MirrorMask [retro review]

“I am a very important man. I’ve got a tower.”

The Scoop: 2005 PG, directed by Dave McKean and starring Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, and Gina McKee

Tagline: Enter A World Where Dreams Are Real

Summary Capsule: Her mum dying, a young circus girl travels across dimensions and makes new friends

Justin’s Rating: This PROVES that doodling has a purpose!

Justin’s Review: In my view, there are two types of fantasy: Tolkein fantasy, which is any sort of pseudo-medieval world with high magic, dwarves, elves and people spouting “thee” and “forsooth” like it’s crack and they can’t get enough of it; and Weird World fantasy, where you typically follow a character from our world that enters a strange, wacky new place where all bets are off and all rules are void (such as Harry Potter or Narnia). I’ve always fancied the latter type of fantasy setting, because it’s far more inventive and imaginative than works derived from one source. Weird World fantasies have the effect of lighting up my brain synapses with “what if’s” and “I wish I could write something this good” and “Gosh, I want some Turkish Delight even though I have absolutely no idea what it is or if it contains trans fats.”

Therefore, some of my favorite fantasy authors as of late are mainstays in the Weird World fantasy… world. China Mieville, for one. And Neil Gaiman, for another. Gaiman, whom Pooly met, is renowned for his works Neverwhere, Sandman and American Gods, and it thrilled me to no end to hear that he was embarking on an original movie project with director/artist Dave McKean. The end result is a lush little slice of fantasy that would be just as ideal to wallpaper a room with as to watch — it’s that gorgeous.

In terms of the story, MirrorMask isn’t a deep diving pool; it’s more like a four-foot jacuzzi that’s ideal to soak in for a couple hours. Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is the daughter of two circus owners/performers, who just wishes she had a normal life, instead of wearing outlandish costumes and juggling every night. Count her lucky stars, I say, her parents could’ve made her the Bearded Lady. When her mother falls deathly ill and her father has to contend with the possible dissolution of the circus, Helena goes to live with her senile grandmother. There one night, she accidentally gets pulled into another world (the transition between our “reality” and this new world is quite subtle and dream-like), where she encounters fellow juggler Valentine (Jason Barry) and goes on the run immediately from some nasty bubbling shadows seeking to capture her. From there on, it’s a quest to figure out who wants her and why, how does she save her mother in the other world, and what exactly is the MirrorMask?

At times while exploring this other world, the movie simply halts the plot entirely to allow us to simply enjoy the fantastic art and trippy music provided. It’s here where I can see some objections from people, complaining of a (at times) slow plot. To that I answer, if you cannot enjoy both the fantasy story and the fantasy art, reveling in it as a child opening up a brand-new storybook crammed with fantastic images that flow through your mind, then you best be off. I really couldn’t stop smiling during the whole thing.

In this other world, there are two cities: light and dark. Each has their own feel, with the light city slanting much more toward soft, sepia-tones that look like older photographs come alive. Here, books, if insulted, immediately fly toward their home (the library), sphinxes challenge newcomers on the street regularly, and bird-apes come to the rescue. Additionally, with the exception of Helena and a couple others, everyone in this place wears a mask (so that you can tell what they’re feeling). It’s this last detail that makes the role of Valentine especially difficult, because Barry had to act without his eyes (which, if you saw Cyclops in X-Men, you’d know is a difficult thing to do). He pulls it off spectacularly, a genial friend and tour guide to Helena, who isn’t without her own charms or quirky sense of humor. They work quite well together, and I found myself cheering up at the little moments almost more than the big set pieces.

Without spoiling what plot there is left to reveal, I must declare my support for this film less traveled. Rarely in movies do we see images that take our breath away with astounding beauty, and then marry those images with a creative story, but Gaiman and McKean do both here. To even sweeten the deal, the movie is incredibly family-friendly, and would be ideal for anyone’s collection — go ahead and replace it with that worn copy of The Net. No one will blame you.

There's no easy way to say this: Ape-Birds are our superiors.

Intermission!

  • The herring riddle is classic
  • At the beginning when Helena’s doing the thing with the sock puppets, she says “‘Oh, thank you for saving our city Mr. Valentine!’ ‘No problem, I am a Very Important Man, you know.’ ‘You’re going to be a very dead man in a minute…'” and also, later on at her grandma’s place, someone on TV is talking about ‘the late Mr. Bagwell’. [Thanks Cally S!]

Groovy Quotes

Valentine: I’m an important person you see. I have a tower, a wonderful tower it was, tall and grand.
Helena: Are you?
Valentine: Of course.
Helena: Where is your tower then?
Valentine: We aren’t talking… We had an argument, you see.

Valentine: I am a very important man. I’ve got a tower.

Helena: If I tell you something weird…will you think I’m crazy?
Valentine: Yes. I expect so.

Valentine: We often confuse what we wish for with what is.

Valentine: If I were to say something apologetic it would reflect my feelings in this matter.

Valentine: Right…this is where I stop.
Helena: Giants Orbiting?
Valentine: Sounds a bit iffy, doesn’t it? I’ll be here when you get back. If you get back.

Joanne: All those kids in there want to run away and join the circus!
Helena: Great, they can have my life! I want to run away and join real life!

Valentine: Oh, I’m a panther. I shall slip unnoticed through the darkness… like a dark, unnoticeable slippy thing.

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4 Comments

  1. Type A fantasy is really more of the Dungeons & Dragons mold, which is a combination of Tolkien, Howard, Leiber, Vance, and maybe a couple of others I can’t recall right off. The main issue is not the mold per se so much as the fact that so many of the stories which employ said mold are badly written.

    And according to Wikipedia, Turkish Delight is a confection usually containing nuts. No trans fats, but plenty of sugar.

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