Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Who’ll get the Fairest Review of All?

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who’s the fairest of them all? This may be the most famous line from a fairy tale to date. This line has been used as a trope, a literal question, a sensuous musing, and a terrifying demand.

The story of Snow White seems to be everywhere these days. The version of the tale with which we are most familiar, and from which this line comes, is from the Grimm brothers’s version of the tale. We have our difinitive translation of the Grimm interpretation from D. L. Ashliman. He translated that most famous line from its original German.

Snow White seems to be everywhere these days–Never mind the iconic Disney version and the never ending reiterations of the story that have graced the fireside, the stage, the silver and the small screens in the past–she is everywhere being reinterpreted at present.

I know I’ve been singing this tune for a while now. Fairy tales have virtually overrun the entertainment industry…check out another blog that I posted yesterday on my facebook. Here tis:


In large part this latest Hollywood obsession is related to the success of other fairy tale franchises. However, the choice of story seems of particular interest. What the industry has often dubbed “girl-power” stories are the order of the day. Snow White has traditionally been understood as a story of anything but “girl-power”.

A princess, who lacks any identity other than her physical beauty is opressed by a dark mother figure. She retreats to the forest for protection, and domesticates with a group of small men who allow her to cook and clean for them until she falls victim to a the spell of the dark mother and is saved by true love’s kiss. That’s the story in a nutshell…at least its Disney version.

The newer attempts at the “Snow” story approach it somewhat different. Snow’s character is more developed and, frankly, she’s a bit tougher. I’m not going to go into all the different versions, from ABC’s Once Upon a Time to the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman and the version that is still in the works where Snow is an English princess in China and the “dwarves” are seven swordsmen. Today, I’m going to explore the most recent film version, “Mirror Mirror”.

This film, released by Relativity Media on March 30, 2012 is a farcical version of the fairy tale. When I originally watched the trailer, I thought to myself…”really guys?? Is this truly necessary?” I’ve been really judgmental about it…really not even sure if I wanted to watch it. I went to see if earlier this week…by myself…as I wasn’t sure how badly it was going to suck. Even the guy working the popcorn stand scoffed at me when I told him what I was going to see. I popped into the theater, only to note that NOONE else was there, and I waited for the film to start. Five tweenage girls did finally make it in for the movie…giggling the whole time. that’s six of us in the theater, mind you.

Basically, the writing did suck, but it was tongue-in-cheek-cheesy in a way that would appeal to kids. It put me immediately in the mind of the Shelley Duvall series of short films that came out in the early 80s called Faeire Tale Theatre.

Much like this version, there were big names attached to it. It was cheesy…CHEEEEESSSSSY! But really, anyone who was ANNNYONEEEE in the 80s was involved with this project. We are talking the late Christopher Reeve, Robin Williams, Matthew Broderick, Shelley Duvall, Terri Garr, Jeff Bridges, Liza Minelli, Bernadette Peters, Vanessa Redgrave, and so on and so on and so on…

I LOVED these as a kid. I recently aquired the whole set on DVD, and when I watched them I realized that they really weren’t that good. The production quality…the whole schmear…yeah…not that great. But the talent was amazing.

Wonderful people involved with these projects…which made me wonder why these amazing actors, who I know can do better, produced such silliness. Perhaps the answer to that is the material in fairy tales is archetypal, and as such, it can be played many different ways. And, if that is the case, then I guess fairy tales can explore both the light and the dark in psyche…well, obviously they DO do that, by virtue of their characters, but in their presentation, they lend themselves to comedy and drama together.

Such is the case with the newest silliness, Mirror Mirror.

*Warning: Spoilers coming. If you don’t want an actual review of this film, don’t read any further.*

Basic plot looks a bit like this:

A princess is born to a loving royal couple (and so it always starts). The queen, of course, dies and the king is left alone to raise the princess. He becomes lonely and confused so he decides to take a bride. Then, he goes off to battle to fight a beast plaguing the kingdom and, of course, never comes home…leaving the princess in the hands of her stepmother.

One thing I did love about this scene was that they had it told by the wicked queen in a room with a zoetrope (an early animation wheel). This was a great homage to the relationship between fairy tales and animation in our myths and culture. It set up an environment of self-anachronism from the very beginning. The queen (Academy Award Winner Julia Roberts) cracks jokes as she tells the story (“the people danced and sang…apparently noone had jobs back then”). The queen is one of those (sadly not so rare) people who thinks she is funny when she really isn’t.

