Presented by: Sony Pictures and Destination Films
Produced by: Jim Henson Company
Story by: Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Fifteen year old Helena would like nothing better than to run away from the traveling circus owned by her mother and father. Unlike the multitudes of teenagers her age yearning to run away to join the circus, Helena wants to live out her perception of a normal life without all of the performances, make-up, and costumes. Using her talent as an artist, Helena constantly sketches imaginary worlds in which she is just another normal girl. These pictures of various shapes and sizes cover the walls of her room from floor to ceiling.
One night, after having yet another argument with Helena over her lackadaisical attitude toward what her family has worked so hard to create, Helena’s mother falls ill. It is discovered that Joanne will need surgery to correct the issue. On the eve of Joanne’s surgery, Helena feeling devastatingly guilty over what was said in the argument and the fact that she hasn’t properly apologized to her mother, sleeps fitfully. She awakes with a start and gets up to investigate what brought her out of her slumber. She soon discovers that she is no longer in her Grandmother’s apartment, where she has been staying since her mother fell ill.
Helena has entered the world of her artwork, a world in which the Queen of Light has fallen into a deep sleep, leaving her lands in peril at the hands of the Queen of Darkness. Little by little, the darkness is entering the world of light, poisoning everything it touches and threatening to overtake everything in its path. Helena is almost certain that she is in the midst of a dream…yet some of it seems so real…and whose dream exactly is she in? In an effort to save the Queen of Light, who deeply resembles Joanne, Helena sets off on a journey to find the MirrorMask, a fabled object of such healing powers as to set the Queen free from her slumber and to right all the wrongs done in her land. Joining her in this quest is Valentine, a quirky street performer she meets along the way.
Brought to theaters by Sony Pictures, MirrorMask is a movie combining the creativity of the Jim Henson Company, storyteller Neil Gaiman, and graphic novelist Dave McKean. As can be expected from any Neil Gaiman tale, MirrorMask is a darkish movie. The sets are dark and have an air of spookiness to keep the viewer on edge. As in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, there is a quest to be fulfilled and a lesson to be learned in it all. Things happen very quickly in the movie – if you blink you might miss something…or some creature. The creatures supplied by the Jim Henson Company range from monkeybirds to flying books to sphinxes to other immensely elaborate creatures that defy description.
Although creatures play a major role in the events taking place in MirrorMask, no one will soon forget the incredible acting abilities that went into the human roles portrayed in the movie. Stephanie Leonidas is entirely believable in her role as the pained and confused fifteen-year-old Helena. Gina McKee takes on three roles – that of Helena’s mother, the Queen of Light, and the Queen of Darkness – the differences in each role showing off her range as an actress. Jason Barry is excellent in his supporting role as the oddly funny Valentine. Equally enjoyable were Rob Brydon in his portrayal as Helena’s father and the Prime Minister, Stephen Fry as the librarian and Robert Llewellyn as Gryphon.
The astounding artistry and masterful storytelling combine to weave a tale that is wholly enjoyable. Though it is reminiscent of other classic tales of fantasy and adventure (‘If "The Wizard of Oz" were reborn in the 21st century, it might look a lot like "MirrorMask."’ – James Greenberg of The Hollywood Reporter), it is told in such an imaginative and innovative fashion as to feel entirely new. For the special little nuances scattered throughout the movie, MirrorMask is a movie that begs to be watched again and again. Each viewing will reveal something new…something previously missed, such as the slight blurring that appears in some scenes to enhance the dreamlike quality of the movie.
The MirrorMask DVD edition contains must see featurettes that give the viewer an advanced look at the making of the film. Behind the Scenes revelations by Dave McKean, conversations with Neil Gaiman, featurettes about the flight of the monkeybirds and more give the viewer an idea as to all of the hard work poured into making MirrorMask, as well as the origins of the characters and plot. Also included are cast and crew interviews which give the viewer an idea of how the people making the film felt about the roles they fulfilled.
Although the main character of the MirrorMask is a fifteen year old girl, the story is enjoyable by anyone regardless of age. I agree with James Greenberg in that MirrorMask has a definite Wizard of Oz feel to it, albeit with much cooler costumes and artistry thanks to the innovations of 21st Century filmmaking. Fantasy buffs and fans of the works of the Jim Henson Company, Neil Gaiman, and/or Dave McKean should definitely not miss seeing this movie. You won’t be disappointed.