Which is the fairest movie review site of them all? We at Movie Smackdown like to think it’s ours, and to further our conviction, we’re bringing you a contest between two modern live-action versions of classic fairy tales.
Mirror Mirror is a light-hearted adaptation of the Snow White story, with Julia Roberts as the evil Queen making a concentrated attempt to keep the pretty Snow (Lily Collins) a virtual prisoner in her family’s castle. Although Ever After masks the names and freely adapts many elements of the story, it’s essentially a version of Cinderella set in Renaissance France with Drew Barrymore in the lead role. It’s played straighter than Mirror2, but like its rival, it has plenty of funny moments sprinkled throughout. True to their classical roots, both feature beautiful yet oppressed young women destined for high positions facing off against evil tyrants and jealous courtiers.
So not for the first time in Smackdown history, we’re putting royalty in the ring, and we’ll have to choose which kind princess we like best.
Pretty young Snow really should be wearing the crown and leading her kingdom by now. Unfortunately, the hateful Queen has usurped the throne, apparently by murdering her husband the king, who also happens to be Snow’s father. Haughty, vain, incompetent and thoroughly unreasonable, the Queen keeps her stepdaughter under permanent house arrest in the royal castle. She’s also a practitioner of black magic, and that sorcery is the root of her power.
One day Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), a royal from a neighboring kingdom, arrives at the castle after being nearly mugged by robbers in the Queen’s forest. He’d make a perfect new, handsome, young husband for the evil monarch, but to her great annoyance he becomes smitten with Snow White instead. Bursting with jealousy, the Queen banishes Snow to the forest.
This leaves the seemingly fragile young girl at the mercy of a hungry man-eating beast that prowls the woods, so it’s a good thing she befriends the men who tried to rob the Prince. Although roguish, these seven dwarves are good guys at heart, and they agree to help in her quest to dethrone the Queen and reclaim the throne for its rightful occupier… and incidentally, find true love while she’s at it.
Growing up in the idyllic setting of a French country manor, Danielle de Barbarac is a tomboy beloved by her kind-hearted father Auguste. However her new stepmother Baroness de Ghent (Anjelica Houston) doesn’t share her husband’s affections. This takes a permanent turn for the terrible when Auguste has a sudden heart attack, and with his dying breath proclaims his love… for Danielle. The Baroness’s anger boils over, and she begins to treat the young girl like a maid, forcing her to do the lowest household chores imaginable. The Baroness’s equally awful daughter Marguerite metes out the same treatment while a second daughter, Jacqueline, is more kind-hearted but too meek to do anything against these cruelties.
The years pass and Danielle grows into womanhood. One day while working in the manor’s field, she spies what she thinks is a thief making off with one of her family’s horses. She picks up an apple and fires it at the miscreant… who when knocked clean off the animal is revealed to be none other than the king’s son, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott). Despite the injury and the mistaken identity, the two are almost instantly captivated by each other.
Danielle is considered a commoner, though, and Henry is expected to marry a Spanish princess in order to cement an alliance. So their pairing could never work. Unless, of course, Danielle were to disguise herself as a noblewoman and Henry risk the ire of his monarch father by refusing the arranged marriage and… well, let’s just say it all concludes at a lavish palace ball and involves a pair of glass slippers.
How could a common site like Movie Smackdown possibly choose between two members of high royalty like these princesses? Both movies are solid pieces of entertainment, although they work their fairy dust in different ways. Mirror Mirror has gotten rocked in early reviews for unevenness, and there is some of that, yet it manages to keep its charm working throughout with sustained humor. It’s quite a funny movie, and its principal actors are well cast. Director Tarsem Singh, who got his start in music video and went on to helm such visual standouts as Immortals and The Fall (maybe that’s where the “uneven” rap comes from) also knows how to get the most out of the good comedic timing of his players. Roberts obviously had a lot of fun playing the nasty queen and it shows; she’s all haughtiness and insolence but can’t hide her little-girl eagerness whenever the handsome prince is around. ) The script by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller also creates the opportunity for some fine comic performances helped by old pros such as Nathan Lane (as the Queen’s long-suffering chief advisor) and young bucks like Hammer, doing an effective turn as the often-befuddled prince.
Ever After follows a more classic line, tamping the laughs down in order to concentrate on a more intricate, subplot-laced story, and on the arc of its main character. Barrymore’s a gifted actress and although Cinder-, uh, Danielle is easy to root for, she gives her a depth and inner life that makes her full and believable. Another big plus is the script, which makes the authentic-sounding period dialogue dance and flow beautifully. Credited scribes Susannah Grant, Rick Parks and director Andy Tennant, judiciously blend in some well placed humorous notes to help equalize the occasional moments of heaviness and drama.
The night grows long, m’lady, and I do fear we tarry… er, sorry, that fairy tale stuff is beginning to stick in our heads. We’ll shut the drawbridge on this review before the halls of Palace Smackdown start to echo with the phantom sound of royal bugles and flowery seventeenth century speech. Of these two major reworkings of fairy tale classics, Mirror Mirror has the edge in terms of approach. It’s a fast, light romp that doesn’t stand on any of the plot points too long. Ever After feels a little over-crafted and long, as if the filmmakers couldn’t bear to prune any of that juicy dialogue, the nest of subplots or the numerous depictions of romantic yearning between the leads. The movie is good, but fairy tales are at heart simple stories that work best when the pace is a little faster. Ere we take our leave, we doff the plumed hat and bow to the taker of the throne in this contest, Mirror Mirror.