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.
MirrorMask was produced by The Jim Henson Company, who were responsible for some of the greatest fantasy films made in the `80s. Unlike those previous films, which were populated by quirky characters that were brought to life by puppets, MirrorMask was created using CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery). This heavy use of computer effects feels overwhelming much of the time and undermines the emotional impact of the film.
Helena, a teenaged girl, lives with her mother and father as part of a traveling circus. But Helena long for a normal life outside of juggling, people in costumes and makeup, and the pressures of performing in front of crowds of spectators. After an intense confrontation with her mother, Helena is shocked to discover that her mother has cancer and will need an emergency operation. Conflicted and full of guilt and regret, Helena falls into a troubled sleep where she is transported into a surrealistic nightmare world. In this nightmare world, Helena is mistaken for the daughter of the unforgiving Dark Queen, whose daughter is identical in appearance to Helena. The nightmare world is fragmented and unstable, and in order to restore balance Helena must find the magic MirrorMask and return to her own world where the Dark Queen's daughter has assumed her identity. Helena is aided, and at times hindered, by a host of otherworldly characters and creatures such as stone giants, sphinxes, a griffin, and monkeybirds. She also finds a companion in the roguish jester, Valentine. But can Helena save the dream world and return to her own? And will her mother be all right when she gets home?
While the film is stunningly original in its vision, the plot is typical of the fantasy genre, and is strongly reminiscent of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The visual style may remind some people of surrealist artists like Salvador Dali and RenéMagritte and proto-expressionist symbolist artists like Edvard Munch and Odilon Redon, but for the most part the film looks like nothing you'll have ever seen before on the screen.
Although I greatly admire the filmmakers for their creative audacity, I must admit that I was disappointed with the execution of the story. I think this can be attributed to the fact that director David McKean had only ever directed short films and music videos, which left him ill prepared to tell a complex story within the structure of a feature film. The narrative, which feels rushed, will probably be incomprehensible to younger viewers, who will probably be too freaked out by the weird atmosphere to care meanwhile adults may become bored with the film's characters who lack in real development. McKean has more talent, creativity, and style than just about any other other active filmmaker or artist, and I do think that he has the potential to become a great director, but he will need to shift his focus some from visuals to characters and plot.
All in all, MirrorMask feels like an experiment that didn't go quite as planned. It's neither a masterpiece nor a disaster, but rather the first cinematic effort of a director who shows real potential. I hope if and when David McKean makes another film, that he will take more time to develop an emotional investment in characters, and that he'll be given a larger budget, and a better editor to tie together the scenes.
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 … more
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 Id read a review of a book called Coraline by Neil Gaiman, after realizing the creators were the same … more
"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 … more
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 ...