Mirror Mirror, appears at first glance to be more faithful to the animated Disney version than Snow White and the Huntsman thanks to the presence of the dashing prince, the raven-haired heroine, the seven dwarves and the evil queen. But, unlike the straightforward story we're all so familiar with, "Mirror Mirror" tries to work in a modern sensibility- with mixed results.
If there is a story that needs no synopsis it's the tale of Snow White. There might be a few tweaks here and there, but "Mirror Mirror" pays a fair amount of tribute to the old Brother's Grimm tale. If the film attempts to distinguish itself it uses bold visuals and a feminist sensibility to do the job. Snow White (Lily Collins) is the very image of the Disney princess we all grew up with, except perhaps for some distractingly large eyebrows. She captures a certain sweetness that audiences associate with the character but also comes across as somewhat bland. The story tries hard to create a scenario in which Snow White saves herself from the evil queen- but her inability to even hold her own in a duel against Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) quickly undermines the film's seemingly good intentions.
If anyone can be credited with stealing the show it has to be Julia Roberts as the evil queen and it's a role that suits her distinctive cackling laugh better than any part she's ever played. "Mirror Mirror" is a film that really strives for a sense of whimsy in its humor, putting me in mind of films like Stardust or The Princess Bride, but Roberts is the only actor who seems able to consistently capture that essence. Her scenes with Nathan Lane, as the queen's "executive bootlicker," and Armie Hammer have a nice sense of fun but can't quite carry the movie through its shallow script and a self-conscious need to be silly and clever-- such as when Prince Alcott tells Snow White that he needs to save her (and not vice-versa) because "it's been focus group tested and audiences really like it!"
The way the seven dwarves are presented is also an interesting twist that mostly works. Driven out of their village after being declared undesirables by the queen, the dwarves resort to banditry to survive. Using ingenious mechanisms that make them look like giants they become notorious and feared throughout the woods in which they live. But there are times when the sequences with the dwarves feels a bit overdone or out-of-sync with the rest of the film. The scenes in which the dwarves attempt to train Snow White to be an empowered woman, rather than feeling natural, feel contrived to incorporate a certain political correctness. Most of the film is devoted to being visually colorful and the few attempts to add some substance don't jibe with the superficial veneer that coats the rest of the movie.
"Mirror Mirror" is a generally cute movie that focuses more on being pretty than anything else. Julia Roberts, while not flexing her acting muscles too hard, obviously has a lot of fun with the role and her enjoyment makes the time spent watching the film more satisfying than it otherwise might have been. Other actors, most notably Sean Bean, are nice to have around but mostly seem as if their talents are being wasted. It's a good movie to pop into the DVD player for the kids; there's nothing scary or inappropriate that parents have to worry about. But it's not a movie that makes a lasting impression and I doubt if it will go down as the best Snow White film this Summer.