Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" is the definition of movie magic. Drawing on childhood fairy tales as inspiration, del Toro creates a haunting wonderland that meshes with the realities of war, and created is a storybook fairytale that reminds us "Innocence has a power evil cannot imagine."
"Pan's Labyrinth" follows Ofelia, a young and imaginative Spanish girl, as she begins a new life with her pregnant mother, Carmen, and Carmen's new husband, Capitán Vidal, during World War II fascist Spain. Against the backdrop of war, Ofelia's fairytale begins as she stumbles upon Pan's mystical labyrinth where she learns she might be a long-lost princess.
From there, Pan gives Ofelia three tasks to perform to prove she hasn't become a mortal so she could return to the Underworld, her home she ventured from long ago but no longer remembers.
To refrain from spoiling anymore, it must be said that the film's beauty doesn't come entirely from its art direction; it mostly comes from its ability to create a tight grip around your imagination and wonderment.
While Ofelia struggles to prove herself, she also struggles with her life in Spain, as revolutionists attempt to destroy Vidal's last stronghold, hoping to take fascism along with it. Ofelia also must care for her mother, who's continuously sick due to her pregnancy, and learns Vidal only cares about his unborn son and not the woman carrying him.
You struggle with Ofelia every step of the way, and when she steps away from reality and happily into the fairy tale world, you can't help but let out a sigh of relief with her.
Del Toro's ability to create that kind of contrast is moving. To do so, however, he had to depict a Spain rife with violence. Though graphic, none of the violence is unnecessary. It shows us the type of brutal life Ofelia was thrust into, and helps explain why she wanted to get away so badly.
But don't be mistaken that Ofelia's fairytale world is of her imagination — by the end of the film, you're left wondering what life was more real to the little girl.
Visually, the film is a showcase of aesthetic imagery. Literally a storybook on screen, "Pan's Labyrinth" imprints itself on your mind, and with help of the artistic design and direction, creates an imaginative bedtime story.
Twelve-year-old Ivana Baquero as Ofelia is the key to making the film believable. Her acting ability far surpasses expectations and keeps you charmed just as much as the story.
Doug Jones, who was also in del Torro's "Hellboy," plays Pan. One part alluring, one part intriguing and one part threatening, Pan makes for an engrossing character. The way the film introduces Pan is memorable, as are the ways the film continuously inserts him seamlessly into scenes involving Ofelia's conflict with doing what is right versus what she wants to do.
What's intelligent about this film is del Toro never strays from the fairytale formula, but he does colorfully build on it. There's the archetypal princess, the supporting cast of characters and the never-ceasing quest; all things that make up the emblematic story. This simple construction, with help from its add-ons, reminds us of every fable we've ever heard, but makes it incredibly different — the story becomes its own entity.
However, contrary to the film's fairytale heart, "Pan's Labyrinth" is a giant of a drama, and isn't for children or the weak-stomached. The film is harsh, really harsh, and is somewhat of an "Alice in Wonderland" for adults.
Meaningful and thematic, arousing and one-of-a-kind, the film will pull on your heartstrings and make an impression you won't soon forget.
First impressions are lasting impressions, and "Pan's Labyrinth's" first impression is one you'll want to revisit again and again. And, like every good story, it's one you'll want to share with everyone you meet.Rating: