It's not easy being an evil queen, especially when you're going broke and losing your enchanting looks. To compound the difficulties, a traveling prince swoons for your gentle stepdaughter-who is growing up to be a little too beautiful.
What to do? Why, enchant the prince into marrying you. Then banish the stepdaughter into the woods-the thieving dwarves and man-eating beast will certainly finish her off.
Director Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror stars a scene-stealing Julia Roberts as the evil queen. It is a modern retelling of "Snow White," but it takes a darker and morally muddier turn from the original children's tale.
The story opens with a girlish Snow White (Lily Collins) who lives secluded within her chamber, forbidden to attend her stepmother's lavish parties. When Snow ventures out to explore the ruined kingdom that is rightfully hers, the queen banishes her to the forest-where a band of Robin Hood-style dwarves adopts her and teaches her to fight for her crown.
A dark, sometimes sensual undertone pervades the entire film. The queen repeatedly holds a kind of sÃ©ance with a paler (and wrinkle-free) version of herself. She uses her magical powers to concoct love potions and manipulate larger-than-life marionettes, all in an attempt to force Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) into marrying her.
Prince Alcott, caught between two powerful women, seems easily manipulated and weak. Both Snow White and the queen inappropriately ogle his bare chest (at least for a children's film), while one scene in the queen's bedroom can seem improper when viewed out of context.
Julia Roberts' portrayal of the evil queen, however, is both thought-provoking and lively. Her character is a sharp commentary on vanity-and the evils it can cause. Caught up in her own appearance, the queen bullies everyone in a futile effort to exalt herself. She banishes the dwarves to the forest because she thinks they are ugly, and she controls Snow with her critical words.
The queen is also very lonely. Because she is so self-absorbed, she alienates both her courtiers and her friends. She even ignores the warnings from her own reflection in the mirror.
Because of this, her efforts to win Prince Alcott's heart are almost tragic. If she only cinches her waist enough or fixes her hair just right, maybe Alcott will overlook her cruel personality. In an effort to retain her fading looks, the queen undergoes "beauty treatments" complete with bird feces, bee stings, and scorpions. She becomes like the empty shells that adorn her luxurious palace-while beautifying her body, she drains her soul.
In spite of its message against vanity, the film lacks dramatic, visual, and moral eloquence. Mirror Mirror's plot seems immature and pointless. The queen is about the only empathetic character in the film, and the action scenes generally come across as contrived. The visual effects, too, appear dated and unrealistic.
The most disturbing element of this film, however, is its PG rating. Its playful trailer and familiar story may easily make parents believe that the film is appropriate for the entire family. At the theater I attended, half of the audience was under 10 years old.
While Mirror Mirror is likely more innocent than the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman, it is still not a family-friendly fairytale.