HUGE THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
With a little help from Neil Gaiman's masterful writing, and Dave McKean's able artistry and direction, the Jim Henson Company makes a fantasy-filled return to the silver screen.
I was a big fan of The Labyrinth and, even more so, The Dark Crystal in the `80's. The excellent puppetry work combined with human characters was a novel idea, far beyond Sesame Street, and formatted more for the adult who has a kid's mentality. I was curious to see how The Henson Company might have advanced in the intervening years, and I wasn't disappointed. Gone are the puppets (to the chagrin of some) and in their place are CGI screens that boggle the mind - a living tapestry that slowly trundles by.
Creating screen shots that mimic a painter's canvas, this movie is pure eye-candy (think Alice In Wonderland meets Van Gogh). Although the opening few minutes felt more TV-esque than magical, they were quickly whisked away by the sumptuous middle and ending of the film.
The story: Helena, a teenage circus performer along with her mother and father, is having the usual surges of defiance. She doesn't want to be in the circus anymore, and she and her mother have a heated argument in which Helena wishes her mother dead. And during the evenings performance under the big top, Joanne, Helena's mother, collapses and falls into a coma. It is quickly discovered that she has something seriously wrong with her (although it's never defined, a brain tumor is easily surmised). Helena is riddled with guilt over her nasty words and falls asleep one night, and wakes up in a world of muted colors and magical creatures. Giant stone beings, masked love-interests, idiot cat-sphinxes, and a growing darkness that threatens to envelope this alternate world.
As Helena moves her way through this strange land, we begin to understand that she isn't asleep nor dreaming. This is real. But she's traded places with another, less likable Helena who is destroying her life back in the "normal" world. Helena sees this "other her" through the drawings she's done that decorate her bedroom wall. She looks through sketched windows, watching helplessly as the "bad" Helena argues with her father, makes out with a boy on her bed, and generally wreaks havoc.
It is soon discovered that the reason the world the good Helena now inhabits is falling into darkness is because of the imbalance created by the trading of places by the two Helenas, and our heroine has to find something called the MirrorMask to help set things right. The search is a puzzling heroes journey that pulls her deeper and closer to a wickedly dark queen. Helena struggles with growing up and becoming a stronger person as she walks, runs, and flies through this surreal landscape, trying to get back to her family and, most importantly, to her mother's sickbed.
This is a great movie for adults to take their teens to. It'll give them something to discuss as their children grow and have to face the muted colors of adulthood.