Finally, a chance to flaunt my deep critical knowledge of the girly-swirly 1986 fantasy Labyrinth, which makes MirrorMask suffer in comparison. Unlike Labyrinth, MirrorMask can't boast a teenage Jennifer Connelly, tumbling Alice-like into a faintly ominous but enchanting netherworld. It does have young Stephanie Leonidas, also raven-haired and obviously smart, who brings more dry wit than one might expect to her role of a circus impresario's daughter caught in an amazing dream. But is she a Connelly? No, nor is British comedian Rob Brydon (also in the forthcoming A Cock and Bull Story) a David Bowie, though he does prove an enjoyable distraction as the girl's idealistic father.
What these movies share most thoroughly is an attachment to the late master of Muppets Jim Henson, who directed and co-wrote the earlier film and whose sensibility infuses the latter (which is produced by the company that bears his name). Again, advantage Labyrinth: Charming beasties that Henson once rendered as actual physical objects are now digital programs, resulting in the chilly kind of "reality" kids must be getting used to these days. Illustrator-turned-director Dave McKean does deliver golden-hued vistas that are often gorgeous, and the script by graphic-novelist Neil Gaiman is definitely for the smarter set (one scene has the adventuress riding happily on a large floating book). But you'll constantly be reminded of the film's slightly more alluring older sister. Next week: Labyrinth versus A History of Violence.—Joshua Rothkopf