At its classical heart, the Snow White legend concerns an exchange: the gift of an apple from an older woman to a younger. In the manner of the classic Faerey-Tales (surely the preserved mythologies of Pagan Europe), the subtleties of this gifting are great: the apple represents initiation into the sexual nature of womanhood, and the jealousy projected upon Snow White by the Evil Queen is a folkloric warning to young maidens, that their ripening female powers of beauty and fertility may be resented by envious older females. Indeed, the lifeless sleep into which Snow White enters, upon eating of the poisoned apple extended as “gift” by the treacherously disguised older woman (much more potent in the Arts of Witchcraft than poor, younger, guileless, Snow White), can be read as a sort of spiritual initiation, given the number of instances in European Culture in which a lifeless sleep serves as the basis for a shamanic experience (please check out Carlo Ginzburg’s accounts of the Benandanti, as well as the number of instances in which a Witch was supposed to have left her body lifeless, while in spirit she flew to the Witches’ Sabbat; the majority of Salem accusations concerned Witches’ “sending” their spirits, to torment others [mostly, younger women]). All this is to say, that there is an intelligent, observational subtlety to the Snow White legend- a nuanced meaning largely lost in the newly released “update” on the Faerey-Story Classic, Mirror, Mirror.
Mirror, Mirror means to be a hip, “modern” version of Snow White, told in the “Shrektifying” manner of the ironic sensibility made popular by the Shrek movies. It wants to take the Snow White legend, and turn it into a modern tale of feminine Empowerment; it intends to morph its heroine from a Passive Princess, into a proactive, self-consciously engaged, modern-sensibility-reflecting movie protagonist. Not that I don’t want to present myself as a fan of Young-Female-Power- but this isn’t really a cinematic reflection upon the Snow White mythos, so much as it is a hi-jacking of the essential story-line, in order to make a very 21st-century cinema-point.
For all that Mirror, Mirror intends to reflect the Power of Youthful Passion and Virtue against the Treachery of the Older Generations- it severely upstages itself, by the fantastically superior performance of Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, against the poor, clueless girl playing Snow White. Ms. Roberts demonstrates herself as such a magnificent character-actress, able to communicate vast layers of sub-text through the smallest movement and gesture- she gobbles up the movie with her presence, and leaves such a wake in her absence as to make futile the story’s point, that a younger female is more desirable than an older. In short, the dear, sweet, young actress playing Snow White is simply not up to Ms. Roberts’ level of dramatic accomplishment; the older woman’s intelligence and sly cunning are so much more seductive and intriguing than poor, clueless Snow White’s, as to pitch the balance of the film off, in favor of the Wicked (Witch) Queen. This makes Ms. Roberts the saving grace of this film- but throws the Snow White legend proper seriously askew.
More art-directed than directed, Mirror, Mirror is sumptuously beautiful, frequently exploiting the remarkable camera-angles and perspectives made possible by CGI-technology. Its script goes for a jokey, tongue-in-cheek irreverence that mostly works, while smacked-up to the brim with bromides such as “believing in yourself,” and never accepting defeat, no matter what the odds against you; it has a very modern political-sense of responsibility to the poor and the importance of social contracts and safety-nets. If I were a girl somewhere between ten and fourteen, I expect that I might be really into this movie, which urges young women to take life into their own hands, and responsibility for their own fortunes, while waiting for both that cute prince and the opportunity to rule their kingdoms outright. Children presumably will be amused by the cartoon antics of the characters and the film’s general look of an animation brought to life; adults have the comic pleasure of Ms. Roberts’ performance to sustain the movie for them (the air kind of goes out of the entertainment whenever she leaves the screen). This is the type of movie that seems to run for longer than it does, and whose ending is anticipated more eagerly than the producers might have wished.
It also seems to inaugurate what might be a “Bad Witch” summer movie-season. The revelation of the enchantments used by the Evil Queen, as well as the special, Magickal “World between Worlds” environment of her sorceries, is a highlight of Mirror, Mirror (keep your eye on the crescent-shaped pendant that the Queen wears), and Coming Attractions promise a Tim Burton/ Johnny Depp remake of Dark Shadows that looks hilarious, and a Sixth Sense-inspired animation called ParaNorman. Both appear to involve Evil Witches who curse folks into vampires and raise the dead. As an Evil Witch is more likely to be a catalyst for change than a Good One (or at least a more dramatic catalyst), the prevalence of Wicked Witches in story-telling is easily understood, and something seemingly in vogue. Stay tuned, Pagan Fans-