By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
A witty update of the Brothers Grimm rendition of “Snow White,” what director Tarsem Singh’s satiric paean lacks in pacing it nearly ameliorates via elegant design and topnotch production values. And even if Disney’s Sneezy and Co. have been replaced by a new gang, Julia Roberts’s watershed portrayal of the evil queen is still nothing to sneeze at.
In short—no inference to the new dwarves, or dwarfs, depending on personal preference—rest assured your own little ones won’t be shortchanged by this latest version of the classic fairy tale. With colorful characters, heroic and otherwise, nicely integrated into a moral-rich script, odds are Mom and Pop will also benefit from the refresher course.
The lessons are doled out smartly, delivered with just enough tongue-in-cheek sleight to preclude Junior from feeling the movie is treating him like a baby. One can only hope the same can be said for Gramps and Granny. Thanks to a brighter batch of kids nowadays, there is less and less need for children’s films to communicate on more than one level.
What puzzles me, though, is how so many of these precocious, intelligent, multi-tasking, downloading tots grow up just in time to take the place of the uncaring, selfish, hedge fund types who pass you on the highway shoulder in their black BMWs? In addition to 5 points and a $1,000 fine, these aggressors should be required to view “Mirror Mirror.”
Then they’d see the depravity of their vanity and conceit, deliciously exampled by Julia Roberts. Parodying the whole inner and outer beauty thing with panache and aplomb, including a stop at the vagaries of approaching middle age, she unselfishly unfurls a new wrinkle to her talents, pun shamelessly intended. She is reason enough to see this film.
Narrating at story’s outset from a secret hideaway where she colludes with that mirror, mirror on the wall, imbuing her, at a cost, with magical powers, she asserts this is not Snow White’s tale, but rather, hers. Of course, soon after when we meet the sweet young thing, winsomely acted by Lily Collins, the underdog mode kicks in and we beg to differ.
Yeah, it’s the same old, heartrending story, which makes you feel just a little bad for the resultantly squirming, good stepmothers who accompany little Taylor or Britney to the Bijou. Well, at least this one’s beautiful. But sarcastic, oh my goodness, and not a stitch of guilt evident in her declamations as she delights in demeaning the kingdom’s true heir.
Still, be it known our gal has pluck. She is a princess through and through, the puzzlingly absent King’s blue blood legitimately coursing through her veins. But oh sigh and alas, dear Daddy has never returned from the forest where treacherously lurks the killer beast. And the lousy wicked queen, who has now bankrupted the domain, keeps her subjugated.
‘Tis a sad scene indeed. But be not dismayed. After all, this is PG, and the purpose is not to make one a misanthrope, but to teach you early-on that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. And, lest you forget the clichés in all those fairy tales your family’s devoted nanny read you, where there’s a distressed princess, a charming prince is surely nearby.
This one, handsome enough, and egotistical in a comically harmless way, is engagingly portrayed by Armie Hammer. Renbock, Prince Alcott’s loyal retainer and foil, played by Robert Emms, helps facilitate the repartee through which he unfolds his mantra. And just in case those two don’t provide enough laughs, such is fully assured by Nathan Lane.
He’s Brighton, the queen’s ultra-toadying chief of staff and ineffectual sounding board…never at a loss for a disingenuous compliment or a self-effacing appraisal of his cowardice. A frantic, emoting, arms-a-flurrying treatise on the disgrace we at times suffer for job security, his example urges Johnny to shun being a brownnoser, if at all possible.
However, the film’s greatest lessons on what not to be, as well as the cause of its biggest laughs, emanate from Miss Roberts’s unexpected, little tour de force. Perhaps it’s easy to be the brunt of a joke about vanity and the aging process if you’re still as pretty as she is. Nonetheless, she’s apprised me of the inner beauty it takes to embody it so fearlessly.
While it’s fairly certain kids 5 through 10 will like this cutting edge retelling of the fable, the critic is aware of what their adult escorts want to know. Hence, registering a 6.5 on the Goldberger Kiddy Flick Painlessness Chart (10 being the least painful), know that “Mirror Mirror” lets parents and grandparents cast a good reflection with little sacrifice.
“Mirror Mirror,” rated PG, is a Relativity Media release directed by Tarsem Singh and stars Julia Roberts, Lily Collins and Nathan Lane. Running time: 106 minutes
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