Helena (Leonidas) is the 15 year-old daughter of circus entertainers. After her mother McKee) takes ill, she finds herself in a magical world, where she embarks on a quest to find the missing MirrorMask, save the Dark Lands and get home.
Comic-book art legend Dave McKean has taken to moving pictures with a debut that’s as dazzling as it is confusing. Co-written by his long-term collaborator Neil Gaiman, produced
by Henson Studios and largely shot against greenscreen, it abandons reality early on and plunges into a dream world. The result is the kind of off-the-wall live-action fantasy adventure not
seen since Henson’s Labyrinth.
Half magical journey and half family drama, our heroine’s quest to save the Dark Lands — and possibly her own ailing mother — is scattily episodic. That said, it’s hard to care about the lack of structure when the place she finds is so gorgeously realised, layered up in parchment colours, managing to convey both the drawings from which the city is built and the rich, thick atmosphere of some decaying European capital. Full of weird, cat-like creatures and floating, copulating giants, rarely has an entirely CG world been so compellingly beautiful.
Yet the human characters are given shorter shrift. Leonidas is engaging but needs more fire to bring colour to the sepia-toned screen, while Gina McKee is sidelined in all three of her roles and Rob Brydon is locked in a tiny, flat part. Still, any film that can make The Carpenters’ Close To You this creepy is worth a look.
A truly unique fantasy, McKeans screen debut is tangled but promising.