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A 2005 fantasy film directed by artist Dave McKean and written by Neil Gaiman.

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  • Oct 26, 2007
Pros: Acting, visuals, story, music - I loved it all

Cons: Good heavens - what if it was the chicken?!

The Bottom Line: Join the little cult of Mirrormask fans.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

Just short of a year ago, I read a review about a movie called Mirrormask. Just like when I’d read a review of a book called Coraline by Neil Gaiman, after realizing the creators were the same and considering how much I loved Coraline, I had to give this a look. That and I like strange stuff. I was not disappointed.

Helena is your average girl, except she creates a lot of interesting drawings and happens to be in a family circus. She resents this a bit, wishing she had a more normal life. But then, after an argument with her, Helena’s mother falls ill and has to be taken to the hospital. Helena feels partially guilty, but her problems have just started, for later when she goes to bed, she awakens, only to find that she isn’t in her world anymore…sort of. Rather, she finds she is in a place strikingly similar to all her drawings.

This world isn’t quite right either; shadows from across the border have been creeping into the city while the White Queen sleeps. It all seems to revolve around a princess from the shadow lands, a girl who looks a lot like Helena and who has apparently stolen the “charm.” Vowing to find the charm (whatever it might be) and restore peace to the world, Helena and her newfound friend Valentine (who, I might add, is a very important man – he has a tower) travel the bizarre and intriguing world in hopes of waking the queen and restoring Helena to her world.

Helena is played by Stephanie Leonidas and Valentine (with that lovely accent of his) is played by Jason Barry. Both are superb in this picture. Why, you may ask? Aside from my unabashed love of actors and actresses that I’ve never seen before in my life, both (and essentially anyone else not a CGI character) must act in a world that is not actually there. If you are familiar with the green or blue screen method, then you know that the actors have to react to items that they cannot truly see; everything from fish swim-flying down a street to giant statues orbiting in the air. Stephanie Leonidas is perfect as Helena and I just love some of her reactions to certain situations, such as when a book lands on her head (still CGI) or when talking to all the Bobs - and Malcom - Monkeybirds.

Jason Barry gets an extra point as well because no only is he too reacting to non-existant sphinxes and panicking at the sight of nasty creeping shadows, but he has a mask covering half of his face. You can’t see anything of his real face except his mouth, but he still manages to pull off every single expression necessary, from disgust to pure excitement. The lines he was given are wonderful and I very much enjoy saying them or just thinking of him saying them because they make me giggle. “Oh, I’m a panther. I shall slip unnoticed through the darkness like a dark, unnoticeable slippy thing.” Valentine is a fantastic character.

Kudos also to Rob Brydon as Helena’s father (love it when he panics about the chicken possibly being the charm) and Gina McKee as Helena’s mother/the White Queen/Queen of Shadows. I’ve read elsewhere that Gina McKee had to deal with allergic reactions to her makeup as the Queen of Shadows. People who muscle through that get my respect.

Some have complained about the visuals, or perhaps the more precise problem is with the computer graphics. If you look at any screenshot of a sphinx, and some of the other wholly CGI characters, they can seem odd, somewhat 2D, or almost unfinished. People assume that means the budget was low and they got crappy effects.

Not so. The world Helena in is strange; everyone there wears masks and I think most of the weird CGI is done that way on purpose, like the sphinxes. Otherwise, if you take a look at the rest of that world, the colors have a precious metal-like luster, the texture of everything is more impressive than some other CGI I’ve seen (I often complain that CGI is too smooth), and the scope is quite wide. I think the atmosphere the world offers, as well as much of the makeup and costuming you’ll see, actually tops some bigger movies. The sheer creativity and style of this place is completely unique and in some spots downright creepy. Some might compare it to Labyrinth because you’ll find this was also brought to you by the Jim Henson company, but I think they’re just too different to be compared.

I own the soundtrack. I’ve listened to it about...ok, well, I’ve lost count. And I just got it three days ago. What does that say about it?

