Science fiction and fantasy
directed by Dave McKean
By this point you could be forgiven for wondering whether this film is a fantasy at all, rather than a modern family drama. Then abruptly Helena is transported into another world, to the sound of her own crazy laughter. In this place, people have masks instead of faces, and books have feelings and fly around like birds. Here she meets Valentine, a bit of a chancer with an overdeveloped sense of his own importance. Valentine helps her out of trouble, keeping close by as he guides her around this world.
The Mirrormask world is divided into two realms, ruled by the dark queen and the light queen. The dark queen's daughter has disappeared, leaving the light queen in a sleep from which nobody can awake her. Meanwhile the light kingdom is being eaten up by darkness, and the search is on to find the charm that will wake the queen and restore balance to the world.
When Helena looks through windows she can see herself on the other side, in the real world. But although it looks like her, it is not. This evil Helena is a rebel who smokes, argues with her father, and is generally ruining things whilst the good Helena is powerless to stop her. The world she left behind will be destroyed if the real Helena can't find the charm and put things right.
Mirrormask is an allegorical story about guilt and a girl's journey into adulthood. In spite of the oddness of the visuals it's a well-constructed tale that makes sense and displays refreshing sensitivity and maturity. It's a far cry from some of the mindless action-obsessed pap that characterises a lot of modern movies. It's charming without resorting to being cute, and although at first glance it seems mad, there's method in it.
Valentine's dry banter is an entertaining counterpoint to Helena's sincerity and the dark queen's tempers. Helena believes that the otherworld she is stuck in is her dream, and it has all the whimsy of one. There are just a few hints that it is not.
The look of Mirrormask is really quite special. Everything is tinted in a sort of golden sepia to denote the otherworld, giving everything an attractive richness. But what makes it really stand out are the creatures. With sphinxes, giants, abstract-art-librarians, flying "bobs", and much more besides, the animators have brought the products of Neil Gaiman's fevered imagination to life convincingly and magnificently. This film is strange, beautiful, well cast, thoughtful, and a resounding success.
If you like this, try:Ink by Jamin Winans
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Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Not even the offspring of a god can escape the shame of an embarrassing parent.