You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mirror Mirror

This Snow White retelling suffers the same fatal flaw as Julia Roberts' evil queen: It doesn't really care about anything except how pretty it looks.

The Queen - Julia Roberts
Snow White - Lily Collins
Prince Alcott - Armie Hammer
Brighton - Nathan Lane
Baker Margaret - Mare Winningham
Baron - Michael Lerner
King - Sean Bean

Early on in director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s retelling of the Snow White legend, a prince mocks a dwarf: “You’re short, and it’s funny.” “Mirror Mirror,” alas, is neither. Poised between revisionist fairy tale and smirking sendup, this gaudy, over-frosted cream puff of a movie half-heartedly positions its famous heroine as a dagger-wielding proto-feminist, yet ultimately suffers the same fatal flaw as Julia Roberts’ evil queen: It doesn’t really care about anything except how pretty it looks. Bowing opposite strong fantasy-themed B.O. competition, the family-friendly Relativity release should nonetheless capitalize on its accessible story elements, marquee talent and distaff appeal.

Set in a faraway kingdom where castles look like pastries and vice versa, the picture is nothing if not a triumph of art direction; in scene after scene, the filmmakers seem to be seeking new visual definitions for “ornate,” “opulent” and “gilded.” The lavish look will come as no surprise to devotees of Tarsem, the delirious fantasist behind such oppressively gorgeous pictures as “The Cell,” “The Fall” and last year’s “Immortals.” Retaining most of his regular crew here, the director was arguably a shrewd choice for the job, capable of bringing his undeniable visual gifts to bear on a more familiar, less self-indulgent story than he’s previously tackled.

Popular on Variety

Alas, the script — written by Marc Klein and Jason Keller from a screen story by Melisa Wallack, with a hefty but uncredited assist from the Brothers Grimm — is a mostly mirthless affair, littered with stray amusements but more often bogged down by strained whimsy. Rife with anachronisms like “agree to disagree,” “I just need to process” and, in one particularly non-magical moment, “your tax dollars,” the film displays an unseemly delight in its own putative cleverness, taking its tonal cues from the self-satisfied sneer worn by its reigning villain.

That would be the queen (Roberts), she of the wobbly British accent, whose arch once-upon-a-time narration fills viewers in on how she bewitched the king into marriage, seized control of his dominion and locked away his beauteous daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins). Long since widowed, the vain queen has become a prowling cougar with romantic designs on the visiting Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). But the handsome royal becomes smitten with the more age-appropriate Snow, who flees into the nearby forest when the queen orders her death.

In line with the film’s unsparingly hip, politically correct girl-power sensibility, Snow’s journey to happily ever after now involves mandatory weapons training and political activism. When the princess learns the queen and her loyal lackey (a game Nathan Lane) have been taxing the local villagers to death, Snow not only comes to the town’s rescue but, in a “Robin Hood”-style twist, encourages her new friends, the seven dwarfs, to raid the queen’s treasury and give back to the poor, which these pint-sized bandits manage by running around the forest on stilts.

If 2007’s “Enchanted” succeeded in skewering classic fairy tales, specifically “Snow White,” while retaining a winning earnestness at its core, “Mirror Mirror” never musters the comic energy or emotional sincerity needed to refresh its well-worn story. The arbitrary developments that dominate the later reels in particular leave one feeling the script didn’t command half as much creative decision-making time as, say, the precise curvature of the queen’s oyster-shell-like throne, to name but one particular of Tom Foden’s painstaking production design.

This slack, hesitant quality also emerges where it counts most, in Roberts’ performance. While the actress clearly relishes the opportunity to play mean for a change, she’s less a memorably ruthless baddie than a figure of mildly supercilious comedy, a tactic that largely fizzles along with much of the film’s intended humor, with the exception of one tightly cut, wickedly funny sequence detailing the queen’s insect-heavy beauty treatments.

Initially polite and demure, only to manifest a fierce, spunky integrity later on, Collins animates her pale-skinned, raven-haired archetype with grace and poise, while Hammer’s cocky but lovable prince proves rather too willing to sacrifice his dignity as needed. (One running gag involves the prince forever losing his shirt, bearing out the auteurial signature Tarsem established with the bulging male torsos of “Immortals” and “The Fall.”) Though stuck with fairly routine peanut-gallery bickering, the seven actors cast as the dwarfs make an endearing comic team, with Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba and Mark Povinelli among the standouts.

Full of snowbound landscapes seen to glossy advantage in d.p. Brendan Galvin’s well-composed images, the effects-heavy production conjures little magic or excitement in its action-driven setpieces, as when Snow does battle with a bargain-basement Jabberwocky. The sumptuous and elaborate outfits, which include a white swan headdress that would make Bjork molt with envy, rep the final film creations of Oscar-winning costume designer and longtime Tarsem collaborator Eiko Ishioka, who died in January.

