Dave McKean's delightfully strange animations and mythical beasts brings out the little kid in you.

By Tara P Woolnough

There was a little girl, who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good, she was very very good
But when she was bad, she was horrid.

As someone harbouring a particular affection for this children’s rhyme, I would find it hard to resist most films even loosely based on the premise of the good little girl/bad little girl routine… and Mirrormask did not disappoint. The star of the show, Helena – played convincingly by the talented Stephanie Leonidas – is a fifteen-old girl whose parents manage and perform in a travelling circus. Typically enough for a girl her age, she feels that her parents’ choice of lifestyle is unfair and in the heat of the moment she tells her mother that she wishes her dead. But all too soon Helena has cause to regret these words when her mum collapses and is taken to hospital seriously ill. Falling asleep, Helena enters a fantasy dream-world where she embarks on a quest to save the White Queen’s life and the kingdom itself by seeking out the Mirrormask. It doesn’t help that no-one seems to know what this Mirrormask looks like, nor where it can be found, nor anything much about it at all other than that this magical talisman has been stolen by the Bad Princess (Helena’s other, ‘bad’ self) in an act of rebellion against her mother, the Dark Queen. But helped on her way by her conscience and a few helpful characters she meets along the way, Helena makes good progress.

Mirrormask is a satisfying pastiche comprised of imaginative elements from the best children’s stories dealing with the theme of a young girl on a mission in a strange land. Part Alice Through the Looking Gass, perhaps even a bit Snow White, it obviously invites comparisons with another Jim Henson Company production, Labyrinth. fond as we all are of Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal, these days the puppets have an undeniably dated look about them, which Mirrormask may yet deflect. Instead of puppets, it is peopled with various strange animations and mythical beasts (I was especially tickled by the flying books in the library), which fascinate and delight. What is remarkable about this film is the seamlessness with which actors and animation blend. The whole aesthetic of the movie is thoroughly that of the director, graphic artist Dave McKean; those viewers who were not previously familiar with his unique quirky style will find it angular and original. Neil Gaiman, the esteemed writer and a long-time collaborator of McKean’s, wrote the screenplay, and although the plot falls off slightly in parts, the narrative offers some psychological food for thought among many humorous moments and visually arrresting scenes. A great movie to take a child to, even if that child turns out to be you.
Germaine Greer posted 22 August 2007 (14:47:15)
What an excellently written review. The person who wrote this must be some kind of genius!
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