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MIRROR, MIRROR , USA , 2012 , MPAA Rating : PG for some fantasy action and mild rude humor

MIRROR, MIRROR is a lush and ravishing rethinking of the Snow White story with both an old-fashioned feel and a modern sensibility. Distinguished by an wickedly gleeful performance by Julia Roberts as the evil Queen despairing over her waning beauty, and that of Lily Collins as Snow White, her unwitting nemesis, which evokes both luscious innocence and untried steel, it fails only in a slightly ragged script that is in stark contrast to the delightful excess of its art direction.

The basic bones of the story remain. Snow White is the beloved daughter of a king (Sean Bean) who meets an untimely death when Snow is but a child. Left in the clutches of her traditionally wicked stepmother, the widowed Queen, Snow is kept locked in her room with rumors circulating about the state of her mental health. An incident of ill-timed rebellion seals her fate and the Queen decides to terminate her with extreme prejudice.

In this version, though, the scope of the story expands to become a tidy satire on excess, vanity, and politics, with a timely and secular version of liberation theology at work, as well as a lesson in the wisdom on inclusion that slyly imbues every aspect of the story without ever once stooping to didacticism. Far from it. The writing is lively, substantial, and not without a trenchant wit. The seven dwarves, with whom Snow takes refuge after escaping the Queen’s clutches, are wisecracking bunch, occasionally obtuse, but never buffoons, and as richly distinct in their individual, but very different, personas as in that >other< version of the fairy tale. They are also not miners, as in that >other< version, the which they remark on in passing while explaining to Snow why it is that they’ve taken up thievery. That would be in response to the Queen’s anti-ugly edict, one of the many narcissistic edicts with which she has oppressed her late husband’s kingdom, along with the taxes that she culls from the already impoverished subjects with the excuse that she’s protecting them from a ghastly beast in the forest, but is, in fact, financing her exorbitant lifestyle. So exorbitant, in fact, that she’s broke.

Enter the requisite prince of the piece (Armie Hammer), Alcott by name, an unusually pretty example of his species, and also one that is unusually rich. The Queen sees a solution to her problems, both fiscal and, ahem, physical. Unfortunately, after the usual rounds of chance meetings and standard crossed purposes, Prince Alcott and Snow fall in love, but before there can be that happy ending, there are battles to be fought and stereotypes to be shattered.

In a delightful turn of events, Prince Alcott takes on the role of the damsel in distress as a pawn caught between the two women, one with the arrogance of self-assurance, the other coming into her own. Hammer is pitch perfect. Stalwartly handsome, effortlessly charming, ever so slightly goofy, and, when Prince Alcott runs afoul of a potion, perfectly splendid mimicking an overwrought puppy. Also a pawn in Brighton (Nathan Lane), the Queen’s reluctantly servile factotum, quipping his way through the action as sort of droll Greek chorus. He also evokes the biggest laugh of the film by recounting his misadventures after, briefly, being turned into a cockroach by the Queen.

The special effects, like that art direction ci-mentioned, have the high-flying imagination of old Hollywood at his most effervescent and insouciantly creative. From the mirror as a portal to the Queen’s fortress of solitude and machination, to the ridiculously wonderful, accordion stilts the dwarves use to enhance their thieving efforts. Different eras find common ground from Deco to Art Nouveau to the eccentricities of the 17th century that find guests at a fancy-dress ball costumed as everything from a swan (Snow, of course), to a shrimp, all with equal elegance and piquance.

MIRROR, MIRROR embraces the very dark side of the Snow White story, and though it does so with the proper gravitas, it is not a ponderous film. On the contrary, it is infused throughout with an engaginc magic, from the wicked plots of the Queen, to the proper reverence paid to the wonder of love’s first kiss.


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