Mirrormask (Theatrical Review)
Long after the death of its founder, The Jim Henson Company
continues to search for the next project that will be the next creative gem
that people will want to watch and enjoy over and over again. Entering an early screening of Mirrormask,
I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a
child I had come to love everything Henson touched from The Muppet Show
(reviewed elsewhere on this site) to The Dark Crystal. I don’t know why I had any doubt in my mind
because I was glued to my seat from the first frame until the last, in complete
amazement of the entire film.
Everything from the production design to the casting was top notch, with
that great engulfing feeling of not wanting the adventure to end I had not
experienced in a while. Maybe this has
to do with me being a kid at heart or simply having a heart, though it was not
any kind transference from previous works in the genre. For any age, Mirrormask is a
beautiful journey into the heart and certainly the child in all of us.
The filmmakers, director Dave McKean and writer Neil Gaiman
have taken the audience on a journey into a fantasy world that seamlessly mixed
live-action with CGI. This particular film is in a small line of films that has
successfully mixed both formats without ever taking the audience out of the
story, while the digital effects are never distracting. At a time when far too many films just throw
bad digital effects at the audience, hurting the theatrical box office and even
DVD sales (the boom is over, save TV titles), it is a pleasure to see special
effects that ambitiously try to be special.
To catch our avid readers up to speed, Mirrormask
tells the story of Helena, a teen girl, who works for the family circus. Every
waking moment of the day (and night) she dreams of running away from her
family. She wants to tackle real
life. One night she finds herself on a
strange journey into the Dark Lands, a marvelous landscape filled with orbiting
giants, monkeybirds and dangerous sphinxes.
Upon her quest to return home, Helena searches for the Mirrormask,
a charm of enormous power, which is her only hope from fleeing the Dark
Lands. The quest here is like nothing
we have seen since years before the Lord Of The Rings films: a Fantasy
genre work coming out of nowhere.
This groundbreaking film pushes the limits in combining live
action with digital animation. The
arduous post-production made Gaiman and McKean use new technology as well as
delve into unorthodox thinking. Their
twenty-year career collaboration has brought everything together in Mirrormask. Their eye-dropping fantasy adventure
deserves the praise from all aspects of filmmaking. This film could put McKean on the map, a behind the scenes
craftsman making his feature film debut.
Gaiman is one of the leading writers in graphic novel comic books and
keeps working in the Fantasy genre with a naturalism atypical of much of the
material we are seeing produced in it today.
Rings has caused a greenlighting frenzy for such work, but few
have been sincere. Most are overly
processed and this is one of the rare exceptions, but Mirrormask keeps
moving along, helped by a cast of relatively unknown actors who are well cast.
In a subtle homage to Wizard of Oz, Mirrormask
still separates itself from the aforementioned, you have yet another fantasy
world that is all engulfing. The
influence of The Great Depression notwithstanding, this film certainly is able
to hold it’s own against such greats as Oz, and previous Henson feature
film favorites The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The film’s story is what always captures and
captivates me. It will continue to
baffle me that a so-called children’s film can produce a better story than
mainstream Hollywood. I think Hollywood needs a wake up call. Regardless, Mirrormask has all the elements
of making a lasting mark in a genre that doesn’t always produce memorable
cinema. It’s simple to say that after
all these years The Jim Henson Company are still maintaining a high (maybe even
the high) benchmark in imagination and family entertainment. The film will open in theaters on September
- Jonathan Joy