'Mirror Mirror' reflects a new Snow White
The story of Snow White and her dwarves (as opposed to “Snow White and Rose Red”) had been going through changes for several centuries, even at the time it was first published by the Brothers Grimm, in their seminal collection of 1812. The basic devices are always fairly consistent. An innocent, cruelly abused young woman. A wicked stepmother. Short guys. Apples. A glass coffin. A handsome prince. But the details change, some for the better: In one version, the villainous queen was dispatched by being forced to dance wearing red-hot iron shoes.
Indeed, Snow White has gotten a lot of attention since the arrival of motion pictures: There were silent versions in 1902 and 1916, a Betty Boop cartoon in 1933 and then, in 1961, “Snow White and the Three Stooges,” which marked both the movie debut and farewell of would-be actress and Olympic skating star Carol Heiss, who played Snow White (Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Joe “Curly-Joe” DeRita filled in for the vacationing dwarves). Several subsequent television productions and feature film adaptations have been made all over the world, including the upcoming “Snow White and the Huntsman,” with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, scheduled to open in June.
Predictably, the new live-action version directed by Tarsem Singh imposes a few modernizing details to the old story: When a beloved king vanishes, his ruthless wife (Julia Roberts) seizes control of the kingdom and keeps her beautiful 18-year-old stepdaughter, Snow White (Lily Collins), stashed away in the palace. When the princess attracts the attention of a charming and wealthy visiting prince, the jealous queen banishes the girl to a nearby forest. Rescued by a band of “rebellious but kindhearted dwarfs” (as described in the movie's press materials), Snow blossoms into a brave young woman determined to save her country from the queen. She's not going to cook and clean and wait for Mr. Right to come galloping long. She's mounting her own Occupy Kingdom movement and speaking truth to power.
Although our girl Snow has already been through more changes than Lady Gaga, her story has, this time, drawn the attentions of a crew with less than obvious credentials for revamping children's fairy tales. Director Singh's last outing was last year's mythological mashup “Immortals,” which brought computer graphics to Mount Olympus. Also in the credits are screenwriters Jason Keller, last heard from via “Machine Gun Preacher,” and Marc Klein of “Serendipity.” The producers include Bernie Goldmann (“300”), Ryan Kavanaugh (“The Fighter”), and Brett Ratner, most recently of “Tower Heist” and who, notoriously, didn't direct this year's Oscars.
With no disrespect to “Mirror Mirror,” it will take a lot for a new version of “Snow White” -- even one as star-studded as this (Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer and Mare Winningham are among the co-stars) -- to displace the classic Disney version of 1937.
For one thing, the Disney cartoon is gorgeous. Two, it's gorgeous. Three, it's a dream-like marriage of animation and soulfulness, the likes of which has rarely been approached, much less equaled. It was one of only two animated films on the American Film Institute's 100 greatest American films list of 1997 (the other being “Fantasia”) and moved from No. 49 to No. 37 when the list was revised in 2007. It was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in 1989 having been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” It was the first animated feature made by Disney, the first full-color animated feature-length film made in the United States and the first full-length cell-animated feature anywhere. “Mirror Mirror” may perhaps be great. But that great?
Still, it must be said that the heroine of Disney's “Snow White” was something of a ditz. She couldn't get out of her own way; she reinforced the stereotype that a woman needs a man, lest she eat a poisoned apple and fall into a coma.
“Mirror Mirror” makes its heroine a more liberated, empowered young woman. But will it be the fairest Snow White of them all? We're still betting on Uncle Walt.
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