Long live the queen
April 5, 2012
Julia Roberts submits to middle-age, portraying an aging queen determined to hang on to her beauty as a means to power. To ensure her rivals and “crinkles” both remain at bay, her highness orders her stepdaughter, Snow White, to remain out of sight in her room. To remain beautiful, the queen subjects herself to treatments employing parakeet poop and bee stings. When she fears these measures are not enough, she resorts to black magic.
Either good genetics or cosmetic intervention have kept Roberts, 45, youthfully attractive, but her character craves the ultimate power afforded by marriage to a wealthy, youthful prince. Sadly for her, the magic she relies upon is conjured by the woman living in her mirror, and though she appears to be a version of the queen, her other self possesses an evil sense of humor.
These subjects, beauty, power and money, constitute the meat of this “Snow White” reboot. As played by Roberts, the queen is a cheeky, high-maintenance, narcissist. Yet, despite her flaws, she is far more interesting than Snow White, played by Lily Collins, the daughter of songwriter/ composer Phil Collins. Snow is dull partly due to the script and partly because neophyte actress Collins fails to create an interior life for the princess.
It would be fun if the queen managed to vanquish her pretty, ivory-skinned opponent, but in this retelling, that is not to be. According to fairytale lore, niceness and naïvete triumph over brains and experience.
Portraying the queen’s footman and all-around errand boy Brighton, Nathan Lane is a study in witty line delivery and physical comedy. His cowardice compels him to do her bidding – but he is somewhat incompetent. His overall lack of commitment interferes with carrying out the queen’s orders, and he flounders when the queen orders Brighton to take Snow White into the forest and feed her to the beast.
Snow escapes this terrible fate and is subsequently sheltered by seven tiny thieves played by actual dwarfs. They live in a surprisingly roomy cottage that is nicely equipped, thanks to their skill as robbers and interior decorators. Director Tarsem Singh imagines them donning special black suits to aid in their stealing sprees. This attire transforms them into tall beings that dwarf mere men. He choreographs the elongated imps as acrobats whose robbery technique is a delight to behold.
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Meanwhile, the handsome young, inordinately wealthy Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), is everyone’s patsy. He’s twice attacked and stripped to his skivvies by the dwarfs, and is magically made to fall literally in puppy love with the queen. This inspired form of ardor involves much licking, panting and fetching.
Roberts gamely vies for and wins our affection, which is more than can be said for the film’s Bollywood coda, a singing and dancing salute to Singh’s homeland – shown over the credits – that doesn’t belong. Somewhat short on slapstick humor, a portion of the film’s gags are geared toward adults. Overall, this family film just makes the grade by the hair of its chinny chin chin.