“Mirror Mirror” is the first of two Snow White film adaptations heading to theaters this spring. If you’re confused, this is the one with Julia Roberts as the evil queen. “Snow White and the Huntsman” comes out in June and has Charlize Theron as its evil queen. You may have seen a preview with Theron taking a weird milk bath. In a surprise twist, Julia Roberts also takes a weird milk bath in “Mirror Mirror.” Evil queens and their beauty regimens, right?
“Mirror Mirror” stars Lily Collins as its Snow White. She certainly looks the part. She might remind you of the original animated Disney “Snow White,” both in her appearance and, regrettably, in her passivity. Julia Roberts has apparently been bleeding her kingdom dry for a decade, but not until she’s 18 does Snow White consider leaving the palace and investigating on her own. What has she been doing for all those years?
That little venture outside the palace is the first step in her rebellion against the evil queen, but the movie wants us to believe her as both revolutionary leader and damsel in distress. It’s an uneasy combination that’s not quite believable. Do her subjects even know who she is? Not to worry, though. She soon catches the eye of Armie Hammer’s Prince Alcott, a wandering noble in search of adventure. And a bride, it would seem.
Hammer, like Collins, looks the part in spades, but invests his character with a great deal more personality. It’s like the screenwriter checked off “innocent” on personality traits for young Snow and then stopped there.
The movie has a goofy, kitsch feeling to it that keeps it from ever getting too dignified. The sidekicks on all sides are entertaining, with Nathan Lane as the prototypical craven but not entirely heartless castle sycophant. The dwarves here are transformed into forest bandits who terrorize wealthy travelers. They wear frilly black stilts to intimidate those travelers, a nice visual touch.
The downside is that it’s eventually revealed that the reason they live in the woods is that the queen has banished all “uglies.” It’s one of a few tone-deaf moments with the dwarves that the movie could have done without.
Roberts has the same movie star magnetism she’s always had, which makes her queen seem like a bit of a ham. It’s like she and Hammer are acting at volume level 10 and Collins is hovering somewhere around a 4. How evil is this queen? Well, she doesn’t like when Snow White crashes her parties. Her main tax policy involves funding lavish parties. She has an accent, sometimes. There’s one scene where she breaks out that famous Julia Roberts laugh and you might be forgiven for briefly rooting for her.
The greatest flaw of this movie is that it’s children’s entertainment (rated PG) that doesn’t try to be anything more than that. Really classic children’s movies don’t remind you at all stops that they’re children’s movies. Also, for a movie that’s likely geared to young girls, it has fairly retrograde attitudes toward what we can expect from Snow White. Yes, she will stand up for herself, but she starts out as the most sheltered, helpless princess imaginable and the movie doesn’t care to think about why she’s like that.
It also seems to be saying that Snow White’s greatest triumph is her eventual marriage. It isn’t wresting control of her kingdom away from an evil despot or saving people. It’s getting married at age 18 to the first available man. I don’t mind the romance or even the specter of an engagement, but I thought we’d moved past marriage as the happiest ending for women in movies.