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
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
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.
~~ Jules Brenner