Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
The year's first space disaster flick, "Supernova," will blast into the stratosphere this week.
Along with the sci-fi thriller, this week's openers include the family drama "My Dog Skip," Ice Cube's "Next Friday" and the baseball documentary "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."
Here's a look at the new films hitting theaters - and the films already around going into new release patterns:
"The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" (Cowboy Booking) -- Portrait of the legendary Bronx-born Jewish baseball player who came close to breaking Babe Ruth's home-run record. Tall, handsome, and uncommonly good-natured, Greenberg was a secular Jew from Bronx who became "the baseball Moses," an icon for everyone from Walter Matthau to Alan Dershowitz. (Limited release)
"My Dog Skip" (Warners) -- Based on the autobiographical book by Willie Morris, the film chronicles the growing pains of an unpopular, introverted 9-year-old boy living in a small Mississippi town during World War II. The arrival of a Jack Russell terrier puppy on his birthday will open the boy up to valuable lessons of life and friendship. Kevin Bacon plays his overprotective father. Diane Lane co-stars as his mother. (Limited release)
"Supernova" (MGM/UA) -- Set in the 22nd century, this sci-fi thriller follows the rescue mission of Nightingale 229, an ambulance spacecraft dispatched to investigate a distress signal from a distant comet. Awaiting the six members are a lone survivor, a strange alien artifact and a star that is about to go supernova. James Spader, Angela Bassett and Lou Diamond Phillips play the time-bound rescuers. (Wide release)
"Next Friday" (New Line) -- Ice Cube produces, writes and stars in this sequel to 1995's comedy hit "Friday." The action picks up where the original film left off with Cube taking down the neighborhood bully. In fear of revenge, the young man flees the inner city to hide out at his uncle's suburban home. (Limited release)
"The Quarry" (First Run) -- Set in the South African outback, an escaped criminal accidentally kills a minister and assumes his identity. His action catches up with him when a band of petty thieves discover his true identity and threaten to expose the impersonator. Based on the novel by South African writer Damon Galgut. (Limited release)
"The Terrorist" (Phaedra) -- Inspired by events surrounding the assassination of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, this insightful portrait traces the final days of a female bomber preparing for a suicide mission to kill a major political figure. Her ideological quest transforms into a spiritual and psychological journey after a series of encounters she has with various characters. (Limited release)
"Girl, Interrupted" (Sony) - Winona Ryder stars in this based-on-a-true story tale of a teen confined to a psychiatric ward. Angelina Jolie co-stars as a fellow patient. (Expanded release)
"Holy Smoke!" (Miramax) -- Kate Winslet plays a young Australian woman who journeys to India for spiritual enlightenment. When her family suspect her transformation is in fact the doing of religious brainwashing, they hire Harvey Keitel to rescue her. Undermining his task, the experienced guru gets sucked into a world of temptation. Directed by Academy Award-winning director Jane Campion. (Expanded release)
"The Hurricane" (Universal) - Denzel Washington stars as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the real-life middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted of the murders of three white men in 1966. Deborah Kara Unger, John Hannah and Liev Schreiber co-star as the activists who champion his cause. (Expanded release)
"Jesus' Son" (Lions Gate) -- Billy Crudup plays an itinerant junkie stumbling across 1970s America, searching for meaning in everything from drugs and sex to chance encounters with anonymous strangers. Samantha Morton, Holly Hunter, Denis Leary and Dennis Hopper co-star. (Expanded release)
"Topsy-Turvy" (USA) -- Acclaimed director Mike Leigh leaps back in time to enter the lives of two Londoners who were marked by their extraordinary creativity: William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. (Expanded release)