Director Tarsem Singh takes ample advantage of the chance to reinvigorate the Grimm Brothers’ popular fairy tale “Snow White” with a visually lush live-action adaptation that brilliantly captures the imagination. These images sing. Lilly Collins (daughter of musician Phil Collins) embodies Snow White, who watches her 18th birthday pass without a celebration. Collins’s poised performance is a revelation. With Julia Roberts’s gleefully cunning Evil Queen Clementianna in charge of the castle, Snow White needs all the help she can get from a band of midget bandits. The helpful brigands live in the forest between the castle and an impoverished town the Evil Queen has bilked of its economic recourses. Screenwriters Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller make no bones about smuggling their topical social message into the text. Discontent among the peasants percolates with rebellion.
Visual fascination gives way to episodes of slapstick humor—some involving the wicked Queen’s foolish servant Brighton (Nathan Lane). Armie Hammer’s Prince Alcott is an affable fall guy for the film’s carefully crafted jokes, which focus upon him as an object of desire to be fought over between the Evil Queen and Snow White—the kingdom’s lawful Queen.
Energized by Tarsem Singh’s signature eye for fantasy landscapes (see “The Cell”), “Mirror Mirror” lights up like the Aurora Borealis: the castle and its surroundings are breathtaking. Elko Ishioka’s masterful costume designs go a long way toward fulfilling the sense of grandeur Singh incorporates into his regal interpretation. Such dynamic sophistication for an adaptation of a childhood fantasy might sound like an iconoclastic idea, but it works like a charm. Similarly, if a Bollywood-styled ensemble song-and-dance celebration seems an unlikely coda, stay through the closing credits.
Over the course of 11 years, and just four films, Tarsem Singh has created a cinematic vernacular as fertile as fantasy maestro Guillermo del Toro. While not as prolific as del Toro, the India-born Singh is equally predisposed to thickly layered tales of provocative fantasy. Singh’s 2006 adaptation of Valeri Petrov’s “The Fall” has earned a loyal cult following for its surrealist landscapes, inventive costumes, and bold compositions. Most recently, Singh liberated “Immortals” from the camp confines of its dubious predecessor “300.”
At a time when animation rules children’s cinema, it’s refreshing to see a live-action fantasy film imbued with such vibrant imagination. Kids’ fantasy movies have to stand up to many repeated viewings without indoctrinating young ones into questionable behavior. Indeed, “Mirror Mirror” goes to great pains to keep every plot movement and line of dialogue true to an ethical backbone. Lily Collins crafts a graceful portrayal of a postmodern feminist heroine. Delicate but not frail by any means, Collins’s Snow White is a redoubtable icon for little ones to marvel at.
Rated PG. 95 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)