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Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) a British teenage girl whose family works for a circus, is so fed up she wishes she could run away and join real life. After her mother falls ill, she finds herself in a fantastic world where everyone wears masks, and sets out on a quest to awaken the Queen of Light (Gina McKee) accompanied by the cowardly but loyal Valentine (Jason Barry).

Review by Jake Wilson:
What a disappointment. Despite precursors that range from Hans Anderson's The Snow Queen to Jim Henson's Labyrinth, the first feature directed by comics artist Dave McKean, turns out to be closest of all to Robert Rodriguez's The Adventures of Shark Girl and Lava Boy - an equally self-conscious take on children's fantasy and a comparable case of a talented artist gone to seed.

Anyone who remembers the covers of the Sandman graphic novels from the 1990s will recognise McKean's visual signature here. His layered images evoke the blurring and warping of memory, as if they had been pieced together in an attic full of decaying archival material: scratchy sketches, yellowing manuscripts, out-of-focus photos. At best, this dreamy style complements the sophisticated nostalgia of Neil Gaiman, who wrote the scripts for both Sandman and Mirror Mask, and who often seems to be recreating stories from his own childhood in a new, knowing way.

The trouble here is that both the imagery and script seem too transparently second-hand to hold interest in themselves: everything seems like a quote from somewhere else, from the Alice in Wonderland dialogue to the metal insects out of Hieronymous Bosch. Like Rodriguez's imaginary planet of Drool, the MirrorMask landscape looks like exactly what it is: a set of mix-and-match images mocked-up with the aid of various graphics programs. McKean isn't aiming for seamless illusion - he wants the creative process to be visible. But there's nothing romantic or evocative about the notion of a guy fiddling around at home with his computer.

It's a shame, because Stephanie Leonidas makes an ideal children's book heroine, witchy and childishly sensible by turns - easily the equal of Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth. Her acting grounds the film in an everyday reality otherwise only suggested through Gaiman's apologetic British humour ("I will slip through the darkness unnoticeably like...a dark unnoticeably slippy thing!"). The jokes are rarely funny, though soothing as a cup of tea - and again, they make it impossible to suspend disbelief. The greatest fantasy novels and films are products of the unconscious - they have the authority of visions, glimpsed though imperfectly understood. But the creators of MirrorMask remain all too wide awake.

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(UK/US, 2005)

CAST: Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon, Jason Barry, Dora Bryan, Robert Llewellyn, Andy Hamilton, Stephen Fry

PRODUCER: Simon Moorhead


SCRIPT: Neil Gaiman, Dve McKean


EDITOR: Nicolas Gaster

MUSIC: Iain Bellamy


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 8, 2005 (Sydney & Melbourne only)

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Home Enetertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: April 5, 2006

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