Embracing the Evil Stepmom

Julia Roberts stars as a classic villain as Hollywood turns to fairy tales

by Susan Toepfer • More Features Editor/Entertainment
Julia Roberts in Mirror, Mirror
It's not easy being Queen: Roberts in the new Snow White redo, "Mirror, Mirror"
Photograph: Jan Thijs.©2011Relativity Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Witches! Princes! Giants and goblins! Suddenly, fairy tales are everywhere. On TV, NBC’s Grimm and ABC’s Once upon a Time both won ratings high enough to let them live happily ever after (or at least through a second season), while the big screen awaits four major storybook features: Jack the Giant Killer, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and two variations of the same classic, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.

In Mirror (opening March 30), Julia Roberts plays the age-challenged Evil Queen with comic gusto: “They’re not wrinkles; they’re crinkles!” she decrees. And since her funds are diminishing as fast as her waist is expanding, she goes cougar, setting out to steal the rich prince from Snow White, her younger rival. The more action-oriented Huntsman pits baby beauty Kristen Stewart against the formidable Charlize Theron. The film’s Queen Ravenna is ravenous, all right—­roaring “Beauty is my power,” she plans to rejuvenate by eating Snow’s heart.

Was the original “Snow White” an equally cautionary tale about the danger of clinging to youth? “Yes—but you could also say it’s a cautionary story about worshipping youth,” says Kate Bernheimer, associate professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette and editor of Fairy Tale Review. “The older woman—who in various versions over the years has been the biological mother as often as the stepmother—suffers because Snow White is considered more beautiful. The poor Queen! She is horrified at losing her status because she has been told to be so. I’d love to see a version that creates empathy for her.”

If not empathy, Roberts at least promises realism. Skin “as white as snow”? Big deal. “She’s 18 years old, and her skin has never seen the sun,” scoffs Roberts-as-Queen. “So of course it’s good.” 

First Published March 12, 2012

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