I love the soundtrack. It’s just as irreplaceable as the visuals, and what makes it even better is that half the time it meshes right in with the rest of the movie as an integral part; you know it’s there, but you can easily focus on the picture and action. Other times it pops up as an important part, giving that piece a bit of extra oomf. Iain Ballamy did a fantastic job and I love all the unique instruments involved to make this soundtrack completely different form anything I’ve ever owned. One could compare it to pieces you might find in Cirque de Soleil. You’ll get everything from circus fun to music box vibraphones to a few songs with lyrics. There’s the fascinating rendition of “Closer to You” for the semi-disturbing bit with the mannequins to a unique song thought up by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean called “If I Apologised.”

Just know it’s perfect for this movie.

Overall Impressions
I loved this movie the very first time I saw it. Some of the CGI styling did throw me off, but it works completely for this movie, and for those who thing the story is too simple, I think that’s okay too. I’m not sure of the age this movie is aimed at, but I think it’s fantasy-dreamworld-like in a way that’s accessible to a number of people – straight fun and imagination candy. Sit back and enjoy yourself by losing yourself in a completely unfamiliar world for a while. Why not? Heck, I wish I could do that for real...



Viewing Format: DVD

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More MirrorMask reviews
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2010
I loved this. I want to watch it again.
review by . December 23, 2008
Title sequence
There are few comic book writers in the world that are more respected than master storyteller Neil Gaiman, whose combination of whimsical fantasy, dark satire, and comedic absurdism brought him to the forefront of the "British invasion" of comic books in the 1980s. Gaiman's collaborations with celebrated artist/writer, Dave McKean have resulted in some truly unique works, but perhaps their most ambitious collaborative effort is the hallucinatory fantasy film MirrorMask.   …
review by . December 09, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
The Jim Henson Company teamed together with Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman to bring to life this fantastical tale about a young girl, named Helena (Stephanie Leonidas),struggling into maturity. Helena is a part of a family of circus performers. Even though she spends her free time thinking about fantasy worlds, Helena longs to have a more normal teenage life away from the circus. After a terrible fight with her parents, her mother (Gina McKee) grows very ill and Helena blames herself for her mother's …
review by . March 12, 2006
"Mirrormask" is probably not a movie for everyone. It's not simple, straightforward, and it doesn't offer a familiar story or a comfortable visual style. It does not pander. It is a rich, complex, sometimes troubled fantasy that can truly be enjoyed by the whole family, which doesn't mean that it is safe for kids to watch and tolerable for adults -- it means that both kids and adults can find something here to grab onto and explore.    Fans of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean should …
About the reviewer
Nicole ()
Age: 27 Currently: Freelancing my butt off and querying my other novel, Blood for Wolves. Who likes seriously factured fairy tales? =D      Like books? Then take it from a real, live … more
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About this movie


Reminiscent of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and LABYRINTH, MIRRORMASK is a fantasy tale of an intelligent young girl on a journey through a magical world. It is also a visually astounding piece of filmmaking, updating the fairy-tale quest in a coming-of-age story imbued with dark beauty. Written by Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN) and directed by frequent collaborator and illustrator Dave McKean, the film mixes live action and animation, and manages to keep the graphic novelists' aesthetic largely intact: the frames are full of weirdly-skewed perspectives, foggy patches, and mismatched textures that appear grandly decayed. Stephanie Leonidas plays Helena, a young girl who juggles in her father's circus, but longs for a "normal" life. She spends her free time drawing elaborate, fantastical black-and-white pictures which cover every surface of her bedroom. One night, after an argument with her mother (Gina McKee) during which Helena lets fly some rather painful pronouncements, Mom falls ill with an unspecified affliction. As ...
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Director: Dave McKean
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Release Date: September 30, 2005
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
DVD Release Date: February 14, 2006
Runtime: 104 minutes
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Pictures, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
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The Best Fantasy Films, Part I


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