on September 30, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
In the combination animated/live-action pic "Mirrormask," the film's lovely 15-year-old heroine Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a typical teenager who demonstrates her burgeoning independence by rebelling against her parents and their expectations. The thing is, Helena's dad (Rob Brydon) and mom (Gina McKee) run a family business that kids normally dream of running to, not from: the circus. After an argument in which Helena complains about her anomalous life and desire for normalcy, her mother becomes seriously ill and is rushed to the hospital.

Wracked with guilt, Helena, via her dreams, enters an alternate universe dubbed the Dark Lands. In this fantastic world, books flutter off shelves, sphinx-like creatures menace and everyone wears masks. Because this surrogate existence is hinted to be in Helena's subconscious, aspects of the Dark Lands appear to parallel her real life. Most prominent is the resemblance between the Queen of Light (also McKee) who, like her mother, has fallen into a state of prolonged sleep. In order to save the queen, Helena, with the assistance of a daffy juggler (Jason Barry), must try to find a special charm capable of reviving her. Her efforts are interrupted when another of the Dark Lands' royalty, the Queen of Shadows (McKee, once again), has Helena brought to live in her palace, having mistaken the teenager for her true daughter who has run away from home. That daughter, it seems, is Helena's doppelganger, who has escaped into Helena's world and assumed her identity. Helena must now intensify her search for the charm not only to revive the Queen of Light, but also to allow her to return to her true existence.

"Mirrormask" is above all else a feast for the eyes. An intensive collaboration between graphic novelists-turned-filmmakers and the Jim Henson company, the movie showcases the animated handiwork of several special-effects creators to render an utterly surreal visual experience. The impressive technological artistry, however, far outpaces the film's bare-bones narrative, which should nonetheless satisfy its target younger audience, if unable to engage older or more discerning viewers. Starring Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon and Gina McKee. Directed by Dave McKean. Written by Neil Gaiman. Produced by Simon Moorhead. A Screen Gems release. Fantasy. Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and scary images. Running time: 101 min

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