2007-02-02 / Columnists


Review By Robert Snyder

'Pan's Labyrinth' - Grim Fairy Tale

Parents may hesitate to take their children to "Pan's Labyrinth," although much of it has the trappings of a classic fairy tale, complete with a fawn, fairies, secret places and even an evil stepparent.

Written (in Spanish with English subtitles) and directed by Guillermo Del Toro ("Hellboy"), "Pan's Labyrinth" is a fairy tale in a very adult sense because the fantasy world of 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) parallels the real world of her sadistic Fascist stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López). The officer in Franco's Army is focused on one goal: Torture and/or destroy the rebels in the forest around an old mill.

But not only the rebels fill the forest. Ofelia's fairies and other magical creatures also inhabit the woods, wherein lies a gothic tree trunk and the ancient labyrinth, home of Pan the Fawn (Doug Jones). He is gatekeeper to a netherworld, in which Ofelia may reign as the long-awaited princess if she passes certain tests.

The young girl has arrived at the mill, accompanied by her pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), and a nurse, Mercedes (Marbel Verdú). They are there at the command of Captain Vidal, the father of the unborn child (a boy, he insists). This is 1944 Spain when Franco's Fascist regime has taken hold.

In a way that is unprecedented, Del Toro weaves his political and poetic allegory, creating cinematic brilliance and beauty that comes off as a combination of "Schindler's List" and "The Chronicles of Narnia." However, whether escaping from magical monsters, like the evil palm-eyed Pale Man (Doug Jones again), or monstrous men, like Captain Vidal, Ofelia displays courage and, more important, independence of thought - the real weapon against Fascists, real and imagined.

As with all good fairy tales, "Pan's Labyrinth" merges wonderment and horror. Still, Captain Vidal has the fantasy fiends beat, providing another addition to the gallery of sadistic villains found in recent movies from "Casino Royale" to "The Good Shepherd." For this reason, young children should not see "Pan's Labyrinth," unless their parents want weeks of sleepless nights. And I doubt reading a Grimm's Fairy Tale will act as an antidote.

Maybe, "Pan's Labyrinth" should just be left to adult children of all ages.

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