When I was 15, while on a date - my first date ever, actually -- I was kicked out of a movie theater. My crime (at least it was a "crime" by movie theater standards) was purchasing two tickets for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and sneaking into Pretty Woman instead. I did this because I just had to see America's new sweetheart, Julia Roberts. Now, 22 years later, something I witnessed while watching Mirror Mirror leads me to believe that Roberts' reign as America's Sweetheart is over.
In 1990, Julia Roberts was the definition of the "It Girl." At 15, I just had to see her in action. Even then, I knew the power of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman would spark a love affair that would know no bounds. (Two points: (A) I was not aware of the film's prostitution angle and (B) I have not spoken to my date that evening since 1991.) The only obstacle, you see, is that Pretty Woman is rated R -- which means I was not allowed to see Pretty Woman unless accompanied by an adult or guardian. Having a parent or guardian with me that night would not have been advantageous to my plans for a first kiss. (Or, let's be honest here: adolescent human lips making contact. "Kiss" is a strong word for what I was capable of at that time.) Alas: 20 minutes into the film, we were kindly escorted back to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
My fate that night notwithstanding, an entire generation has been programmed to accept Julia Roberts as some sort of magical creature who emits toothy laughter. That's why it was so surprising when, during a screening of Mirror Mirror, a little girl in front of me pointed to Julia Roberts on the screen, looked at her mom, and exclaimed, "She's mean!" And she really meant it.
It's not as if Roberts hasn't played darker characters (anybody else remember 2004's Closer?), but Mirror Mirror targets a very young audience that will most likely be meeting Roberts for the first time. And this audience will be introduced to Roberts as Queen Clementianna -- a character who, at one point, orders the execution of her stepdaughter, Snow White. Yeah, she is kinda mean.
If Mirror Mirror does well at the box office, an entire generation will grow up thinking of Julia Roberts as an evil witch. That's strange, because Roberts' standing rests more on her reputation than her sheer acting chops. She's not on very many "greatest living actresses" lists, even though she does have that Oscar. So without the title of America's Sweetheart, where does that leave her? Because, boy, kids who see Mirror Mirror sure aren't going to think of her as America's Sweetheart.
Before 1977, Alec Guinness was a very respected Oscar-winning actor. After 1977, he was Obi-Wan Kenobi (and was nominated for his fourth Oscar for that role; Roberts will not get an Oscar nomination for Mirror Mirror). Now, 12 years after Guinness' death, he is still and forever will be Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is the extreme example, and Mirror Mirror will not have the same effect on Roberts' career as Star Wars had on Guinness' -- but there are some similarities.
Look, years after I first saw Star Wars, I finally saw Bridge on the River Kwai and, yes, I learned what a wonderful actor Guinness was. But, even now, when I see Guinness in anything, my first reaction is "Ben Kenobi." This has nothing to do with how popular Star Wars is. It had everything to do with at what age and how I was introduced to Guinness. I mean, it was quite a few years before I ever saw Laurence Olivier as anything other than Zeus from the original Clash of the Titans. My point: Children are quite impressionable.
When I told Lily Collins, who plays Snow White in Mirror Mirror, about all of this, even she conceded, "Well, that's interesting, actually. Because kids do kind of see characters and then see the actor and think that they're kind of the same." And there are a few hundred thousand of them out there who may not realize it yet, but they're all about to meet Julia Roberts. The "mean" lady.
If you don't believe me, just ask the young girl who was sitting in front of me.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter