After a decade of snarky, Shrek-inspired fairy tale parodies, it's refreshing to see Mirror Mirror take on the Snow White story with an attitude of mischief and charm rather than outright satire. There are no hip, soon-to-be-dated cultural allusions, no spoofing of fairy tale conventions. A person who had never heard the familiar Snow White tale (if there is such a person) wouldn't miss anything in Mirror Mirror because it works as a standalone, family-friendly fantasy.
This version begins from the wicked Queen's point of view. Played with full-wattage charisma by Julia Roberts, the Queen reports that her stepdaughter's parents named her Snow White "probably because that was the most pretentious name they could think of." Ever since the death of the King left her in charge, the Queen has wasted the kingdom's money, made the peasants miserable, and kept Snow White in the castle, essentially if not literally locked up.
It is on the occasion of her 18th birthday that the beautiful Snow White (played by Lily Collins, daughter of old-timey pop musician Phil Collins) starts getting ideas about venturing out into the world. She has a meet-cute with the dashing Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) in the forest, where he and his steward, Renbock (Robert Emms), have been set upon by a band of robbers who wear stilts to disguise their short statures. If you had to guess how many of these diminutive highwaymen there are, you would do well to stay in the ballpark of seven.
The Queen proves to be as smitten with Prince Alcott's good looks as Snow White is, leading to some very funny exchanges between the young Prince and the, um, slightly older Queen. More to the point, she's smitten with his vast riches and large kingdom, which she would very much like to add to her own. (Renbock warns Alcott: "This queen radiates 'crazy.'") Jealous of Snow White's beauty and influence over the Prince, the Queen orders her buffoonish servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) to get rid of her.
As you can see, while some of the traditional framework is in place, this version of Snow White (written by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller) goes in significantly different directions from the Disney version, which deviated from the Brothers Grimm version, which was merely the most famous of the folkloric tales anyway. So this isn't a retelling of the famous story but from the Queen's perspective, the way Wicked retold The Wizard of Oz or Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead retold Hamlet. It's a different story altogether, albeit one with some familiar elements.
There are pros and cons to this approach. For example, part of me hoped the seven dwarfs would have the same personalities as their Disney counterparts, just for the fun of seeing them translated into live-action characters. But I can see the wisdom in not being too devoted to that version of the fairy tale, as to do so would have made this one seem dependent on it.
Directed by the visually talented Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (The Cell, The Fall, Immortals), Mirror Mirror brims with fanciful imagery, as well as marvelous sets and costumes, and Collins, Roberts, Hammer, Lane, and the rest of the cast revel in the opportunity to play dress-up in fairy-tale land. The first half of the film is about as enchanting and blithely funny as an all-ages movie gets, but this diminishes over time as the story falls into sillier devices (a potion makes Prince Alcott act like a dog) and is sometimes slowed down by, of all things, the action scenes. The delights are in the dialogue -- humorous but rarely jokey, jaunty and only lightly sarcastic -- more than in the mechanics of the plot. The kids are gonna love it, though, and I can't blame them.