We've all seen the campy trailers for Mirror Mirror, featuring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. The TV spots, in particular, have looked kind of embarrassing, full of "little people" pot shots and dated gags. But the actual movie? Is surprisingly fun, even if none of the characters is developed beyond the hemlines of their ornate costumes. We managed to get a lot of enjoyment out of this film — even with Nathan Lane's I was a sodomized by a grasshopper one-liner ricocheting around inside our souls.
Even though Mirror Mirror is just a colorful fart in the wind, compared to kiddie classics such as Iron Giant or Cinderella, director Tarsem Singh's gorgeous style and the cast's doe-eyed earnestness make this the movie the perfect equivalent of a nursery mobile. Just turn it on when you want the baby to shut up.
The first welcome surprise of the movie is animator Ben Hibbon! You may remember his stunning work animating Harry Potter's "Tale of Three Brothers." Hibbon returns to the big screen in Mirror Mirror, animating Snow White's tragic backstory. The characters and style are 100% exactly the same as what you saw in The Deathly Hallows, (not a bad thing) — but instead of animated shadows, Hibbon plays with a collection of slender porcelain dolls. It's stunning, and we cannot wait until it leaks online, because it's something we desperately want to watch again and again.
From there, Tarsem takes the wheel. Some critics have already begun to shake their heads at seeing the "Tarsem aesthetic" forced into this movie — but the day I can't find joy in elaborate castles with moving cloud wallpapers, purple wigs, and 10-foot-long bussles, that's the day I pack it in. When Snow White (Lily Collins) makes her debut in the Swan Hat Wing Dress, it was all you can do to not dump our popcorn on the person next to us and start sloth weeping.
Sadly, the story itself isn't as inspired as the awe-inducing Swan Hat (what with Once Upon a Time already banging the "bad-ass Snow White" drum). But here's the general gist: Snow White grows from pale princess to pale swashbuckler, with the help of her new dwarf friends and a musical montage. The dwarves themselves deliver a few laughs here and there, but mostly exist to facilitate the bumper needed between the Prince (Armie Hammer) and Snow White. Meanwhile a mad Julia Roberts struts around in her lovely outfits, mean-girling her staff and hiding out in a thatch hut her magic mirror transports her to. Roberts has her moments of fun dickishness, plus a couple great scenes wrapped up in her all-woodland-creature beauty regime (which includes rubbing bird poop on her face, stinging her lips with bees and letting little fishies nibble away her raw skin. But the Evil Queen is only as funny as "Hey look, it's Julia Roberts in a wacky dress" will get you. The real stars are Hammer, and the pair of eyebrows Lily Collins stole from Jennifer Connelly.
In this fairy tale, it's the Prince who becomes the damsel in distress, and Hammer goes full Jason Stackhouse with it. Committed to his dopey charm and immediate lovesick infatuation with Snow White, his dedication to the lunacy makes Mirror Mirror sort of fun, even when he's transformed into a puppy. Every other actor feels the all important need to send the audience the old "wink-and-smile-I'm-better-than-this" nod, but not Hammer. Hell, even Sean Bean is a heartbeat away from mobile banking his Mirror Mirror paycheck on camera, and he's only on screen for maybe 4 minutes.
All in all where the jokes and shallow storyline fail, the costumes and colors soar. The Prince will make you sigh, and the dwarves will make you groan — which is precisely the tradeoff we expected. If you love spectacle singing and primary colors popping on white backgrounds, go see Mirror Mirror — it's really not as bad as the trailer make it out to be.