Tuesday 3 April 2012

Mirror Mirror review

Mirror Mirror (PG, 106 mins)
Director: Tarsem Singh
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Mirror Mirror is the first of two Snow White films hitting cinemas this year. Arriving in June is Snow White and the Huntsman, which will put an epic fantasy action adventure spin on the Grimm fairytale.

In the meantime, this more comedic effort targets family audiences during the holidays and should offer moderate entertainment as long as you’re not demanding anything too memorable.

A handsomely animated prologue tells us Snow White is the king’s daughter. The queen died in childbirth and the king re-marries to Julia Roberts then disappears. Snow grows up and we join the story as she turns 18 and, played by Lily Collins, is intent on leaving the castle for the first time.

Meanwhile a prince looking for adventure (Armie Hammer) has made his way into the kingdom, but falls foul of a group of bandits who turn out to be the Seven Dwarfs. He and Snow meet in the forest and fall for each other, but the queen has other ideas.

A snarky Roberts has some fun, presiding over her unhappy snow-covered kingdom with acidic one-liners. She’s broke, taxing the people to the hilt to pay for her luxuries, and reckons a marriage to the prince is what she needs to revive her ailing fortunes.

She’s also concerned about her aging, and is using magic to keep herself looking young. The “mirror, mirror on the wall” stuff is limited to a couple of scenes but in these moments we get to see the full extent of the visual splendour that defines the work of director Tarsem Singh.

His eye for gimp opulence provides most of what is interesting in a shaky first third, when his imagination is allowed to run riot, like the accordion stilts the dwarfs use to  attack their prey. Lavish sets and very impressive computer-enhanced locations are a feast for the eyes, but it’s strangely rather lifeless and staid for all its sumptuous trappings.

It aims for a light and airy tone akin to something like The Princess Bride, but with nothing close to the wit or charm. Categorised by silliness instead of genuinely clever writing, it’s more zany than funny, with exaggerated sound effects often used as a substitute for a decent line.

But a far stronger second half goes some way towards saving the day. The dwarfs are great value as Snow teams up with them against the queen, and it’s largely thanks to them and the surprisingly good Hammer that Mirror Mirror ends up being a perfectly presentable slice of family fun.

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