"An eye-popping fantasy destined to become a cult classic"
The idea of a quasi-sequel to the 1986 fantasy film “Labyrinth,” the Jim Henson epic that is best remembered today (if it is at all) for featuring David Bowie at his goofiest and Jennifer Connelly at her most heart-stoppingly (though not-quite-legal) gorgeous, may not sound like the most promising material for a movie. And yet, in one of the happier cinematic surprises of late, “Mirrormask” is an often-stunning epic that deserves far better than the low-key art-house release that it is inexplicably receiving.In a story that sounds on the surface like Angela Carter rewriting “The Talisman” (though actually penned by acclaimed fantasist Neil Gaiman), 15-year-old Helena (Stephanie Leonidas in a remarkable performance) has grown tired of working in the circus run by her parents (Gina McKee and Rob Brydon) and half-facetiously wishes that she could “run away and join real life.” After a quarrel, Mom falls gravely ill and Helena mysteriously finds herself in a faraway and mystical land under attack from the forces of darkness. In order to return home, she must, with the aid of juggling sidekick Valentine (Jason Barry) recover the Mirrormask, a talisman on unimaginable power that bridges the gap between the two worlds, and save the life of the queen of the land (also played, not surprisingly, by McKee).
While the story is serviceable but predictable (then again, one could describe most fairy tales in those exact words if they wanted to), the visual design of “Mirrormask” is as dazzling as anything that you could hope to see. Utilizing a blend of live-action and the efforts of only seventeen digital animators, director David McKean gives viewers an astounding feast for the eyes–a fully-realized universe as complex and detailed as any seen on screen in recent years that features living masks, giant pigeons, really useful books and one of the more unlikely uses of a Carpenters song that you are likely to encounter.
However, the film is more than just a bit of eye candy thanks to the strong work by relative newcomer Leonidas; even the most experienced actresses might find the challenges of the role of Helena too difficult to overcome–not only does she have to convincingly deliver the standard fantasy gobbledygook dialogue, she has to perform it, because of the special-effects techniques, in front of a green screen without any trace of the creatures or surrounding that will eventually fill the frame–but she pulls things off beautifully.Although it may be a little too dark and too British in tone for younger viewers that it might have theoretically been aimed at, “Mirrormask” is a eye-popping fantasy that has all the making of a cult classic.