Disney's Snow White sang to birds and swept floors and slept a good long while in a glass coffin, waiting for her prince to arrive. This Snow White ... well, she's a little more determined and active than that.
Evil Queens. Do they go to finishing school to work on their malevolence? Do they have tutors who help them develop their diabolical cackle? Do they attend makeup classes titled "Using Lip Gloss to Intimidate" and "The Imperious Eyebrow: A How-to-Pluck Guide"? Do they take tests that separate merely peevish monarchs from the truly, giftedly wicked?
Wherever these Queens go to learn their trade, we've got to assume that Mirror Mirror's Evil Queen earned top marks—graduating, perhaps, dooma cum lousy.
She'd have to. It's not that easy to get a job as Evil Queen—not in this economy, anyway. But particularly determined applicants can still find the occasional gig by deposing a hapless rightful ruler and usurping his throne. And that is exactly what she did. She found a sunny, cheerful kingdom—you know, the sort of idyllic place you see in the occasional travel brochure or veggie commercial—ruled by an honest, just king. Then she charmed the socks off the guy. And when she was good and hitched, she charmed him again—right out of his own castle, sending him charging into a dark and treacherous forest, never to be heard from again.
With the king gone, the Queen had license to ratchet up her evilness—raising taxes to buy lavish gowns, raising taxes to throw sumptuous balls, raising taxes to gold-plate her cereal boxes.
She quickly finds, however, that it's not all fun and games at the palace. Snow White, the king's beautiful daughter, is about to turn 18. And while the Queen knows that her status as the "evilest of them all" will likely go unchallenged, she worries that her status as the kingdom's most beautiful woman may be in peril.
How can the Queen protect her regal vanity? "Snow would have to do what snow does best," she tells us. "Snow would have to fall."
Mirror Mirror, based very loosely on the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, comes equipped with a nice, albeit obvious, moral: Looks can be deceiving.
For eons, we've associated beauty with goodness, and our preoccupation with how we look, I think, reflects that: The better we look, we figure (often subconsciously), the more people will like us—and the more worthy we'll be of their regard.
Audiences who see Mirror Mirror will see a queen who is a very pretty woman, but isn't particularly likable. She works quite hard to make herself beautiful (even getting bees to sting her lips so they'll plump up), but we see it all for what it really is: vain, shallow pointlessness. Her beauty can't disguise the ugliness inside.
And the theme of what's inside not matching what's outside doesn't stop with the Evil Queen. Everyone seems to be concealing something in Mirror Mirror—even from themselves. It's a reflection of how none of us are quite the people we see in our own mirrors. The film's seven dwarfs (not a disparaging term in this context, I'd assume) wear collapsible stilts to appear taller and more intimidating. But when we get to know them, we see that their smallish bodies hide reservoirs of strength and goodness. A fearsome forest beast turns out to be something else entirely—and something far better than we suspected. Even Renbock, faithful steward of the story's handsome Prince Andrew Alcott, is revealed to wear padding underneath his clothes to make him look stronger.
Then there's Snow White herself, who goes from being a fearful and mild princess under her stepmother's thumb to a brave, courageous and yet still feminine leader—one who winds up saving the prince for a change.
Mirror Mirror is infused with magic. But rather than treating it as a harmless oddity (as many fairy tales do) or a naturalistic ability (as we see in Harry Potter), this story tells us that magic is bad. Only one character—the Evil Queen—uses it, and she's warned that sorcery comes with a grave price. We see just what that cost involves before the credits roll.
When the Queen thinks she's successfully killed Snow, her lackey Brighton says, "One of God's greatest mysteries is His plan for each and every one of us. … God rest her soul."
Love is, obviously, a big deal in Mirror Mirror, with both the Queen and Snow vying for the affections of Prince Andrew. At one point, the Queen gives Andrew a love potion—a puppy love potion that causes him to develop a faithful and exuberant affection for her, jumping on her, pushing her over on a bed, crawling across the top of her and licking her face. In context, it's pretty innocent. Taken out of that context, it can look a bit risqué.
To cure the prince of his puppy love, Snow White must smooch the guy, and so she does. It's a romantic and sensual kiss, but not particularly passionate. Later, the two kiss again as they get married.
Shirtless, Andrew is ogled by the Queen. The Queen undergoes a spa-like beauty treatment in which her midriff is bared. Returning to human form after being turned into a cockroach, Brighton laments that he was taken advantage of by a grasshopper.
Mirror Mirror could be construed as a reasonably violent movie, what with all the flying swords and fists and such. But, again, it's all about context: The violence here isn't even slapstick as much as it is silly—rollicking mayhem that no one in the audience or onscreen can take seriously.
The Queen, of course, orders that Snow be killed. But Brighton allows the girl to escape, bringing back a sack full of animal organs and meat (including a string of sausages) to "prove" that the deed was done. Andrew and Renbok fight with and are captured by thieves, who tie them up and hang them upside down. When they're cut loose, they hit the ground with a thud. Later, the prince and a number of the Queen's soldiers are attacked by the same band of bandits. Snow and Andrew engage in a lengthy sword fight in which the prince sometimes uses his sword as a switch to swat Snow on the rear. Thieves battle soldiers, knocking some of them out. Dwarfs are attacked by magical marionettes—gigantic in size and kinda scary in appearance. The marionettes smash trees and tables and a good chunk of the dwarfs' residence before being put out of commission.
When the prince is in the throes of puppy love, the dwarfs tie him to a chair and try to snap him out of it with a variety of sometimes painful remedies, including punches to the face. The Queen, during her beauty treatment, is stung by scorpions and bees. A scary beast attacks. (No one is hurt.) A carriage is overturned. A horse kicks Andrew. Snow practices fighting with the dwarfs, and toward the end of the training she pushes one of them off the house roof. (The dwarf falls, but is uninjured.) People serving as pieces in a life-size chess-like game shoot at each other with their ship-shaped hats.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters sometimes say "For the love of God"—not quite an out-and-out abuse of God's name, perhaps, but not exactly reverential either. They call one another names like "idiot" and "jerk."
Drug and Alcohol Content
A dwarf once worked at a pub and still spends quite a bit of his time there. One night, he comes home inebriated.
Other Negative Elements
The Queen's beauty treatment involves smearing bird poop across her face.
People are mocked for a variety of reasons—from being short to being irritating to just being alive. The film tells us that such mockery is always unkind and often untrue, but still, it's there, and it's used to get a few laughs in the process. Duplicity and lies are de rigueur in this kingdom. And we can't forget that Snow's best friends—the dwarfs—are not innocent miners here, but thieves, robbing anyone who falls into their clutches. Snow's solution? Trying to convince them to rob for "better" reasons, stealing tax money from the Queen and giving it back to the people.
"I'm made of more than you think," Snow White tells the Evil Queen near the end of this tall tale. And by that time, we all know it.
The princess has morphed from a simpering child into a formidable fighter, diplomat and woman. With all due respect to Disney's classic cartoon, this Snow White does not passively wait for love's true kiss. She takes control of her own destiny and brings new life and hope to a kingdom that's rightfully hers.
Mirror Mirror isn't exactly deep or thoughtful, nor is it completely free of content problems. And I've outlined those here. But it's about as clean a live-action, mainstream film as we're likely to see in 2012. It also pretty fun—filled with color and humor and a Princess Bride-like whimsy.
And, like any good fairy tale, it tells us something important: We all, just like Snow, are made of more than we think. We all have the wherewithal to change and grow and make the world better. Brighter. Fairer.