MirrorMask: Review and Summary
One of my favorites and an unbelievably underrated film altogether, MirrorMask is the creative spawn of two ingenious minds in the world of fantasy: Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Neil Gaiman is the author of fantasy novels such as Coraline and Stardust (both recently adapted into films) and graphic novels such as Sandman, the covers of which Dave Mckean illustrated. Originally, MirrorMask was a children’s book written by Gaiman and illustrated by McKean, and the pair also went on to write and direct the film adaptation. This amazing duo works together with the Jim Henson Company to create a fantasy world that is unlike any other I have seen in a film to date.
Let me introduce you a little bit to the plot, without spoiling anything.
The story begins with a young girl named Helena who works as a juggler in her parents’ traveling circus. Her and her mother have a heated argument about why Helena has to go on stage and perform every night when she just wants to ‘run away and join real life’. Typical teenage angst and rebellion. Unfortunately, Helena’s mother suddenly falls ill shortly after their argument, and Helena ends up blaming herself for her mother’s condition.
So that’s the opening. Essentially it all takes place in a real world, nothing about it is particularly fascinating, but it sets us up very well for what’s next.
One night, after visiting her mother in the hospital, Helena wakes up to the sound of faint music. She walks out of her apartment building and into a strange and dreamy world where everyone wears a mask and shadows threaten from every corner. She is escorted through the world by Valentine, a cowardly, selfish, and greedy but nonetheless quirky and likeable fellow. Together they journey to all manner of strange places and meet strange creatures along the way.
Like many of Neil Gaiman’s other works, the writing is refreshingly witty, and I often find myself quoting the ridiculous things Valentine says. However, the thing that really makes this movie is the stylization and elaborate construction of the dream world, which is a combination of traditional animation, CGI, and live action. It defies all expectation. I was surprised when I saw that Jim Henson was involved in the production, since there are few puppets. The CGI might be considered ‘bad’, in that it doesn’t look real, but I would argue that that’s intentional. For me it accentuates the bizarreness, the unreality of this other world.
The themes of the film are also interesting, as it explores the troubles of adolescence and parenthood, exposing the good and the bad sides of each. Even if you find the plot too far out or the metaphor too obvious, you can enjoy the visuals for their uniqueness or just appreciate the fun weirdness of the situations and the dialogue.
All in all, I’d say that MirrorMask is an excellent choice for children (maybe middle school aged and above), adults, and fantasy lovers everywhere.