Once upon a time, or so say the Brothers Grimm, there was a pretty girl named Cinderella, who got a makeover from a fairy godmother. She was the centre of attraction at the ball, where a handsome young prince danced with her – until the clock struck twelve. Cinderella departed in haste, leaving behind a glass slipper. The devastated prince searched high and low for the only girl whose feet would fit that slipper (shoe sizes, those days, were apparently like fingerprints, which may explain the non-proliferation of the footwear industry). Eventually, the slipper reached the home of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters, who so wanted to be queen that they sliced off their heels and toes and squeezed their bloody and stumpy feet into the slipper, all to no avail. And they were punished for their wicked ways when pigeons plucked their eyes out, while Cinderella and the prince lived happily ever after. Don’t feel bad if you remember the story a little differently. Most of us do.
We remember Cinderella’s story from the Disney film – heartily endorsed by flocks of families, and not because of animated panels filled with mutilated feet and hollowed-out eye sockets. Some element of reimagining has always been a part of fairy tales, if only to make them more palatable to children. The closest Mirror Mirror, an update of the Snow White story, gets to the grisly world of the Grimm siblings is when the vain Queen (Julia Roberts) submits to a beauty treatment, where her face is smeared with bird excrement and her lips are plumped through the stings of bees. Otherwise, this is as family-friendly a reimagining as Hollywood could be counted on to provide in this electronic-babysitting era, with thieving dwarves and smiling scullery maids and fantastical costumes and a prince who, through inadvertent use of love potion, is reduced to a panting puppy, frantically licking away at the object of his affection.
The small problem is that it all sounds better than it plays. The time is certainly right for a director like Tarsem Singh to unleash his bountiful visual skills on a beloved fairy tale, but after the initial wonderment – giants on stilts that seem to be sheathed in concertinas; a cloud-capped throne room; the mirror on the wall that dissolves into a rippling lake – we become aware that this reimagining isn’t particularly imaginative. Take away the images and there’s nothing else. Mirror Mirror is supposed to be the Queen’s telling of the story, but we know no more about her now than we did earlier, when the tale was narrated through a neutral eye. By the time a CGI beastie is let loose on the heroine and the stage is laid for a Bollywood-style dance item, my mind went back to Tangled, which told Rapunzel’s story in the most magical possible manner, without a single crack about monthly shampoo bills. Why reimagine the wheel?
An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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