The densely worked-over look of this dark, hugely stylish fairy tale directed by mixed-media artist and first-time filmmaker Dave McKean is ultimately more absorbing than the story, cowritten by McKean and cult author Neil Gaiman, and heavily indebted to L. Frank Baum's Oz stories, LABYRINTH (1986) and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Sullen 15-year-old Helena Campbell (Stephanie Leonidas) performs as a juggler with her parents' avant-garde circus and hates it; she wants nothing more than to run away to the ordinary world and finds refuge in drawing elaborate fantasy buildings, landscapes and creatures, papering the walls of her trailer with her work. The circus is her father's (Rob Brydon) dream, she rages at her mother (Gina McKee) during one particularly heated argument; why is she trapped in it? Then tragedy strikes: Mrs. Campbell faints suddenly and is whisked off to the hospital, where she lies weak and pale while Helena adjusts to living with her aunt in a rundown housing project. It's in this atmosphere of anxiety and guilt that Helena awakes in another world, an alternate reality where schools of glittering fish swim through the air, books open up into airborne skateboards, packs of winged sphinxes with cat's paws and creepy human faces prowl the streets and everyone wears a mask that reflects his or her inner self. Guided by opportunistic performer Valentine (Jason Barry) — they bond over juggling — she learns that this dream world has been under a spell of creeping darkness since its beloved Queen of Light (McKee) fell into a deep sleep from which no one can awaken her. Her subjects are desperately looking for the charm that will rouse her before darkness consumes everything, while the Queen of Darkness (McKee again) searches for her wayward daughter, who may have had something to do with the Queen's plight. Could the Dark Princess be the girl Helena glimpses through certain windows that seem to open into her trailer, an anti-Helena who argues with her father, makes out with grungy boys and is systematically destroying the drawings that bridge Helena's reality and the world of her dark dreams? Though the story meanders, the film's look is nothing short of breathtaking, chock-full of odd details and glittering surfaces; the sequence in which a flock of eerie jack-in-the-box puppets make Helena over into the Dark Princess to the tune of "Close to You" could have been conceived by the Brothers Quay.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG
- Review: The densely worked-over look of this dark, hugely stylish fairy tale directed by mixed-media artist and first-time filmmaker Dave McKean is ultimately more absorbing than the story, cowritten by McKean and cult author Neil Gaiman, and heavily indebted to L… (more)