The 2012 film Mirror Mirror is a retelling of the classic Snow White tale, but unlike many reboots in recent years, it’s not a dark, gritty, or bleak take on the original fairy tale. Instead, the film goes for charm and whimsy; it’s designed to appeal to families and children. Thus, it would make sense that the people involved in developing the project would seek a director who had experience working on such movies.
That’s why Tarsem Singh did not immediately seem like an obvious choice. His past credits, which include dark and violent films like Immortals and The Cell, certainly did not make him seem like the kind of filmmaker who would be interested in making a kid-friendly movie. However, it eventually became clear that he was absolutely the right person for the job.
That’s impressive when one considers how difficult it can be to select a director for a project. Producers and studios often play it safe by making easy choices. They review a director’s past work, and hire him or her if they feel these films closely resemble the nature of the film they’re developing. Luckily, when filmmakers are willing to take a little more time to review potentially unique or unexpected choices, they often find directors who can bring a truly fresh take on the material.
Why Singh was right for the job
First, it helps that Singh was (according to his own statements) actually fairly unfamiliar with the classic adaptations of the Snow White fairy tale before making the movie. This allowed him to tell a story that stood on its own. On the one hand, he wouldn’t feel beholden to a popular version of the tale. On the other hand, he wouldn’t be self-conscious about actively trying to make a film that was dramatically different from earlier versions. He could simply focus on making the best possible movie as he saw fit.
Singh also made it clear that he didn’t want to direct a dark film. He knew some might expect him to go that route, but that wasn’t the way he interpreted the story. This indicates he had a clear vision. Instead of taking the expected route and making a movie similar in look and feel to his previous work, Singh instead stated that he wanted to create a film that would be child-friendly. He explained in interviews that he had to describe to everyone else involved in the project what specific “tone” he envisioned the movie having. Once they understood this, they understood why he didn’t want the film to be too dark.
However, that’s not to say he didn’t find other ways of leveraging his past experiences when making this movie. Although the types of stories Singh tells in his movies can vary, virtually all of his films showcase his dynamic visual style. That was something he wanted to bring to a new telling of the Snow White story. It’s also a choice that makes perfect sense. Films like Mirror Mirror do not take place in reality—and therefore, their visuals should depict the kind of fantastic, otherworldly realm that people can only experience through the movies. Singh is certainly a director who knows how to create a distinct aesthetic for a film.
Respecting the film’s female characters
Still, a unique visual style is by no means the only element that makes Mirror Mirror stand out from other versions of this classic fairy tale. Singh also stated that he wanted to ensure the female characters in this movie were empowered. Speaking to Collider.com, he said, “Everybody in today’s culture knows that having a girl isn’t bad. The West has embraced that so beautifully. They’re always trying to tell girls something that would have never been told in history, which is that you can be anything. You can be a pilot, you can be the president, you can be anything. But, that existed before. I loved it and just said, ‘That goes in.’”
Singh credited the producers and writers for making this key change to the story, but as a director, he could have pushed the film in a different direction. Again, though, he recognized the value in telling a more empowering Snow White story, and made sure the finished product reflected that value.
All that said, Singh also appreciated that the tale of Snow White is a classic that has been retold many times, across many different cultures. While it was important to tell a unique story, he also wanted to ensure Mirror Mirror honored the cultural tradition of the fairy tale. That’s why he made an attempt to include key elements from various retellings. For instance, in Mirror Mirror, the dwarves are also bandits, a story detail which can serve to introduce viewers to older adaptations and versions of Snow White.
Was hiring someone like Tarsem Singh the obvious choice when developing Mirror Mirror? Certainly not. But, upon closer inspection, it’s easy to see why the studio and producers thought he would bring a unique perspective to the project.