Jason Fraley, WTOP Film Critic
WASHINGTON – Hollywood offers two new takes on the “Snow White” fairy tale this year.
In June, Charlize Theron (“Monster”), Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) and Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) star in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” which promises to be a darker rendition.
Before that, however, we get a lighter take in “Mirror Mirror.”
Julia Roberts stars as The Queen, whose plan to kill Snow White is foiled by seven tiny rebels.
The film takes the “Wicked” approach, telling the tale from the villain’s perspective. It attempts a postmodern snarkiness, with Roberts saying, “Her hair is not black, it’s raven, and she’s 18 years old, and her skin has never seen the sun, so of course it’s good.”
It’s a valiant effort, but the whole thing didn’t quite work for me. This is partly because lovable Julia Roberts lacks the necessary danger of past live-action fairy tale villains, like Glenn Close in “101 Dalmatians” (1996) or Susan Sarandon in “Enchanted” (2007).
The script makes several notable changes to the classic story we all know. The magic mirror not only speaks to The Queen, it transforms into a liquid portal. The poisonous apple is used more as an afterthought than an actual plot twist. And instead of the Prince’s kiss bringing Snow White back from the dead, Snow White’s kiss brings the Prince out of a “puppy love potion” trance. I’m all for changing the story if it’s done well, and for a second, there was promise in Snow White’s defiance: “I’ve read so many stories where the prince saves the princess. It’s time to change that ending.” Unfortunately, we get a lame excuse for a replacement climax.
Choices like the “puppy love potion” make the film’s rather talented cast look ridiculous. Lily Collins (“The Blind Side”) is a cute Snow White, Nathan Lane (“The Birdcage”) brings his standard comic relief and Armie Hammer (the Winklevoss Twins in “The Social Network”) makes a dashing Prince Charming. If only they were reading off a better script.
The one saving grace is the comedy of the Seven Dwarfs, led by Danny Woodburn, whom you’ll remember as Kramer’s friend Mickey in TV’s “Seinfeld.” Instead of Dopey, Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Bashful and Doc, we get Grimm, Wolf, Napoleon, Half Pint, Grub, Butcher and Chuckles. Each comes with a distinct personality, and their camaraderie together creates a number of surprising laugh out loud moments your kids will love.
Still, for all these laughs, the film doesn’t heed the advice of Walt Disney, who once said that “for every laugh, there should be a tear.” Disney’s 1937 classic “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs” not only invented the feature-length animated genre, it literally caused children to wet the seats of Radio City Music Hall. Folks hadn’t seen anything like it. So in a time when cynics said audiences wouldn’t stare at cell animation for two hours, Disney proved them wrong, terrifying us with The Queen’s black magic, making us smile with songs like “Heigh Ho” and “Whistle While You Work,” and breaking our hearts with a tear down Grumpy’s cheek.
Watch that YouTube clip again. There’s actual directing going on, from The Queen’s shadow enveloping Snow White, to the melting candle wax mimicking the Dwarfs’ teardrops. The Prince’s reflection in the wishing well rivals the “Beauty and the Beast” crane shot and the “Lion King” Vertigo effect for some of the coolest directing techniques in animated films.
While these images and songs will continue to echo through time, “Mirror Mirror,” for all its vibrant costumes and set design, will be quickly forgotten.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)