The film's chief gimmick and the one it pulls off very successfully is Julia Roberts playing the wicked queen as an ironic, entirely too self-interested to the point of genre-deforming self-consciousness, genre-savvy villain who delivers insults about virginal princesses, royal naming customs, landed princes, costumed balls, mediaeval marriage politics, and the like. Julia Roberts as the queen reminds me of a bright but bored schoolgirl who, trapped in a mandatory class, begins to make fun of her course material in a stand-up comedy routine.
Of note is Tarsem Singh's set design and vision for the fairy tale kingdom. It's cheery and quirky, a riot of styles from different art periods and cultures that melt into one another in manic ecstasy. (The castle, for example, has a facade reminiscent of the Taj Mahal and a rococo-gone-wild interior design.) The sets in this film, The Cell, and The Fall are proof that Singh's creative visual talent is best suited for light-hearted, frivolous fantasy.
As Oscar-winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka's (Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula) final project before her passing earlier this year, Mirror Mirror boasts of beautiful and inventive costumes, some of which reference the original Walt Disney Snow White. The ballroom scene is her showcase, a literal show-stopper.
The plot itself is very slight and moves along speedily so we can get to see Julia Roberts bring on her snarky one-liners. The script deconstructs the charming prince (played as a chivalric though inept warrior who constantly loses the shirt off his back), the seven dwarfs (now seven outstanding citizens of the kingdom exiled due to their ugliness), and Snow White (now transformed into a sword-wielding fighter courtesy of the dwarves).
At its best, Mirror Mirror is a wickedly funny deconstruction that japes at fairy tale conventions. At its weakest, it's still far better written and more tasteful than the ____ Movie franchise.