Josh Bell

Comic-book artist McKean makes his directorial debut with this dazzling fantasy, featuring a screenplay by novelist and comic-book writer Neil Gaiman. Shot mostly against green screens illustrated with McKean's fantastical designs, MirrorMask follows adolescent Helena (Leonidas) who, in a nice inversion of the usual childhood dreams, wants to run away from her life in the circus and join the normal world. When her mother (McKee) falls ill after an argument with Helena, the young girl finds herself transported to a strange dream world where a good queen lies in a deep sleep and an evil queen is taking over the land. Both look suspiciously like Helena's mother.

In order to save the queen, the world, and by extension, her mother back in the real world, Helena must find the titular headpiece. The film has essentially the same plot as The Wizard of Oz, with all the fantasy designed to teach Helena to better appreciate the life she has back home. In that sense, it's relatively predictable and not particularly complex. But McKean's design sense is breathtaking and Gaiman's script has plenty of clever dialogue and characterization. Leonidas holds the film together with a lively performance and the end result is an impressive sheen on some familiar themes.

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