When “Pan’s Labyrinth” was released last year, it was shortly compared to “Mirrormask” the basic story of a dreamy young girl who is pulled into a fantasy world. Gaiman’s fantasy masterpiece sadly only experienced a limited release in the US with a quick DVD release that fooled many in to thinking it was another ho-hum fantasy installment vying for classic status, but if you look for it it’s a basically incredible and understated bit of cinematic fantasy fare only Gaiman could have delivered. But thankfully that comparison to Del Toro’s film was very short lived. In the end, I prefer “Pan’s Labyrinth” but that’s not to say “Mirrormask” isn’t without its sheer strengths.
One of them is Stephanie Leonidas. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a pretty face, and Leonidas is also a solid actress who gives a very good performance. Like much of fantasy, “Mirrormask” is based around reality and tragedy wherein the fantasy comes as a metaphor or escape for our character. And Leonidas convinced me that not only was she interacting and reacting to the world around her, but her transformation into the princess is rather morbid to say the least. Leonidas turns a potentially whiny character into one truly entertaining heroine who has a large task ahead of her, and has fun saving her world. “Mirrormask” is the story of a young girl who lives on the road with her family working for a circus. She wants stability and monotony and feels put upon to perform.
When her mother takes ill, the wish is granted, and suddenly she finds she needs to escape the reality she longed for. I just enjoyed the hell out of “Mirrormask,” and this is surprising to me. Since its release I’ve heard nothing but mixed reviews, not to mention large expectations ultimately lead to disappointment. But what “Mirrormask” does is offer originality. Something rare these days, especially when most people live and die by “Harry Potter.” One of the better casting choices is of Stephanie Leonidas who manages to be a selfish character that builds our sympathies as the story progresses.
She’s not just a girl seeking to save her world, and she’s trying to get her life back. The world she’s stuck in as well as the inevitable discovery of her sleeping self end up as metaphors for her character and the current phase in her life depicted. Is the world she’s in real, or just a state of mind? Or perhaps it’s both. Either way, what inevitably won me over were the utterly surreal visuals, including one particularly haunting sequence involving the character Helena being dressed and lulled into a trance by a truly haunting rendition of “Close to You.”
I still can’t explain it, but that scene has stuck into my head hours after viewing this. Overall, “Mirrormask” is a film I absolutely loved, and I realized this once I recollected the direction and utterly raw visual effects and drew a smile. It’s not often a film like this can suck me in, but it did, and it’s a lovely trip of “Alice in Wonderland” a la Pink Floyd. Watch this if you loved “Pan’s Labyrinth.” You may love this, too. I sure did. “Mirrormask” has no limits to its bizarre imagery and that makes it all the more an alluring original piece of fantasy that has been sadly forgotten but deserves to be re-discovered by fans of the dying genre. Excellent performances, stunning visuals, and a wonderful story make this a well crafted fantasy that I flipped for.