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Trip The Dark Fantastic

Some of Jim Henson's most interesting and entertaining films were dark, dystopian fantasies such as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. With Henson's passing, it's been a long time since audiences have seen anything vaguely resembling the aforementioned films. Enter Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman has a brilliant gift for the darkly fantastic as evidenced in his award-winning comic book, Sandman and in his novels Neverwhere and American Gods. The partnership of Neil Gaiman with The Jim Henson Company for the production of Mirrormask seems like a match made in heaven and for the most part, it is.

Mirrormask follows the bizarre and fantastic journey of a frustrated young girl who wants nothing more but to run away from the circus. Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) aspires for a "real" life away from the frivolity of the circus. Helena's mother falls ill and this tragedy seemingly opens the door to an alternate world where most denizens of this strange world accept the fantastic as mundane. Helena is forced to embark upon a journey to recover the Mirrormask and prevent shadows from overtaking the entire land and the Queen of Light (aka, her mother).

Gaiman and McKean brilliantly bring to life the strange world Helena is forced to traverse. McKean and Gaiman collaborated numerous times on Sandman and it's clear these two know each other quite well. While Gaiman wrote the script and is clearly the creative engine behind the movie, McKean's able (and debut) direction and keen eye brings Mirrormask to life.

Mirrormask brings a striking and distinctive style that is unlike anything else that has hit the big screen this year. McKean and Gaiman do a remarkable job of bringing the visual style of Gaiman's comic books to celluloid. Visually, Mirrormask rivals (if not exceeds) anything Tim Burton has done. McKean and Gaiman seamlessly marry live action with amazing computer animation. Helena wanders through a dark world filled with hovering giants and buildings that defy the laws of physics.

Gaiman also puts his signature on Mirrormask by populating the film with all kinds of otherworldly creatures reminiscent of those that populate his literary efforts. Menacing sphinxes stalk Helena and her masked companion, Valentine (Jason Barry). Library books behave like spooked pigeons and flutter nervously around the library before being collected with a butterfly net.

The one area where Mirrormask doesn't excel, however, is in the story itself. It's derivative of films like The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Crystal, but doesn't do a whole heck of a lot to distinguish itself from the aforementioned films. While the weird, circuitous path Helena follows on her quest keeps one engaged, it's unclear what the message of the film is. Gaiman seems to be saying something about not appreciating what you have, but there is little question that Helena loves and cares for her family.

However, this minor flaw does little to take away from the entertainment value of Mirrormask. Every frame of the film is gorgeous and magical. McKean and Gaiman are worthy successors to Jim Henson's creative throne.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars