It begins and ends well, as fairy tales ought to do. With a disarming juxtaposition, Mirror Mirror moves from goofy credits into a haunted dumb show filled with puppetry animation. Then, after a snooze interlude, the film ends with Lilly Collins as Snow White, standing before her father, suddenly transformed from thick-browed adolescent beauty into Audrey Hepburn. Even next to two screen hunks like Armie Hammer (the prince) and Sean Bean (the king/her father), Collins is stunning — so much so that the audience broke into applause.
It’s fair to point out at this point that they weren’t cheering the script, which seems to be reaching for some politically acceptable quasi-feminist rereading of Snow White that promotes tolerance for small people, too. But Mirror Mirror isn’t much more reimagined than Bullwinkle’s Fractured Fairy Tales. Most of the plot problem exists because the Queen is remade into a smugly silly Julia Roberts vehicle. Director Tarsem Singh sees the Grimms’ tale through the lens of Disney’s homogenizing but decides to denature it even more. The Queen becomes a bumbling egotist rather than an evil stepmother, and the tale is reduced to a series of skits and self-denigrating one-liners.
Now on his fourth film, it seems entirely safe to say that Singh’s trajectory is not up. Following The Cell, he seemed to hit his stride with the baroque imagery of The Fall, which was occasionally precious but promised a refreshing global-soul approach to the art-film model. In this film, Singh abandons his own personality and seems to be imitating Terry Gilliam, which is merely trading one form of visual overindulgence for another. It feels as if Singh doesn’t know how to stop showing us things. Of course, fairy tales need wonder, happy endings, and engaging beginnings, but even made humorous, these stories, the first we ever loved, require conflict to make us sit forward. When you throw away good and evil in exchange for fashion pictorials, the legends become slideshows.