We thoroughly enjoyed this weeks installment of Dr. Who on BBC America last week, talk about nailing two great things together! Neil Gaiman the visionary author of novels, comics and screenwriter wrote the latest episode, "The Doctors Wife" and it was just dripping with his signature style. The first time I discovered Neils work was back in my days as a comic book digital colorist when I was introduced to his groundbreaking Sandman series (including the best personification of Death ever). So after digging my favorite Doctor as imagined by this otherworldly writer, it got me thinking about another of his creations, the 2005 movie Mirrormask.
Written by Neil Gaiman and directed by long time collaborator, artist Dave McKean, this fanciful flight into a magical world is an absolute feast for the eyes and the imagination! How many kids wished they could run away to join the circus? Well, what do circus kids wish for? To run away to real life of course! Helena (Stephanie Leonidis) was born into a circus family. The teen loves to doodle imaginative scenes all over her room but dreams of a normal life. She has an argument with her mother (Gina McKee) about leaving her circus life, and her mother becomes very ill shortly after, Helena blames herself and turns to her father. (Rob Brydan) The night before her mothers surgery, Helena finds herself in a strange land where everyone wears a mask.
She meets a man named Valentine (Jason Barry) a self important juggler who becomes her guide and companion in this bizarre world. She is immediately mistaken for the princess from the Land of Shadow who looks just like her and has apparently gone missing after stealing a relic from the City of Light, the Mirrormask. To add to her problems, the City of Light is apparently being consumed by a "darkness" that devouring the land and leaving the White Queen in a a state of unconsciousness. She also learns that there is a Queen of Shadows who wants to bring her daughter home at any cost. Both queens resemble Helenas mother.
Helena and Valentine encounter many strange characters on their travels, a library of flying books, creepy talking sphinx cats with human-like faces the say "hungry", monkey birds all named Bob except one named Malcolm, floating giants, fish that fly, and eventually end up in the Queen of Shadows palace, and beyond. One of my many favorite scenes is the creepiest makeover since the Lilly's transformation in the movie Legend, this one being executed by golden clockwork beauticians to a halted and freaky version of The Carpenters' "Close to You" full of minor chords, ticks and squeeks. and Have I piqued your interest yet?
There was a brief scene where Valentine finds himself having a vision of himself in Helenas world waiting tables. Horrified he shouts, "That's not my future... Nooooooo! I don't want to be a waiter!" at which point I laughed hysterically having waited tables myself, I knew exactly how he felt.
I won't give you spoilers, but I will give you a glowing recommendation. If you've ever read any of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKeans comic books, it's as if they have sprung to life in this film. This team seems to have no boundries when it comes to bringing whatever their minds dream up into existance. This is like nothing you have ever seen before. Not only is it a great story and visually astounding, but the acting is wonderful also. Stephanie Leonidis brings an interesting appeal to Helena, and a deep resonance. Barry manages to believably run the gamut of emotions and attitude from exuding a wonderful cocky charm, to sorrow and betrayal all from behind a large mask. The soundtrack from the film (Ian Ballamy) brilliant and really adds to this quirky and unbelievable world Gaiman and McKean have crafted.
If you can't run away with the circus, run away to Mirrormask if only for a short time.