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I watched Mirror Mirror in a theater filled with giggling, group hair-braiding 10-year-old girls, an audience whose presence was highly misleading. That’s because, regardless of what Relativity Media’s marketing campaign might make you believe, Mirror Mirror is straight-up imaginative, endearing fun. And it’s not just for kids.
It’s a relief to see director Tarsem Singh fully in his element. His 2000 psychological thriller The Cell and 2006 fantasy adventure The Fall were proper introductions to his signature style and extraordinary vision, but he faltered last year with Immortals, taking on too grand of a subject with too much emphasis on aesthetic instead of plot. Regardless, I’ve always been excited for a new Singh movie: I know, if nothing else, he’ll be unflinching in his emphasis on costume and set design, and the transportive effect they can have on a viewer.
With Mirror Mirror, Singh reimagines the traditional Snow White fairy tale with a righteously kicked-up spin. He entrusts Julia Roberts to the role of the Evil Queen, and she clearly has a blast. He also directs the ethereal Lily Collins as Snow White, to Audrey Hepburn levels of brilliant. Truly, Collins will be on everyone’s radar after this flick. I don’t throw around the Hepburn comparisons lightly; she nails the icon’s elegance, whimsy and sweetness while imparting a bit of her own spark to ignite the combination. Armie Hammer is also noteworthy as the dashing Prince Alcott. Pursued by the Queen, but in love with Snow White, Hammer brings a surprising comedic physicality and haplessly boyish spin to the traditionally paint-by-numbers hero role.
Singh doesn’t worry himself too much with the details of the Brothers Grimm tale. Sure the bones are there, but he doesn’t find it pertinent to hit every plot point, and he (blessedly) does much to rework the tired damsel-in-distress narrative. There are countless twists on tradition, perhaps most jaw-droppingly realized in the spring-like apparatuses the dwarves attach to their feet, allowing them to tower and leap over their enemies. In fact, his most successful reinterpretation comes in the form of those seven dwarves, renamed Chuckles, Butcher, Wolf, Grimm, Grub, Half Pint and Napoleon, for good measure. Every moment of their screen time is crackling with chemistry and humor, especially once Collins joins the crew. I seriously couldn’t get enough; I’d buy a ticket to a spinoff focusing on that lot alone, without question.
The look and feel of Mirror Mirror is resolutely Singh, with lush backdrops, massive and intricate set pieces (a felled tree transformed into the dwarves lair, the Queen’s decadent suite with moving clouds as wallpaper) and avant-garde costumes (created by the late Eiko Ishioka, with whom Singh has collaborated on all his films), but the combination of his aesthetic with the classic storyline immediately brought me back to the films I grew up on in the ‘80s. It felt, to me, like something of a hybrid between The Princess Bride and Legend. High praise, I realize, but worthy.
Mirror Mirror is a distinctive, gorgeous, entrancing movie that will capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. It’s a film that’ll undoubtedly age well, regardless of box-office performance — but it deserves every ounce of the positive reception it receives.
Mirror Mirror opens today nationwide.