Mirror Mirror

Production: A Relativity Media release and presentation in association with Yuk Films of a Goldmann Pictures, Relativity Media, Rat Entertainment and Misher Films production. Produced by Bernie Goldmann, Ryan Kavanaugh, Brett Ratner. Executive producers, Tucker Tooley, Kevin Misher, Jeff Waxman, Robbie Brenner, Jamie Marshall, Jason Colbeck, Tommy Turtle, Josh Pate, John Cheng. Co-producers, Kenneth Halsband, Nico Soultanakis, Ajit Singh Dhandwar. Directed by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar. Screenplay, Marc Klein, Jason Keller; screen story, Melisa Wallack.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Brendan Galvin; editors, Nick Moore, Robert Duffy; music, Alan Menken; music supervisors, Happy Walters, Bob Bowen; production designer, Tom Foden; supervising art directors, Ramsey Avery, Isabelle Guay; art directors, Jean-Pierre Paquet, Real Proulx, Nicolas Lepage; head set decorator, Jille Azis; set decorators, Martine Kazemirchuk, Daniel Hamelin; costume designer, Eiko Ishioka; sound (Dolby/Datasat), Patrick Rousseau; supervising sound editors, Robert C. Jackson, Martyn Zub; re-recording mixers, Leslie Shatz, Gabriel J. Serrano, Chris David; visual effects supervisor, Tom Wood; visual effects, Prime Focus, Tippett Studios, Rodeo FX, BarXseven VFX, Modus FX, Newbreed Visual Effects, Mokko Studio, Comen VFX, Digital Dimension, NeoReel; animation, Ben Hibon; stunt coordinator, Marc Desourdy; fight coordinator, Jean Frenette; associate producer, Andy Berman; assistant director, Jamie Marshall; second unit camera, Bert Tougas; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at AMC Century City 14, Century City, Calif., March 28, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: The Queen - Julia Roberts
Snow White - Lily Collins
Prince Alcott - Armie Hammer
Brighton - Nathan Lane
Baker Margaret - Mare Winningham
Baron - Michael Lerner
King - Sean BeanWith: Joey Gnoffo, Martin Klebba, Ronald Lee Clark, Mark Povinelli, Jordan Prentice, Sebastian Saraceno, Danny Woodburn, Robert Emms, Bonnie Bentley.

More Film

  • Avengers Endgame

    4DX High-Tech Cinemas Break Box Office Records in 2019

    CJ 4DPLEX, the company behind multi-sensory 4DX cinema technology, has announced that it had a record-breaking 2019, grossing more than £246 million ($320 million) for 4DX worldwide. It was the best year yet for the groundbreaking format, marking a 12% increase from 2018’s record $286 million. The uptick is partly credited to booming revenues in [...]

  • Endeavor Content Studio Logo

    Endeavor Content, Studio Exile Strike First-Look Deal With Mexican Producer Subtrama (EXCLUSIVE)

    Endeavor Content is upping its local-language game, signing a significant first look deal with Mexico City-based producer Subtrama. Endeavor enters the deal with studio Exile, a long-form English and Spanish content maker. Subtrama is behind series like Cary Fukunaga’s Netflix drama “Maniac” and films like Gael García Bernal’s “Museo.” Mauricio Katz, Manuel Alcalá, and Panorama [...]

  • Taylor Swift Variety Facetime

    How Midterm Elections Inspired Taylor Swift's New Song, 'Only the Young'

    Miss Americana was keeping another song about America in her back pocket, as it turns out. Taylor Swift recorded a song during her “Lover” album sessions, “Only the Young,” that was held back and kept under wraps for the right occasion — that occasion turning out to be “Miss Americana,” the Lana Wilson-directed documentary that [...]

  • Bradley Cooper Nightmare Alley

    Netflix Nabs Bradley Cooper's Leonard Bernstein Drama

    Netflix will back Bradley Cooper’s upcoming drama about Leonard Bernstein, the legendary conductor and musical maestro behind “West Side Story” and “Candide,” Variety has confirmed. The film was initially set up at Paramount. It has an A-list lineup of producers, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and Todd Phillips. Kristie Macosko Krieger from [...]

  • The Simpsons - Disney parodies -

    Disney Mashes Up 'The Simpsons' Parodies of Disney Films, Theme Parks

    Disney has embraced some of the gentle ribbing dished out by “The Simpsons” over the years — hoping to convince more people to sign up for Disney Plus. The media conglomerate released a compilation of what it calls “the best Disney references in ‘The Simpsons,'” which is now part of the Disney empire, with past [...]

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda

    Sundance 2020: Will the Market Be Colder After Last Year's Spree?

    When it comes to big acquisition deals for independent movies, Sundance is the room where it happens, to borrow a lyric from “Hamilton.” So it’s a lucky coincidence that Lin-Manuel Miranda will be a guest at this year’s film festival. For the first time, Miranda will hit the slopes in Park City, Utah, to rub [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content