Thursday, May 03, 2012

Movie Review - Mirror Mirror

There seems to be increased popularity for fairy tales. In addition to the regular animated versions, there seems to have been an influx of live-action interpretations. I found it kind of interesting that this year we're actually getting two different retellings/reimaginings of the Snow White fairy tale. I recently saw the first of these releases (Mirror Mirror) with my wife. Beyond the fact that it was the Snow White story and Julia Roberts was the wicked queen, I didn't know anything about this version though I did find it interesting that the marketing focus seemed ton e more on the evil queen than on Snow White.

I'm going to assume everybody knows the fairy tale of Snow White and so dispense with those plot points. I'm also going to try and avoid spoilers for where this movie significantly diverges from the plot of the fairy tale. In addition to changes in plot and character descriptions/behaviors, this movie also took the presentation in a way I didn't expect.

My wife pointed out to me later that it had a Bollywood style to it…and I have to agree. Looking back over the colors, the pacing, the nature of of the characters and the scenes, it definitely had that Bollywood feel to it. And if you have any doubt, just stick around at the very end of the movie for the musical number as the credits begin to roll…definitely reminiscent of some Bollywood flicks I've seen.

I really liked the narrative style of this movie. It actually begins with an introductory narration from Julia Roberts…as the queen. Right away it became clear that this story was taking a slightly different tone than that of the fairy tale. The queen's narration is self-important, sarcastic and snarky. She points out that this is HER story and that Snow White is really just a meaningless addendum. I love the way she spins the initial backstory of the tale…how she was this caring loving woman whose hand was forced by a series of inexplicable events.

In many ways, the initial scenes felt more like a Cinderella tale than a Snow White tale. As we meet Snow, she is essentially held prisoner within her own castle, friends only with the servants and animals, and kept in check by the heavy thumb of her evil stepmother. Granted, a lot of the fairy tales blend together in plot, but for some reason the presentation felt much more Cinderella than Snow White to me.

Anyway, I also really loved the scenes in which we get to know more about the nature of the queen through her behavior and involvement in the actions of the kingdom and the court. Her condescending manner to everyone around her is very humorous and over the top.

My main difficulty was in trying to figure out WHY the members of the court didn't try to get her ousted. Even though it was fairly clear that everybody despised her, nobody seemed brave enough to try and stand up to her. I guess maybe they're afraid that she'd have them stripped of their title and riches? Granted, later in the film, we see how she takes out her anger against those who do upset her, but it doesn't seem like anybody is aware that she actually took any actions at all.

Speaking of her "taking revenge", I really found the interpretation of the "magic mirror" to be very interesting. (Semi-Spoiler…be warned) Rather than simply being a mirror hanging on the wall, the magic mirror is set up as portal into a magical hideout of sorts where the queen goes to consort with a kind of magical mirror image of herself. Presumably this "mirror image" being is just the outward appearance of some magical power or creature that performs magic requests on behalf of the Queen (such as giving her potions or casting spells). Personally I would have liked to have seen more information about the magic of the Mirror…how it worked, what it is, where it came from. I really found that aspect of the story very interesting and wanted to know more.

As the story goes on, we follow the basic fairy tale plot…Snow White offends the Queen (though in the movie, it's not just due to her beauty) and is chased out of the castle to be killed by a servant of the Queen who actually lets her live. She stumbles across the cottage of Seven Dwarves. In case it hadn't already been apparent that the story was not going to be 100% true to the fairy tale, we meet the dwarves and find out that they are actually a band of thieves who rampage around the forest terrorizing and robbing from anybody who comes along.

I wasn't sure at first if the dwarves were going to be "bad guys" or not. I think the early scenes of the movie allowed for this possibility but instead they become sort of anti-heroes. They truly are highwaymen and revel in their thievery. But as the story progresses, we see that they're generally good at heart and actually have an almost tragic backstory that has pushed them into a life of crime. Once we break through the thinly vicious facade of the dwarves, they turn into the comically lovable characters we know from other Snow White tales…full of silly behavior and banter.

We actually meet the dwarves early on in the film…prior to Snow White meeting them. We meet them at the same time the Prince meets them…or rather, at the same time he is accosted by them, robbed and left hanging half clothed from a tree. The prince's character certainly gained more depth than he usually has in fairy tales. After all, in fairy tales, the prince often exists solely as the "end goal" for the heroine.  He doesn't often do much other than serve as a husband for the princess and he usually earns that distinction through "love at first sight" or some other fairy tale notion.

While this movie's prince isn't a fully fleshed out character, he does have a little more depth than that…though he still does have a sort of "love at first sight" thing going on for Snow White. Their relationship blooms a little bit, but only slightly. It is still very much the fairy tale romance (though the film does play with character roles again by having the Queen try and woo the Prince, which is pretty funny).

While not overtly so, I also felt like this movie was taking a feminist twist on the fairy tale genre…we start with the weak and meek Snow White and end up with the empowered and confident Snow White. I am perfectly fine with this sort of transformation…the only downside being that this often comes at the expense of the male characters. I had typed up a big soap box about this…but instead I'll just say that I don't feel like one person needs to be pulled down in order to help raise another person up.

The film did just fine at turning Snow White into a strong female character…it didn't need to turn the male characters into weak buffoons in order to help drive the point home. I agree that Fairy Tales all too often stereotype and pull girls down to second-tier people who just look pretty and wait to be rescued. But instead of turning this completely on its head (making them into princesses who not only don't need to be rescued, but they have to rescue the prince because he can't do it on his own), let's have the girls and guys work together to make each other great and then combine their equally awesome power to take on the big bad antagonist of the film. Anyway…end of (smaller) soap box.

I felt like this movie was well done. I was a little nervous early on at the tone and direction taken by the interpretation but the writing, the effects, and the flashy and intricate costumes really made it work and made the world feel alive. The Bollywood nature of the film was lost on me during the initial viewing but in thinking back, it gave me a better appreciation for some of the scenes. My wife later took the kids and their cousins to see the movie as well. While the youngest kids were a little bored, the group otherwise seemed to really enjoyed it. There isn't anything offensive or particularly scary (the beast at the end is a little scary but none of the kids were frightened or traumatized as far as I could tell). I thought Julia Roberts did a fabulous job as the Queen. I didn't previously know Lily Collins but I thought she was well cast and well presented as Snow White.

Overall this was a fun fairy tale and an entertaining new take on the Snow White story. While the other Snow White movie coming out this year (Snow White and the Huntsman) looks to be darker and more adventurous, Mirror Mirror is a fun and whimsical family friendly movie.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

cool...thanks for the review on this one as the wife wants to see so..i think i can live through it...smiles.