Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is from a circus family. When her mother (Gina McKee) is taken ill, she retreats into a computer-generated dream world, full of magical creatures. Guided by Valentine (Jason Barry), she has to find the MirrorMask to save the Queen of Light (McKee again) from the Queen of Shadows (McKee again again).

Let's get this out of the way at the beginning: MirrorMask is hugely derivative of The Wizard Of Oz, Spirited Away and, in particular, Labyrinth. The latter is little surprise, as the film was commissioned on the back of Labyrinth's high DVD sales. All three are better than MirrorMask, but it's not without its own personal charm.

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Leonidas gives an exceptional performance as Helena. With a lesser actress, the audience would have been constantly reminded that she was acting alongside computer-generated characters. Whilst some of the credit for believability must go to the animators, Leonidas deserves most of it. Co-star Barry is rendered ambiguous behind his mask. It's hard to impress when so restrained, but he does his best.

McKee and Rob Brydon (Helena's father and Prime Minister of the dream land) are two of my favourite actors. It is always a treat to watch them. Neither put a foot wrong here, although being greedy, I would have liked both to have had more screen time.

MirrorMask's strength is its fantastic CGI characters. I defy anyone not to be blown away by the visuals. They don't just look great; they have a depth to their personalities that brings them to life. The inventiveness that has gone into each and every one makes the lack of originality in the base storyline all the more frustrating.

Not all are perfect, however. The Gryphon features Robert Llewellyn's face unnaturally stretched. It appears flat and noseless. The cats suffer from the same problem. The Librarian, by comparison, has Stephen Fry's mouth as a separate part of its body, but is still a much more seamless blend of live action and animation.

It would be very easy for MirrorMask to have been a loved film. However, the lack of originality in the script invites comparison with too many classics. It is just a film to be fond of.

Reviewed on: 30 May 2006
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A circus girl falls into a fantasy world where darkness threatens the kingdom of light.
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Amber Wilkinson ***1/2

Director: Dave McKean

Writer: Neil Gaiman, based on a story by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

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

Year: 2005

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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If you like this, try:

Pan's Labyrinth
The Wizard Of Oz