And dark it certainly is. Gilliam has always been able to show that underbelly of whimsy while still retaining a sense of wonder, but in this film the darkness takes over, and the fantasy world of main character Jeliza-Rose (Ferland) is more disturbing than endearing. She's the 10-year-old daughter of a pair of cartoonish junkies played by Bridges and Jennifer Tilly, washed-up rock 'n' rollers who expect their young daughter to prepare their fixes for them and take care of them as they wallow in drug-induced hazes.
When Mom dies of an overdose, Dad takes Jeliza-Rose out of the city and to a dilapidated country house once owned by his own mother. He follows his wife into the great beyond in short order, and Jeliza-Rose is left to fend for herself with no company save the severed dolls' heads she talks to in different voices, the corpse of her father and a pair of twisted neighbors who have their own dark secrets.
The take-away message should be about the resilience of childhood in the face of increasing horrors, but Jeliza-Rose is just as insane and delusional as the whacked-out adults around her, and just as frustrating. Even with his swooping camera and effects sequences evocative of the imagination of childhood, Gilliam can't mask the ugliness of his characters and story, which offer not hope but only despair. Ferland's performance, exaggerated Blanche DuBois Southern accent and all, is one of the most out-there I've ever seen from a child actor, but I'd hesitate to call it good. You could say the same for the movie as a whole.