The power of positive imagining

MovieReview A-

November 04, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Mirrormask is a gorgeous psychedelic cameo of a movie.

It's about a 15-year-old girl with an unusual young-adult-fiction problem. Her parents run an old-fashioned family circus and are also madly in love. Their ecstasy causes this artistic teenager, not yet her own self and not yet a woman, to feel left out and batty. Early on, cancer sends her mom to the hospital. As her father struggles to keep his troupe together, Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) wakes up in a wispy yet volatile dream landscape. It resembles sketches she pasted to her bedroom wall.

Mirrormask portrays a good kid who becomes a great kid when she wields her imaginative power and gleans some wisdom. Against backdrops awash with elusive, piercing colors, Helena becomes the center of a civil war in which a queen of shadows puts to sleep a queen of light. Helena must correct the moral balance by finding a legendary charm called a "Mirrormask."

But the movie isn't just about navigating a Neverland. Whenever there's an unshuttered window in this strange and brave new world, Helena can usually see her old world, where an "anti-Helena" - really, the petulant part of herself - upsets her daddy with her moodiness and smooches a bad-news boy.

In film terms, Mirrormask achieves the wonder-working effects Julie Taymor (The Lion King) gets on stage. Draping real actors in neo-classic costumes, then plunging them into a digital universe where a magical creature like a gryphon becomes a walking, talking collage, Mirrormask achieves the unexpected and the awe-inspiring.

It puns on the word "eye-popping" when the queen of shadows employs spidery creatures that turn into tentacled eyeballs. But the movie is also mind-expanding. It blends spider's-web inventions and eruptions from the Id.

With the help of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, writer Neil Gaiman and director and co-writer Dave McKean concoct comic marvels like a notably stupid sphinx and a school of "monkeybirds" who at one point knock each other over and swap beaks. They leave you just enough breath to laugh or sigh.

Somewhere in his own Neverland, that eccentric genius Jean Cocteau (Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus) is cooing with pleasure over Mirrormask.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

Mirrormask (Samuel Goldwyn)

Starring Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon.

Directed by Dave McKean.

Rated PG.

Time 101 minutes

Review A-

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