MirrorMask comes from the deliciously warped imagination of Neil Gaiman, who is best known for the Sandman graphic novels and books such as Neverwhere and the new and fabulous Anansi Boy.
Gaiman always brings a dark humour and beauty to the worlds he creates and MirrorMask is no exception. If this wasn’t enough Dave McKean, an acclaimed graphic novel artist, has taken dual roles, co-writing as well as taking the helm in this his first feature film.
MirrorMask is a fantasy film in the same tradition as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and The Neverending Story. Helena, the young heroine runs away from home only to find herself trapped in a strange world of floating books and stone giants, the only way to escape is to find the MirrorMask and understand the secrets of this new world.
Like The Wizard of Oz, this film has two very distinct locations, the real world and the imaginary. In the real world Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a strong-willed 15-year-old, who reluctantly performs in her parent’s circus. The circus is her father’s (Rob Brydon) dream, but instead Helena dreams and draws a world of black and white, light and darkness, far away from the gaudy colour and fake showiness of the circus.
After a violent row her mother (Gina McKee) collapses and is rushed to hospital. Helena, despite attempts to apologise feels guilty for the argument and finds her way into a strange world, where Escher like cats and dark figures loom in the shadows. This realm, the ‘Dark Lands’, is a confusing and some times disturbing place; many of the people she knows turn up in a different form. Rob Brydon is much more fun in this world as the prosy prime minister and Gina McKee gives a disturbing yet beautiful turn as the Black Queen.
Helena’s guide in this strange world is Valentine (Jason Barry), an eccentric juggler whose motives in helping her are unclear. Barry has the unenviable task of performing for most of the film with a mask completely covering his face and it is absolutely to his credit that he manages to make him so endearing.
Leonidas is compelling as Helena, and fully develops the potential that many recognised when she played Della in ITV’s underrated soap Night & Day. Here she is as much Alice in Wonderland as Sarah in Labyrinth; in fact this film hardly treads new ground in terms of story, however it is the visual brilliance, which marks this film out. Most of it was shot against green screen and McKean and his team have created a fully realised world, the ‘Dark Lands’ are more like Helena’s pen and inky drawings almost parchment coloured which also highlights the differences between the circus, with its brash colours and the real world which seems all grey and concrete.
MirrorMask is not the most original concept, or the most complicated of plots, however that is not why you would go to see this film. Instead, if you love ‘Gaimanesque’ fantasy and want to see a truly spectacular and innovative use of CGI then rush out and see this film immediately.