Mirror Mirror (2012) -vs- Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

Mirror Mirror (2012) -vs- Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

Eric Volkman - Contributing Writer

The Smackdown

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.

mirrorThe Challenger

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.

everafterThe Defending Champion

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.

The Scorecard

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 Decision

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.

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10 Responses to Mirror Mirror (2012) -vs- Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

  1. Edie says:

    As we say in Brooklyn, f%&$ no.

    1) The keys to any fairy tale retelling is warmth, humor and somebody to root for, viscerally. Ever After is sparkling and bright, with a warm, plucky heroine to root for. Mirror, Mirror is exquisitely cold and listless.

    2) You have to have personality along with the beauty. Drew Barrymore inhabits her Danielle with inner pluck and drive and curiosity. Lily Collins is just there- she looks great, but she is just there.

    3) Rewind value. No, this is not a reason to make movies, but it’s stands: I saw Ever After in the theatres, and I own two copies of it, and along with Waiting to Exhale, (another type of fairy tale) it makes for a perfect Saturday afternoon comfort movie fest. I don’t think I will be owning Mirror, Mirror.

    • Eric Estrin says:

      Edie, the other guys in this little Commentary Smack-fest already know about our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/moviesmackdown), where others have also been debating the merits of these two movies (and others). Why don’t you check it out some time?

  2. Bryce Zabel says:

    Well, here’s a good example that making films and reviewing movies are both subjective arts rather than objective sciences. I’ve agreed with you, Eric, on almost all your Smacks to date, but this one I have to take another road.

    How many ways do I loathe “Mirror Mirror” and the time in my life it has wasted?

    1) It’s the wimpiest Prince I have ever seen in film. Nobody would want to marry this limp excuse for royalty.

    2) It’s not enough for the movie to show us that Princes have been fighting the battles for Princesses in fairy tale after fairy tale, nope, this film has to let Snow White actually say those exact words, just in case we all miss the point.

    3) The monotonous soundtrack never, ever lets up. It just keeps grinding on in scene after scene, probably because the filmmakers tried some of those scenes without music and found them to be so devoid of drama or comedy that they threw the Hail Mary of score into every last second of it.

    4) There’s not a single surprise in the entire film. Not one thing is throws a curve ball of humor or plot.

    5) This isn’t a reinvention of a fairy tell or even a particularly faithful one. It’s just a bland boring journey from A to B.

    I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I judge this Smackdown on my card to be a knock-out for “Ever After.” And everything I’ve seen from “Snow White and the Huntsman” looks like it will be the film version of this story that I’ve been waiting for, but we shall see.

    I think we’ve all seen these times and this magic done better in everything from “Harry Potter” to “Lord of the Rings” where you actually care about everybody. Also, having Sean Bean as the King only reminds us at the end of just how much better we feel about these Days of Yore when we see them in “Game of Thrones.”

    Okay, I’ve vented. I feel better now…

    • Eric Volkman says:

      BZ, I’m glad our site has provided you with venting room (now THAT’S an unintended and positive consequence). I didn’t find Armie’s prince all that wimpy; I’d more describe him as befuddled, as most of us are when we’re kidnapped by evil queens and fall in love with their fetching stepdaughter. Besides, it wasn’t really his story – he was more of a device and a source of humor, and I was fine with that. It’s basically queen vs. Snow, and on that account I thought the focus was correct.

      Your second point… ah, eh, yah I have to give you that one. On the nose, indeed. But hey, it’s a fairy tale, we’re not dealing in subtlety and subtext here. I would, however, take issue with your point that there were no surprises or twists. I really liked the way they tweaked the seven dwarves, making them cranky, squabbling outlaws, each with their own distinct personality. You didn’t like the “tall guy” disguises? I thought that was a clever little invention.

      The music? Meh, I barely noticed. All told, the movie was funny, the story was solid and it kept me entertained…

      …and it stimulated a nice little debate on this message board!

      • Bryce Zabel says:

        Yeah, the tall guy stilts were good, and the Seven Dwarves were better than expected. But I just can’t give in on the Prince. He gets beat in fights, he turns into a dog, they subject him to every humiliation. He just didn’t seem very manly at all.

        Agree. We need more fist-fights on the message board.

        Bring on the Smack!

      • Bryce Zabel says:

        Oh, and I will have to spot this, too. I haven’t seen “Ever After” since Once Upon a Time.

        It doesn’t make me like “Mirror Mirror” any better, but maybe I wouldn’t like “Ever After” as much on a second viewing.


  3. No, Volkman, NO.

    “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.”

    So you’re saying that, to a point, it’s a little too wonderful for its own good?

    To be fair, I haven’t seen Mirror Mirror, but I really didn’t see this one coming. I adore Ever After and have for years, so it’s hard for me to imagine Tarsem toppling it with this. . . particularly after the schlock that was Immortals.

    • Eric Volkman says:

      Well… all the good stuff is only good up to a point. After a while Drew’s shtick starts to get a little old and you start to wish they’d get to that royal ball already. Mirror Mirror is fun and light on its feet; I thought the tone was completely appropriate for the material and I enjoyed watching the movie. After about an hour and a half, Ever After felt like work.

      -EV


      • Ironic, ’cause I don’t feel that way at all. Andy Tennant had a wonderful little run at the end of the 90′s with this one and Anna and the King (a fantastic movie, albeit nobody ever talks about), and I was utterly enchanted by Ever After. I’m curious as to what you mean by “Drew’s shtick starts to get a little old”. I fall a little bit in love with her every time I watch the film.

  4. Bryce Zabel says:

    Eric… I have always loved Ever After so this is a surprise result !

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