Mirror, mirror on the wall, which of the three upcoming Snow White films will be the fairest of them all? If luck is on our side, it certainly won’t be the first contender, Relativity Media’s Mirror Mirror, which opens in theaters today.

Now, maybe that’s a bit harsh. When viewed through the lens of standard-order, inoffensive family entertainment, Mirror Mirror for the most part succeeds. It’s moderately amusing, occasionally irreverent and the fantasy setting helps hold one’s interest longer than, say, Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Yeah, you guessed it – the phrase “damning with faint praise” applies here.

You know the story. In a magical kingdom, the beautiful princess Snow White (a bland and unaffecting Lily Collins), lives under the domineering rule of her evil stepmother (Julia Roberts), who has seized control of the throne after the king disappeared into the forest years ago. Once prosperous and joyous, the kingdom now lies stricken with poverty, its populace suffocated by the heavy taxes needed to support the opulent lifestyle of The Queen. When the prince of an affluent, neighboring land (Armie Hammer) enters the picture, The Queen spots an opportunity to keep her expensive taste satiated: Eliminate the younger, “fairer” competition in Snow White and bewitch, then wed Prince Alcott to reinvigorate her royal coffers.

Just one problem. The man tasked with dispatching Snow White, Brighton (Nathan Lane), takes pity on the princess and is unable to complete his mission, abandoning her in the woods. From stage left, enter the seven dwarves. The harmless gem miners from the Disney film of your childhood they are not. Instead of Happy, Sneezy and Doc, we get Grimm, Wolf and Butcher, members of a cutthroat gang of bandits who use magical, accordion-like stilts to assume the guise of acrobatic giants and intimidate their targets, pilfering the booty in the process.

Much as in the classic Disney version, the dwarves — including the recognizable Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld), Jordan Prentice (In Bruges) and Martin Klebba (Pirates of the Caribbean) — are easily the highlight of the production. Their light-hearted antics and one-liners have broad appeal, and the film does a reasonably effective job sketching out individual personalities for each of them. (The best being Half Pint, the smallest dwarf, who spends nearly all of his screen time in a futile campaign to woo Snow White).

Between its intermittent moments of parody – in which it acknowledges and pokes fun of its fairy-tale setting – and its more charming fantasy characters, Mirror Mirror is at its best when it hums along as a cross between Shrek and a fun, goofy ’80s fantasy movie like Willow. Unfortunately, the film is only able to maintain that rhythm for brief, sporadic stretches.

The director is Tarsem Singh, who previously helmed a trio of dark and visually arresting movies: 2000’s The Cell, 2006’s The Fall and last year’s Immortals. Hiring a director with that kind of resumé for a family comedy seemed like an odd choice from the get-go, and the final product is unsurprisingly tonally inconsistent.

Singh makes his artistic mark in a few places. The magic mirror is housed in a surreal, wigwam-like structure in the middle of a massive lake consumed by dense fog. The landed gentry of the royal court dresses in such acutely bizarre attire that one wonders if the late costume designer Eiko Ishioka didn’t just reuse some of her outfits from The Cell and hope the recycling job went unnoticed. Singh’s visual flourishes are nothing if not intriguing, but before we can become engrossed in his world and start thinking about the interesting ways in which a dark “Snow White” might operate within it, we’re jolted away from it and subjected to Armie Hammer under the throes of a “puppy love” spell, lapping away at Julia Roberts’ face and eagerly bounding down a cliffside to fetch a throw pillow.

The moral of the story here is that if you’re going to do a live-action version of a classic story everyone knows, you’ve got to have an interesting take to offer — a new twist on an old favorite. Choose an angle and stick with it, embracing it to its fullest. The Snow White story may indeed have potential as slapstick parody or dream-like, epic fantasy, but as Mirror Mirror discovers, it can’t be both simultaneously. Here’s hoping that Snow White and the Huntsman, said to be a dark thriller slated for release in June, succeeds where this one did not.