- - Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Snow White of “Mirror Mirror,” the new live-action adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm tale, isn’t your ordinary damsel in distress.

As Snow, a charming Lily Collins (“The Blind Side”) wields a sword instead of a broom — and she certainly isn’t waiting for a prince to rescue her. (Not that she’ll complain, mind you, should she happen upon one dangling shirtless from a tree after having been ambushed by seven thieving dwarves.) This Snow White, on the contrary, must use smarts and skill to rescue her bewitched prince and destitute kingdom from the clutches of a wicked queen — and Miss Collins believably evolves from a naive young girl to a poised and plucky princess.

“Mirror Mirror” opens with a familiar story. For many years, a beloved king (Sean Bean) ruled a storybook realm, where subjects sang and danced every day. Alas, his queen, Snow White’s mother, died in childbirth, but he began teaching his daughter to be an independent princess who could someday rule herself. The king, however, decided — uh-oh — she needed a stepmother. His new queen is played by Julia Roberts, who, in a surprisingly successful departure from type as the sought-after love interest, is laughing along with the audience at her vile and altogether insane character.

As the story goes, the king disappears in the nearby forest, never to be seen again, and the vain, insecure queen takes control of the kingdom and makes life miserable for her beautiful stepdaughter. We meet Snow on her 18th birthday, forbidden to leave the castle while her stepmother humorously indulges in beauty treatments and plans lavish parties (for herself, not Snow) that she can no longer afford. Margaret (Mare Winningham), a longtime baker in the castle, gifts the young princess a dagger that belonged to her father and encourages her to visit the poverty-stricken kingdom and, perhaps, use the dagger to take it back — which Snow resolves to do.

If only it were so simple. When the shirtless Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) arrives at the castle, the queen realizes no beauty treatment will help her compete with Snow for his heart. She orders her servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) to take Snow to the forest and kill her, but frightened by the roar of the forest beast, he tells her to run and takes off himself. With the help of seven endearing dwarves, Snow works to gain the sword-fighting prowess and confidence needed to stop the queen’s wedding to the spellbound prince and save her father’s legacy.

Everyone knows the ending, but “Mirror Mirror” is a sparkling take on the familiar story thanks to the refreshing fairy tale romance and a few surprising twists until the very end. Awkward fight scenes and the queen’s groan-inducing “black magic” at times detract from the film’s genuine charm, but Miss Roberts‘ performance and the jabs at fairy tale cliches will make the film enjoyable to more than just princess-obsessed little girls.

Of course, those little girls will indeed love “Mirror Mirror,” with its innocent humor and attractive royal couple in stunning costumes. But big girls will appreciate it too, thanks to a girl-power princess who doesn’t need a man to save her.

★ ★ ★

TITLE: “Mirror Mirror”

CREDITS: Directed by Tarsem Singh. Written by Marc Klein and Jason Keller (screenplay), and Melisa Wallack (screen story).

RATING: PG, for mild action and a haunted forest

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS