Once upon a time, the world was sinful, then came storytellers to give introspective direction to readers across the globe. Fairy tales in particular have left a significant influence throughout the twisted imaginations of filmmakers. And now, as recently as 2006, look at how the whimsical Pan’s Labyrinth’s established that influence during a time as dark as the Fascist Regime, when fairy tales were considered nothing more than childish. Indeed, the script anchors itself down by three different modes of harsh reality to counteract the stereotypical whimsy Americanized by the 20th century, those modes being an unborn brother, his ill mother, and his cruel father.
The proper elements are all there as they should be, but the protagonist, Ofelia, is too passive to carry them effectively on her moon-marked shoulders. It would be better for the sake of the script’s metaphorical implications if she had a personality, but instead Ofelia is just an average girl of few facial expressions and no actual character development. She is so bland, she seems to care rather little about her distressed mother, her only motivation to helping her being, “Oh! She’s my mom! I must help her because it’s my job to do so!” Heck, if she was a boy, the story would remain the same! Her lack of apparent opinions about her mother or stepfather goes into another critical issue to the screenplay: Nothing is learnt really about any of the forgettable characters besides their typical tropes expected from a WWII-era setting.
Rather, del Toro allows himself to shine through his directing power, especially when Ofelia meets the pale man, the absolute scariest, creepiest, most disturbing thing ever seen. The first seen of him is through art depicting the way he saws babies; the ugly warm colors of those murals chosen in the paintings to heighten the sense of danger. When the beast himself appears, he at first sits still, then creeps up using the littlest amount of muscle strength, eyes on his palms, his skin flabby, his legs skinny, his gasps deathly, you too want to run as Ofelia does, Doug Jones truly portrays the monster to acute perfection beneath all that special makeup. From that single scene alone, Del Toro’s direction shames all other horror directors then and now!
In this scary alternate reality that Ofelia has to step in and out of, the thing forcing her through that rabbit hole is the orders of a mysterious faun, who promises her the only sign of hope she has to help herself and her mother. The beast says that she is not really of the earth at all, but a princess from the moon who is being called to return home. Can he be trusted though? Or is he like the T-1000 of Terminator 2: Judgment Day? Is he just pretending to be innocent to lure the victim into his piercing attack? Ofelia will only know once she obeys the tasks given upon her.
Throughout the journey Ofelia tackles, each step and milestone utilize the power of cinematography to leave a distinct mark. Or, it at least tries to, as it doesn’t always work to make an absolutely beautiful feast for the eyes. But for those that work, the cold rain generates the heat of a forest attack, then in that same forest, sunlight illuminates cotton in the breeze. Indeed, most have praised the vividly dark yet whimsical color palette of del Toro’s work, and in this particular effort the lush color scheme uses sad blues to contrast the day images full of bright harsh hues, any time true red is seen, it’s the blood that pops out against the blue of night. Yet anytime fairy tale life is on screen, the CGI appears rather awful in how badly it’s aged; it starts with the stick insect that transforms into a fairy, and peaks in cheapness with a scary giant frog who barfs outs its own innards. Clearly special effects were never del Toro’s strong suit, his greatest strength lies in his clever imagination.
He’s got all those beautifully genius doses to tell the story in barely noticeable ways. The beautiful way he uses lullaby humming grounds the production. A stutterer counts to three in the film’s most stressful scene. A maiden named Mercedes is shown through actions how she’s more of a mother to Ofelia than her actual mother, and how she’s a display of feminism in the Fascist Regime by doing something as seemingly insignificant as wiping a knife clean against her apron. She’s far more empowering and progressive than Ofelia’s mother, who continues to believe that fairy tales are nonsense.
As a matter of fact, this more modern fairy tale is closer in tone to the Brothers Grimm’s original vision than anything Walt Disney forced people to fall in love with. You wouldn’t see blood splattering everywhere in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, nor would you see euthanasia in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, nor would you see someone applying stitches onto himself in Disney’s Cinderella, but in the original versions, similar pieces of gore would be ever present, as found here. Although what’s really spectacular about the intelligence behind the use of squeamish imagery here is that none of it distracts from the story, but rather enhances it.
Looking back at our time now, with the cities resembling ghost towns as if nobody truly lives anymore, the children-at-hearts of the earth hunger escapism. Looking through the darkest times of recent American history, that’s why properties like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and yes, even The Hunger Games, have exploded in popularity. Although basing a story around an alternate universe means the writer must create rules from scratch, something unimaginably difficult to accomplish, which consequently means these works all end up rather childish in nature. Not Pan’s Labyrinth, though. It’s an intentional tale that paints a beautiful Jesus Christ metaphor and will give you better insight onto the future. Once you follow the milestones of Ofelia in Wonderland, your perspective shall improve, and in time the universe all shall live happily ever after. The end.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!