“An evil queen steals control of a kingdom and an exiled princess enlists the help of seven resourceful rebels to win back her birthright.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Today sees the opening of Mirror, Mirror, a new live-action feature that promises “A fresh and funny retelling of the Snow White legend…[a] magical comedy filled with jealousy, romance, and betrayal that will capture the hearts and imaginations of audiences the world over.”
It’s no surprise to see filmmakers returning to the timelessness and story efficiency of the Snow White fable. In fact, it is what initially attracted Walt Disney himself to the property. “I thought it was the perfect story,” Walt recalled. “I had the sympathetic dwarfs and things, I had the heavy. I had the prince and the girl, the romance. I just thought it was the perfect story. I think it is one of the more perfect of plots, I mean, basic all the way through. From the very start you have sympathy.”
The latest film adaptation of Snow White makes much of the star power of Julia Roberts, and the “new” spin of the evil queen played as a comic villain, rather than as a sinister heavy. But here, too, Walt and his story team were there first—but decided against the approach.
The notes of an early story conference describe the idea that the Queen would be “tried out as a fat, cartoon-type sort of vain-batty-self-satisfied, comedy type.” Indeed, early drawings show a typical “cartoon” character clearly designed for broad comedy—portly and somewhat silly-looking, with no hint of threat or menace.
This approach was, no doubt, a safe and comfortable one for a group that—although constantly innovating in Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony shorts—had barely begun to examine the nuanced caricature of real human characters, and the subtleties required to bring believability to a genuine life-threatening evil—performances composed largely of lines on paper.