Your Eyes Will Thank You.
Don’t let the annoying Goth snobs and their obsession with Neil Gaiman keep you from seeing this movie, because I swear you’ll regret it. Not since Labyrinth has Jim Henson Studios crafted a fantasy epic with such bizarrely appealing visuals and deeply personal and moving story-telling. Neil Gaiman is an immensely talented author, with a scope that fair exceeds the tastes of the Hot Topic-zombies who dig through his trash. His stories are touching, meaningful and layered far beyond what meets the eye. If you think his work is “just for Goths” then you’ve never truly given him a chance. And the third essential ingredient which makes up this magnificent treat for the eyes and the mind: Dave McKean (the guy who illustrated Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum graphic novel). His visual-style has always taken “surreal” to the next level, but never before has it been visualized in a motion picture. His dark, symbolic art comes to life before your very eyes and may very well be what holds your interest the most through-out the course of the film.
The story-itself seems simple enough. A teenage girl named Helena has spent her life growing up in a circus run by her mother and father. She longs for that “normal life” everybody’s always talking about, one where she can just draw pictures all day long, and openly resents her parents for denying her such a seemingly simple pleasure. But then one day her mother becomes critically ill and goes to the hospital. Without her, the circus goes kaput and her father may very well lose the dream he’s worked so hard for his entire life. No sooner does Helena begin to understand sacrifice and selflessness, she falls asleep. She awakens in a dreamworld with a surreal, impossible landscape which reflects her art as well as her personal dilemmas.
Once there she teams up with a masked stranger named Valentine and the two embark on a quest to save the Queen of the World of Light, who has been put into perpetual sleep until the “charm” which can awaken her is found. The Queen of the World of Shadow seems to be the culprit at first and the pair traverse a mind-bending route to reach her castle.
This may all sound like typical fantasy story-telling at first, but the plot description only scratches the surface. At its heart, Mirrormask is a story about growing up, the influences which can change your life, the sacrifices and selfish behavior that can define your person and the unavoidable tragedies we all must deal with when we least expect them.
The worlds of Light and Shadow mirror the typical “black and white” scenario. The comatose Queen of Light represents a mother who doesn’t pay enough attention, while the possessive Queen of Shadow represents a mother who pays too MUCH attention.
And it is all brought to life with marvelous visual effects that make you tilt your head and stare in disbelief. You’ve got cat-faced sphinxes, fluttering books, orbiting stone giants, people made of shoes, talking chickens, porcupine monsters, eyeball-spiders, Picasso-like Librarians and on and on and on. And it all means something if you look hard enough.
The dark and surreal imagery may be too frightening for a very young audience, but anybody around ten shouldn’t bee too terrified by it. Though really, the best audience to appreciate this movie are those who have survived their awkward teenage years and can reflect upon the events that made them who they are.
A moving, visual delight that feels like a dream you only vaguely remember. It gets a solid A. Do yourself a favor, ignore all the trendy Goth kids and just enjoy this movie for what it is: brilliant.