Edinburgh International Film Festival

MirrorMask (2005)

Starring: Stephanie Leonidas, Rob Brydon, Gina McKee, Jason Barry, Dora Bryan, Stephen Fry

Directed by: Dave McKean

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

A visual feast - Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's MirrorMask

Have you ever dreamed of running away and joining the circus? In the mixed up, topsy turvey, looking glass world of MirrorMask, teenage juggler Helena Campbell dreams of running away from the circus and joining real life. But instead she falls prey to the evil designs of the Princess of Darkness, who also fancies exchanging her weird and wonderful world for a dose of normality, and next things she knows, Helena has ended up in a surreally beautiful, gothic parallel universe where fish fly, sphinxes take the place of household pets and everyone must wear a mask - for how else will you know what they're feeling? Sounds like a dream project for Neil Gaiman and the Jim Henson Company to bring to dazzling life? That'll be because it is.

Like every proper fairy tale, MirrorMask charts our heroine's journey through unknown dangers and unexpected challenges, introducing her to a host of crazy, colourful characters along the way (the useless riddling sphinx is particularly fine). The journey, of course, symbolises her transition from self-absorbed child to responsible adult, and, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz or Sarah in Labyrinth, she must use all her courage and ingenuity to face the challenges ahead and discover that there is, after all, no place like home.

Gina McKee as the Queen of Darkness in MirrorMask

The whole film looks utterly gorgeous, an endlessly inventive visual feast of sharp angles, twisting curlicues and off-kilter faces, the scenery and characters springing fully formed and fantastic from the warped imagination of Neil Gaiman and director Dave McKean, but complete with those clever, cute, individualistic details that only the Jim Henson workshop can come up with. Occasionally it does feel a bit BBC drama-ish (posh child discovers self against a blue screen - think The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or, going back even further, The Box of Delights) but the CGI is so wonderfully done that you can't help but become immersed in the amazing, hyper-artificial landscape.

Witty, bold and refreshingly unsentimental, MirrorMask is darker and more grown up than Labyrinth, but guaranteed to charm, delight and possibly even scare adults and children alike.

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