She doesn’t come off as being particularly powerful, other than the one moment where she pulls Snow White’s hair and reminds her that it is important to know when one is beaten.

The narrative is a pretty clear socio-cultural statement about selfishness in government. The queen is so preoccupied with her own amusement and her own beauty that she has taxed the kingdom into the ground. The people are starving while the crown maintains a “let them eat cake” attitude. Snow White, inspired by her loyal servant and cook (Mare Winningham, Turner and Hootch and St. Elmo’s Fire) goes out into the realm to discover what it is really “like out there.” She realizes that her step mother is mismanaging the kingdom. Ironically enough, ehhhhm, or not, this film is being released at the beginning of what proves to be an epically awful election year.

While she is out, she comes across the prince who has been bested by “bandits” aka the dwarves with hydrolic legs. After releasing the prince from the dwarf-bonds, Snow returns to the palace to give the queen some sass. The queen sends her out into the forest to be slayed by her royal bootlicker (come on…Nathan Lane??!…he ain’t no Chris Hemsworth…when confronted by the dwarves, he screams and runs away).

Saved by her diminuative division, Snow joins the bandits in their forest habitat. Through the experience of training to be a bandit, and fight back in the forest, Snow develops her backbone, and figures out what SHE wants her identity to be.

Meanwhile, the queen has decided that she wants to marry the young prince in order to glean his wealth to her own kingdom…mind you, this prince has already met/fallen in love with Snow. Unable to MAKE the prince love her, she gives him a potion…a love potion that turns out to be a puppy love potion. Consequently, he agrees to marry her because…really…whose dog WOULDN’T do anything to make their human happy?

Snow and the seven kidnap the prince (this wicked queen really isn’t very powerful is she??) and take him out to the forest where they try everything known to human kind to break the spell…everything, that is, EXCEPT true love’s kiss. Oh, and by the way, in this version, the queen doesn’t trick Snow with a poisoned apple in the forest, hence she is not under a spell…THE PRINCE IS…

Snow offers to kiss the prince who is weeping about how much he misses his queen…how he “longs for the nector of her skin”…HUH??!! and after much hemming and hawwwing (well, it is her first kiss after all) she plants one on him.

It is an interesting true’s love’s kiss moment because, as per usual in the contemporary princess tale, the feminine overtakes the hero quite literarally taking him for herself on her own terms, and also because the true love’s kiss moment takes place between two people who are awake, alive, and aware that the kiss is about to happen.

The feeling function person that I am also loved this moment because you can actually see the moment when the prince goes from rejecting her (cause she is not HIS QUEEN) and kissing her back. The actor (Armie Hammer who played Leo DeCaprio’s love interest in J Edgar did an excellent job committed and displaying feeling in that moment, which I always admire in an actor.

Then, the queen shows up with the beast that has plagued the kingdom and, again as per usual in the contemporary princess tale, Snow goes out as the hero to face the beast. The prince breaks his way out of the house (where Snow has trapped him and the seven for “their own safety”).

Again, the hero is neither simply masculine or feminine as the two unite for fight the beast together. Luckily, they don’t kill the beast. Because she is a heroine, Snow feels the pain in the beast’s eyes and releases him from a spell which binds him to the wicked queen. The beast turns out to be her father (Sean Bean)…and there is much rejoicing in the kingdom.

At their wedding, Snow is approached an an old begger woman (the evil queen whose magic has turned against her). This begger woman attempts to give her a big, red shiny apple. Snow refuses it, cutting it and handing it to because “it is good to know when we are beaten.”






With that, they all live happily ever after…

In the end, it is all about mirroring…the mirroring between opposites…young and old, rich and poor, masculine and feminine, responsibility and careless, integrity and selfishness. The whole time I was watching

, I couldn’t shake the idea that these film makers were really attempting to instruct the tweens who would find this film so irresistible.

Without being moralistic, this film attempts to teach the golden rule. Like Katniss and so many other heroines of this generation, this Snow knows that she must participate in life in order to thrive. She needs to be active, not passive, protective, but not necessarily aggressive. She is all about balance.

Is it Oscar worthy? No. Does it need to be? I would also say no. Cute, yes, and interesting archetypally because of the way in which they retold this most captivating of mirror tales.


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April 28, 2012 · 12:12 am

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