washout.
Singh's retelling of the beloved story (penned by screenwriters Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller) is neither a live-action version of the animated Disney classic nor a modernization of the original Brothers Grimm tale. It's more a mashup of "Snow White," "Robin Hood" (with a thieving band of dwarfs) and "Cinderella" (featuring ballroom dancing with a smitten prince).
The plot is simple enough for younger Disney Princess fans to follow. The fair Snow White is sequestered in her late father's castle while her pathologically vain stepmother, the Evil Queen (Julia Roberts), oppresses the kingdom. After sneaking out of the fortress for a visit to the village, Snow has a typical meet-cute with Prince Alcott of Valencia (Armie Hammer) in the woods. He has been bound and burgled, and she has no idea he is a prince but unties him and then blushes furiously as she tries not to stare at his broad, bare chest before they part ways.
When the prince arrives at the castle looking for sanctuary, the queen goes into cougar mode, figuring that marrying the handsome royal would solve her enormous financial woes. But naturally, the prince has eyes only for the mysterious, raven-haired beauty he encountered in the forest.
Roberts, dressed in full sun-colored regalia, cranks up the scenery-chewing, but it's necessary to combat the understated (read: boring) performance by Collins. Disney's kind and gentle Snow White was charming, could sing and regularly talked to woodland creatures. The same cannot be said of Collins, who is lovely (regardless of where you fall in the bushy eyebrows debate) but lacks the sort of charisma that made co-star Roberts the ultimate "Pretty Woman" in Hollywood. And, in fact, the most sparkling conversations are between the prince and the overeager queen, even when the topic comes around to Snow White's beauty.
Most of Snow's interactions with the magnetic prince are tepid, except for one flirty sword fight that includes a bit of much-needed banter ("Have you learned nothing from your spankings?" the prince asks after repeatedly tapping Snow with his blade). Even the climactic kiss is a snooze compared with the royal love stories of "The Princess Bride," "Enchanted" or even the animated "Tangled."
In contrast to Collins's bland Snow White, the other characters enjoy brief laugh-aloud dialogue. Nathan Lane is Brighton, the queen's comically cowardly counsel, tax collector and yes man. And the seven dwarfs play a bigger role than in previous "Snow Whites," which is probably to the film's advantage, because the titular character is the weakest link. The dwarfs are scoundrels, not miners, and they definitely do not whistle while they work, which would give them away while they're stealing gold from wealthy passersby.
Forced into exile by the queen's "Banish the Uglies" decree, the dwarfs (Napoleon, Half Pint, Grub, Grimm, Wolf, Butcher and Chuckles) are a completely self-sufficient lot and don't warm to Snow White until she cooks them a lavish meal. And after they take her in, they train her in the essential bandit skills of sword fighting, gymnastics and three-card Monte.
But there's one lesson they didn't teach: how to be enchanting.