Yesterday I went to see the first of this year’s two Snow White movies, Mirror Mirror, featuring Julia Roberts as the ‘evil’ Queen (more on that in a bit), Armie Hammer as the charming Prince and Lily Collins (progeny of Phil) as Snow White.Wearing my Forever 21 Snow White top, H&M skirt and Kurt Geiger boots
The Queen’s introductory voiceover, in which she informs the audience that this is her story as opposed to Snow White’s, suggests that this will be a subversive approach to a well-known fairy tale reminiscent of the feminist essay ‘The Queen’s Looking Glass’ by Sandra M Gilbert and Susan Gubar. In this 1970s essay the authors posit that the Queen in Snow White is demonised because of her ambition and power, which is in opposition to the traditional view of womanhood represented by the virginal Snow White, who cooks and cleans for the seven dwarves. In this vein, the Queen’s narration at the beginning of Mirror Mirror suggests that there might be more to this story than we know, or that, at the very least, we’ll finally get to hear her side of it.The movie opens with Roberts looking resplendent as the Queen next to Lily Collins’ meek and pretty (if somewhat hirsute) Snow White, suggesting the Queen’s irritation with her step-daughter is less to do with jealousy of Snow’s looks than her sheer insipidness. Despite this promising start, however, Mirror Mirror soon becomes trapped between a subversion of the original tale and its twenty-first century reflection. Hollywood may have advanced enough to allow women to save the prince (and even carry a movie, if they’re bankable enough) but they must still be slim, pretty and young (or young-looking). Thus once focus groups have had their say (and the film admirably breaks the fourth wall by making reference to them), there’s not much left to subvert. The remaining two thirds of the movie therefore appear to turn the first on its head. Suddenly we are being asked to root for Snow White without ever really being given a reason why (bar her returning some gold to the poverty-stricken villagers and a cringe-worthy montage in which the dwarves teach her how to fight dirty). But Collins’ Snow White remains feeble and largely quiet (at one point her moody stares give Kristen Stewart, this year’s other Snow White, a run for her money) and even her sword fighting is weak (I found myself wishing they’d hired a body double). Meanwhile, despite the Queen now firmly being the antagonist, no satisfactory motivation is ever given for her actions, whether it’s her deposition of the King or her hatred of Snow White. This uncertainty meant that by the middle of the movie I, much like the Prince, found myself confused as to whose side I was meant to be on.In fact, there were many parts of the movie that were left unexplained, including the origin of the famed mirror and its bizarre location (my friend wondered aloud whether they had simply re-used footage from Eat Pray Love). Even things that the film promises it will explain are forgotten, such as the dagger the King gives Snow White, which the Queen notes is an “interesting gift, but more on that later” and is then never returned to. In fact (spoiler alert) by the time the King inexplicably reappeared at the end of the film he looked about as confused as I felt, a feeling exacerbated only by the revelation of his Yorkshire accent.To some extent the visual spectacle offered by the costumes provided a distraction from the gaping plot-holes but even these borrowed too much from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, particularly during the ball scene in which Snow White is channelling Bjork’s swan outfit circa 2001. Her white dress also looked suspiciously similar to that worn by Anne Hathaway as the White Queen in Alice, especially when accessorised with a weighty pair of eyebrows.Despite these criticisms, I should stress that Mirror Mirror is not a bad way to spend an hour and forty minutes, particularly with copious amounts of Armie Hammer semi-nudity thrown in, a fact also appreciated by the Queen, in a neat jab at Hollywood’s typical objectification of women (for Hollywood feel free to just read ‘Michael Bay’). The film is entertaining: there are laughs to be had and the scene in which the Queen pampers herself before the ball (not for the squeamish) is a wry nod to the lengths women will go to in the name of beautification (or preservation).Ultimately, this fairy tale’s real tragedy is that it never fully realises its potential as a commentary on society’s continued obsession with youth, its objectification of women and its desire to pit female against female. In terms of what is left, Enchanted offered a wittier study of Disney princesses and The Social Network provided two Armie Hammers for the price of one cinema ticket. As such, Mirror Mirror has cracks that cannot be repaired, even by sumptuous costumes or a score penned by Alan Menken.However the real battle this year is not between Snow White and the Queen, but between Snow White and Snow White. Mirror Mirror has so far grossed $36.5 million domestically since it opened last week, but will it fare better (or be fairer) than this year’s other Snow White movie, Snow White and the Huntsman? (On a separate note, how many times can I write Snow White in one paragraph?)Whilst Huntsman has been pipped to the post in terms of release date (it comes out in June), it has the benefit of Kristen Stewart in the lead role, thus reaping the Twihard earned dollars of millions of tweens trying to alleviate the agony of waiting for their next Bella Swan fix (Breaking Dawn II comes out in November). This is potentially supplemented by Thor fans hoping for more long-haired testosterone-packing Chris Hemsworth shirtlessness. Joe Roth, Huntsman’s producer (and also the producer on Alice), boasted at last year’s San Diego Comic Con that his movie would make $700 million but, given that it looks like it’s borrowed even more from the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland formula – and not in a good way – I wouldn’t bet on it (i.e. take world-renowned fairy tale, put lead female in armour, add nonsense plot, garnish with spurious characters and bake for two hours).Of all the Snow White films out there (and that includes Amanda Bynes’ abysmal but oddly endearing Sydney White) my money is still on Disney’s 1937 timeless animated classic. And with good reason: as a part of the Disney Princess brand it made $3 billion dollars in 2006 alone. Therefore despite Snow White being over 50 years older than either Lily Collins or Kristen Stewart*, the celluloid star of Walt’s first full-length animated feature undoubtedly remains the fairest of them all.
Fun fact: Kristen Stewart turns 22 today – Happy Birthday Kristen!