With 2012’s Battle of Snow White more or less over, the time has come to argue about who won (he says without a trace of irony). Opinions vary – and no one over at the Walt Disney Company has lost any sleep – but I’m backing the one that didn’t have Kristen Stewart mumbling her way through a half-assed version of the Crispian’s Day Speech. Mirror, Mirror benefits from a riotous sense of fun – something Snow White and the Huntsman utterly disregarded – and from playing with our expectations instead of simply ignoring them. Hit the jump for my full review of Mirror, Mirror on Blu-ray.
Director Tarsem Singh cut his teeth on darker stuff – grim wonders such as The Cell and The Fall – but Mirror, Mirror gives him a chance to flex his comedic muscles while still retaining the gorgeous visual palate for which he’s known. That combination proves irresistible, provided you’re not looking for anything more than a light-hearted romp. It’s a smart move: distancing his work from the Disney version without having to compete with it. And with Julia Roberts in the lead, he has just the actress to make it work. Roberts plays the wicked queen with her tongue jammed so deeply in her cheek you can see it wiggling out her ear; the remainder of the film resolutely follows her lead.
The basics remain the same: the seven dwarves, the handsome prince, the vain monarch who seeks an end to Snow White (Lily Collins) before the girl takes her title of “the fairest one of all.” We know the steps and Singh knows that we know, which he uses to upend our expectations at every turn. So the prince (Armie Hammer) turns out to be a well-meaning nitwit, the dwarves take to thieving more than mining, and the queen’s loyal assistant (Nathan Lane) acts suspiciously like Nathan Lane most of the time. The dialogue swings back and forth between the willfully anachronistic and the knowingly modern: whatever it needs to make the joke of the moment fly.
To that, Singh adds his usual sumptuous sets and costumes, creating a sugar-frosted fairy-tale world planned down to the last boot buckle. It makes for a tricky fit with the light dialogue and humorous undertones, but Singh brings out the world’s enchanting nature without smothering us in the process.
The same principle applies to the humor, which borrows a page from The Princess Bride and skirts right up to the edge of self-parody before pulling back. Collins, the ostensible straight woman, plays it cool by and large with just a twinkle in her eye to let us know she’s in on the fun. The dwarves – played by actual little people instead of creepy CGI’ed actors like Snow White and the Huntsman – develop a lovely rapport with each other, as well as playing up the potential of the various steampunk gadgets they use to waylay the unwary. Hammer gets in some good licks as well, but at the end of the day, the show belongs to Roberts. Her Toothiness has always been one of Hollywood’s biggest divas, and the role here fits her persona like a glove while taking gleeful advantage of her polished comedic timing.
It never adds up to anything profound (we know the story too well to be truly surprised), but then again it doesn’t have to. Mirror, Mirror presents itself as an amusing trifle, and within that framework, it absolutely soars. Compared to its leaden competitor, it’s practically Citizen Kane, and while I wouldn’t throw out the animated version anytime soon, Mirror, Mirror makes an easy pairing for a first-rate double feature.
The Blu-ray disc certainly gives the visuals the clarity and crispness they deserve, while providing a decent selection of deleted scenes and featurettes. High points include a fun “virtual storybook” recounting the tale, and a step-by-step instruction video explaining how to dance to the Bollywood-esque finale. Most of the supplemental material aims squarely at tweeners, but the rest of us can discover some fun tidbits as well.