Mirror Mirrorthe highly publicized film version of Grimm’s famous tale White as snow, finally hit theaters last weekend. That’s good news, for now the movie’s bombastic trailers and blog hubbub might die down somewhat so we can finally turn our attention to the real meaning of this new adaptation, which doesn’t is not that new. It’s the culmination of hackneyed efforts by various filmmakers to capture the essence of a remarkable fairy tale, and it will likely go down in history as one of the weakest, slapstick renditions ever made, unless that another movie to come, Snow White and the Hunterturns out to be worse.
Since Walt Disney sanitized the Grimms’ tale in 1937 and sweetened it for family audiences, there have been more than 75 remakes to transform Snow White through their cartoons, TV shows, plays, ballets and animated and live-action films.
Interpretations of Grimm’s tale and the quality of adaptations vary greatly, but none of the screenwriters has ever done exhaustive research. Otherwise, they would have discovered that in the 1810 manuscript and the first edition of the Grimms Tales for children and households from 1812, it is Snow White’s mother, and not a stepmother, who wants to murder her daughter, that the dwarfs consider the naive little girl as a servant, and that the father saves his daughter and marries her later to a prince. In addition, the father organizes the death of his wife.
However, these family tensions have, to my knowledge, never been reproduced on screen, because it is easier to reproach a stereotypical jealous stepmother for wanting to disrupt than to explore the intense combative relationship between mothers and daughters with the patriarchal father as arbiter. Even the moralizers Grimmwho revered their mother, thought it would be more appropriate to change their text and make the villainess of the tale a stepmother in 1819. Since then, poor stepmothers have been reviled even when turned into comic characters.
Mirror MirrorThe interpretation of Snow White follows romantic comic book convention and the predictable Hollywood approach from the post-1945 era to the present day: select a few famous stars to play the roles of Snow White and the Queen; add a juicy prince as a delicious hero; make sure the mirror is funny or portrays a grim prophet; spice up some dwarves who exhibit different traits for comic relief or cuteness; and finally, invent twists that lead to the demise of the Evil Queen.
A quick look at a few from the late 20th century White as snow the adaptations reveal how Mirror Mirror is just a cover of the Snow White cinematic tradition of romantic comedies. For example, in 1961 Walter Lang made Snow White and the Three Stooges, in which Olympic gold medalist figure skater Carol Heiss plays the role of a helpless Snow White and must endure the antics of sidekicks before being rescued by a Prince Charming. In 1984, Peter Medak employed Shelly Duvall, Elizabeth McGovern, Vanessa Redgrave and Vincent Price for a typical Fairie Tale Theater production with no melodramatic significance. As part of the Canon Movie series, Michael Berz’s musical, White as snow (1987), with Diana Rigg and Sarah Paterson, is a pathetic and kitsch imitation of all the romantic versions of the Grimm tale, with terrible music to boot.
Even German filmmakers tend to use kitsch to adapt White as snow. In 2004 and 2006, Sven Unterwaldt directed two live-action films, Seven Dwarfs – Lonely Men in the Woods (2004), and sequel, Seven Dwarfs – The Woods Are Not Enough (2006), which depicts the absurd adventures of seven men named Brummboss, Sunny, Cloudy, Tschakko, Cookie, Bubi and Speedy, all misfits who have all had misadventures with the female gender and want to escape women. But when Red Riding Hood and Snow White wander through their forest, they reverse to save the sexy girls from the Evil Queen. The jokes in this movie are childish and ridiculous, just like they are in the American animated movie, Happily N’Ever After 2: Snow White: another bite of apple (2009), sequel to the banal luckily never After (2007). In this made-for-money sequel that so obviously tries to emulate the success of Shrek movies, Snow White is portrayed as a spoiled rich kid who prefers nightclubs, clothes, and partying to the philanthropic work of her late mother, Caroline. Viewers, however, need not worry, as she eventually makes amends.
In Mirror Mirror, we have another kind of poor rich kid. Snow White has lived in a cocoon most of her life and struggles to find out how the 99% of the bankrupt kingdom lives while her absurd stepmother, played by the foppie Julia Roberts, decides to kill her. The didacticism and moral of this film are simplistically conveyed through the actions of a kind princess, and her irony becomes boring. Apparently Tarsem Singh, the director, sought to replicate the humor of The princess to be married, but the jokes are too cute and obvious, and the film’s critique of greed, which makes a faux pas at feminism, is contradictory. Should the bankruptcy of a kingdom be attributed to a psychotic woman? Are we to think that the sword fight of a prince and a princess helped by seven motley dwarfs will eliminate evil for good? Are we to believe that the restitution of a king is the answer to inequality and poverty?
Not only Mirror Mirror delivering silly messages in baroque settings is an insult to audiences of all ages, as it continues a tradition of dumbing down tales that deserve better treatment. Personally, I still prefer Grimm’s tale with all its warts and wrinkles.