Mirror, Mirror is an illusion. It pretends to be a cutting edge version of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, featuring an empowered, 21st century Snow White, who literally kicks ass and frees her people from tyranny. Compared to Walt Disney’s saccharine travesty of the story, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it’s an improvement in tone and character, if not content – Disney’s version retains most of the plot, while Mirror, Mirror removes the darker elements. More of that later.
What we have is Hollywood in full on, high camp mode, deploying all the production values at its disposal to create a surreal and fantastical stage set, while staying firmly within the comfort zone of most American audiences. And it does it very well – the scene at court where the Queen is playing chess, using her courtiers as pieces, for example. They wear fully-rigged sailing ships as hats, armed with miniature cannons that blow the other’s ship away when a piece is taken. A brilliant conceit. Then there’s her excruciating beauty treatment, involving bat shit, maggots, and scorpions, among other things. “Try not to enjoy this too much,” she tells her attendant.
At the center of this confection is the Bitch Queen, played by Julia Roberts, easily the most interesting character in the whole film, and the one I was rooting for. Lily Collins as Snow is no match, even if she does manage to acquire a panoply of martial arts skills in the time it takes the prince to ride out from the castle with a troop of soldiers to arrest her.
This is a very entertaining film, and I was charmed from the beginning. The Dwarfs are necessarily stereotypical, but at least they rob people for a living and leap about on pneumatic stilts to appear as giants. The Prince is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer, falling for the Queen’s lies even before she mistakenly gives him a love potion meant for puppies. The message to take away from this is always to read the label. It falls to Snow to administer the kiss that snaps him out of the spell, a neat reversal. The film revels in this and other self-referential double takes, and I enjoyed them as much as the writers did in inventing them.
That said, Mirror, Mirror ultimately disappoints. It’s all icing and no dark, chewy cake, stuffed with raisins. The most glaring lack is that nobody dies. True, the King seems to die in the forest, but the Queen has just transformed him into a ravening beast who she controls. When Snow “kills” the beast, her old dad reappears as good as new. Most egregious of all, Snow is not poisoned by an apple, and buried in a crystal coffin jealously guarded by the Dwarfs.
That’s the heart of the story, you pillocks!
This is why fairy stories are so enduring, because they meld the magical and frightening with everyday reality. Instead, a hideously withered Queen tries to give Snow the apple at her wedding to the Prince, but our Snow sees through the deception. The Queen seems to eat the apple herself, though it’s not explicit. Compare the Brothers Grimm version, where she shows up at the wedding, is forced into red hot iron shoes, and made to dance until she’s dead.
If you want to see a properly dark and twisted realization of the psychological realities behind the fairy tale, I suggest Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Sigourney Weaver as the Queen. Need I say more?
And here it is.