Cinema Signal:

(Children's Edition)

Creatures of the Night

by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli

. "Mirrormask"

This is the landscape of a fabulist's dream. It is a conjurer's fantasy that, in style and visual invention, marks out territory that makes Terry Gilliam ("Time Bandits") and Hayao Miyazaki ("Howl's Moving Castle") seem conventional by comparison. It's "Wizard of Oz" with a taste of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in a visual and conceptual idiom all its own.

It even has a story line--one that, for all its complicated CGI and design wizardry, is simple and straightforward. 15-year old Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a juggler in her family circus and an art prodigy who wants to abandon her colorful life for her idea of "real" life. When her mother Joanne (Gina McKee) becomes very seriously ill and about to undergo an operation with unpredictable results, Helena draws yet another get well card in her imaginative style and delivers it to mom at her hospital bedside.

Shortly thereafter, Helena gets her wish by escaping, but not to the world she was thinking as real. Ooops. Like Alice in Oz, she's thrust on a strange journey in a scary place called the Dark Lands, where any form of animal or structure is likely to appear, sometimes most threateningly. Giants float in space, monkeybirds fly and sphinx creatures with human-like faces act like foraging hyenas with little fear and plenty of tricks to challenge the unwary visitor.

This is not the place Helena wants to be. After picking up the masked Valentine (Jason Barry) as a traveling companion of dubious loyalty and backbone, she travels through the varied landscapes and visits inhabitants who can advise her on how she may return to the safety of her previous world, the circus. The secret, she learns, lies in the Mirrormask, something she has to obtain by skill of her own intuitions.

On her way, she comes under the protection and threats of two queens, one of Light and one of Shadows, both of whom bear an uncanny likeness to her mother.

And we, her audience, enjoy the company of Leonidas, this little pixie from the UK who leads us on this labrynthine journey through a land we've never seen. The stark and original imagery comes from the mind of illustrator Dave McKean whose debut as a feature film director this is. The story is a co-writing effort between him and Neil Gaiman from their graphic novel which is spendidly photographed by cinematographer Antony Shearn.

The result is singular--a trip through a warehouse of weird concepts that doesn't quite remove the need for patience. We soon see that the too-simple scenario is going only as far as necessary to provide a medium for the art, which swamps the narrative. Like with any magic show, the delight is in the illusion--not the story. It is, however, a magic act that may well hold you captive within its remarkable creativity.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack


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The floating giant who holds the key to the Mirrormask
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