Mirrormask looks really great. It looks like Dave McKean paintings come to three dimensional life, which makes sense, as he directed the film and designed the look of it. If you’re interested in seeing a movie after smoking an inordinate amount of pot, here it is. There may in fact even be a classic rock album that will spookily synchronize with this film.
If you’re interested in seeing an imaginative and interesting fantasy film, or an engaging children’s story, look elsewhere. While the film is often marvelous to look at, it’s a snore to watch, a boring mish mash of a dozen overly familiar stories and concepts. And what’s worse is that the script is written by Neil Gaiman, who probably should know better.
The film opens at a bizarre circus where everyone wears fucked up masks. The show stays afloat on the thinnest of profit margins, and it’s a family affair. But daughter Helena (a beautiful and thankfully of legal age Stephanie Leonidas) wants nothing to do with the circus. One night she acts the complete brat, and wouldn’t you know that would be the exact night her mom has a massive brain incident and almost dies.
Events transpire so that Helena finds herself inside the fantasy world that she sketches all the time, where everyone wears masks. It’s here that things get really rote. She’s a chosen one, there’s an evil queen trying to conquer the good kingdom, both the evil and good queens look just like the mother, Helena herself has a doppelganger who has escaped the fantasy world to wreak havoc, the events inside the world are affecting the mother in the real world… etc, etc etc. It’s the kind of thing that might have made a nice deconstruction of girly fantasy stories in an issue or two of Sandman, but here comes across like a swipe of Wizard of Oz and Clive Barker’s softer stuff.
On top of all that, Mirrormask has the single most irritating score I have ever heard. It’s like someone left the cool jazz station on in the recording booth.
Kudos to McKean for realizing his peculiar visions on a small budget, and building his own CGI FX house from the ground up. Honestly, the work sometimes feel like it came from a garage, but it adds some spunk to the proceedings. Sadly he’s not as capable with the few live action actors who must inhabit the landscape, and they often seem to be bumbling about on the green screen stage.
I struggled mightily to stay awake through large stretches of Mirrormask. If you need a nap, I heartily recommend seeing this film in a theater with comfortable seats. Otherwise, go rent The Wizard of Oz and queue up your Dark Side of the Moon. It’ll beat this tiresome wankfest.