Creative and unusual, and a great fantasy film.
I didn't really know what I was getting into with this movie. I'd seen reviews and knew of the elements involved, but the whole experience was still a surprise. So, the first surprise was a pleasant one: It's like a third book in Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. Sure, there are definitely other fantasy influences, but that was the strongest one I picked up. The protagonist, Sarah, has to navigate a nonsensical labyrinth, and comes across bizarre scenes and puzzles. There are also several points in which her adventure is symbolic of her life and situation, and she learns to grow as a person through them, which is similar to Alice parodying Victorian culture through the weirdness of Wonderland. I love that. Sarah herself is a bit flat as a protagonist, but this isn't a problem with this kind of story. We see she's an awkward fantasy nerd who roleplays scenes from her favorite fantasy story, and accidentally invokes the powers within, not knowing the rules of the tale, and the story itself, weren't entirely fictional. From what we get, she's realistic, if not totally normal, and it makes sense that her fantasy obsession would make her keen on puzzles and logical thinking once she's playing the hero for real. Sarah causes problems by asking the evil goblins to take away her annoying little brother (it's implied he might even be a stepbrother or at least born after her father's remarriage) and she instantly regrets it once the joke has all-too real consequences. The Goblin King supposedly represents the man her mother left for, and an awakening toward adulthood, which is really cool. He stands for Sarah's growth in maturity and in letting go of her resentment. The thematic stuff continues, and it's good stuff. The setting and ideas and effects are great, no, mind-blowng. It's a Jim Henson production, and does it ever show. The puppetry is impressive and the setpieces are all real. There's a talking hat, a pair of doorknockers disabled by the placement of their rings, some literal hand puppetry, a ladder that exits through a vase on top of an open table, and a huge real-life replica of Escher's Relativity...there's a lot to love. The only major effects problems are a few primitive uses of CGI and a noticeable green-screen sequence that was ill-advised with fuzzy puppets. The film has some weird tone elements. While part of me wanted a more classically-toned film, without the songs and so much 80s all over the place, datedness and irrelevant music are elements of Alice too. David Bowie also makes sense given Sarah's arc and psyche. There are a couple of parts where the movie got a bit too comedic for my liking, and the ending is a bit counteractive to the whole "you have to grow up sometime" theme, but it's just odd, and not a huge flaw. Spiritually in line with my favorite stories, while contributing a whole lot of its own, it's a great watch.