In a world filled with boy wizards, and dragons, every time I think the fantasy world is dead, there’s always someone who swoops in to reclaim the throne and show us that indeed the fantasy genre is still alive and well. All it needs is much imagination and no derivation. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, and it’s not a hard task to accomplish. Every time I receive an opposing argument on that declaration, two words will come from my lips: “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This would be the part where I’d compare this to fodder like “Legend,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” but Del Toro’s film is one of its own kind. Much like Del Toro’s previous “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” is unlike anything you can imagine watching.
It’s much more than a simple fantasy, and it’s much more than a story of a girl drawn into a magical world. It’s about love, and corruption, it’s about war, and gruesome violence in a world where innocence is lost so quickly. It’s about good and evil, and it’s the story of a young girl put to the test by a Faun who appears to her one day. Ofelia is the young daughter of a woman whose married a violent Captain in the 1940’s. Obsessed with fantasy, she enters into an abandoned labyrinth one day and is greeted by an imposing faun who provides her with three tasks to fulfill so she can rightfully claim her throne, being the re-incarnation of an ancient princess. One of the many highlights of Del Toro’s fantasy epic is the utterly amazing creature effects complimented by the show stopping performance by Doug Jones.
Jones who played Abe Sapien in Del Toro’s “Hellboy,” doubles here as the mysterious Faun whose intentions are utterly unknown and as a gruesome entity, Pale Man, who appears later on. One of the most interesting aspects of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is that Del Toro once again invokes the themes of childhood lost, as this young girl ventures into the land during a violent war, and discovers she serves a purpose. What purpose? In time we’ll know. Del Toro’s film is not one genre, and can not be categorized as one true topic in the film world. With stunning storytelling, and a gut wrenching story, Del Toro’s film is the centerpiece of his career.
Though no stranger to the genre picture, “Pan’s Labyrinth” stands alone as a beautiful and utterly amazing allegory on war, and the worlds children will set themselves in during times of great misery. Doug Jones manages to uphold the fantastic weight of the creatures accentuating the awe-inducing make-up effects with his usual knock out acting turning the Faun into one of the most memorable fantasy creatures of all time. And let’s not forget the pale man. Beyond that, Ivana Baquero gives a beautiful performance as this young girl told she has a mission to accomplish and has to overcome her greed and grief over her mom’s sickness to accomplish them and achieve a higher goal set before her.
She has an exuberance and charm to her that make her a truly likable heroine accepting her situation and seeking to fulfill it as best as she can. Maribel Verdú is bittersweet as a suffering nanny and caretaker of the army base who has her own purpose in the war, while Sergi López gives a memorable performance as Captain Vidal, who is enough of a monster to prevent any further obstacles in Ofelia’s quest. No, Del Toro’s success can not be categorized and pigeon holed, because it’s so much more than a mere fantasy film.
Del Toro takes the frame of fantasy and paints it in the background of a violent war and serves a down to Earth purpose for his young heroine. Its complex, it’s masterful, and it’s a pastiche of priceless talent that sums up to form one of the best films made in the last ten years. Come Oscar time, if Del Toro’s film isn’t nominated for something, there will be hell to pay. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a gorgeous, wrenching, heartbreaking story of a young girl seeking to serve a purpose in a time of violence under the command of a vicious monster. It’s a masterpiece. Period.