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Film / MirrorMask

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A 2005 movie made by The Jim Henson Company, but done with mostly CG effects. Directed by acclaimed visual artist Dave McKean, and it shows. Written by acclaimed author/comic book guy Neil Gaiman, and it also shows.

Helena Campbell is a teenage girl who wants to leave her home at the circus to go and join real life. She gets into an argument with her mother, who then falls spontaneously ill with what is presumably a brain tumor. Helena blames herself, and dreams (maybe) that she travels to a magical world made entirely out of pictures she has drawn.

The City of Light is being gradually destroyed because the White Queen (who bears a suspicious resemblance to her mother) has fallen ill and the Charm to wake her has been stolen by someone called the Dark Princess, daughter of the Dark Queen (who also bears a suspicious resemblance to Helena's mother). Accompanied by a bizarre Irish juggler named Valentine, Helena journeys from the White City to the Darklands to find the Charm and save both the White Queen and her mother.


Deliberately made as a Spiritual Successor to Labyrinth, and like it, the film has gained a cult following, due largely to the massive fan bases of Gaiman and McKean.

By the way, the circus isn't scary, nor is the clown.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Action Dress Rip: Helena does this to the dress she acquired in her Evil Makeover after it makes her trip.
  • All Just a Dream: Although we know this from pretty early on, and Helena first thinks that she simply has to survive the dream logic. But then she sees the Princess taking over her life... Or Was It a Dream?? The final scene implies that, while it was all a dream, it wasn't just a dream. (And with Neil Gaiman, it's never just a dream.)
  • All Take and No Give: The Dark Queen and the Princess, one of the most dysfunctional family units in fantasy.
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  • And You Were There: All of the main characters including Helena, although Valentine's equivalent is met after the dream.
  • Anti-Smother Love Talk: Toward the end of the film, Helena faces the Dark Queen, who has been ravaging the world in search for her daughter whose escape from said world is causing it to collapse. Helena tries to convince the Queen to treat the princess like a human being instead of a kind of plaything, leading to a moment that teases a Heel Realization and then defies it:
    Helena: She's not a pet! She's not even a child anymore! You have to let her grow up.
    Dark Queen: You mean... let her choose her own food, her own clothes, make her own decisions... love her, but don't try to possess her?
    Helena: Yes, that's exactly what I mean.
    Dark Queen: Absolutely out of the question.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?:
    Helena: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
    Valentine: Absolutely, if we put little wheels on the bottom of our feet we could just rooooooll around...
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Guard 1: Shall we lock her up for you?
    Guard 2: Extort a confession?
    Guard 3: Deny her ice cream?
  • Asexuality: Implied. Helena shows no interest in romantic relationships (in fact, it disgusts her), despite being at that age where desiring such is considered normal.
  • The Baroness: The Dark Queen.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: The Dark Queen sports pitch-black eyes, as does her daughter. When Helena is used as a replacement for the Princess and given an appropriate makeover, her eyes turn black as well.
  • Brainwashed: Helena, by the Dark Queen.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick:
    Valentine: I remember what my mother always said. "It's a dog eat dog world, son. You get them before they get you. Eat your greens. Please don't do that. Don't embarrass me in front of the neighbors. IT WOULD BE BETTER IF YOU LEFT HOME AND I NEVER HEARD FROM YOU AGAIN!" She wasn't even my real mother. She bought me from a man...
  • Broken Record: Not broken, but the repeating last line of Mrs. Bagwell's record is also her own last advice in the scene: "Don't let them see you're afraid."
  • Buffy Speak: At being asked to sneak, Valentine says, "I will slip unnoticeable through the darkness like a dark, unnoticeable slippy thing." A notable example in that he doesn't hesitate at any point in the sentence. That's what he meant to say.
  • The Cameo: Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, and Robert Llewellyn pop by briefly.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Valentine is almost physically incapable of saying outright that he's sorry.
    Valentine: If I was to say s-s-something apologetic... it would reflect my feelings in this matter.
  • Cats Are Mean: Sphinxes, technically, but they come across as feral cats that have no qualms about eating people. Thankfully, they prefer the taste of books.
  • Circus Brat: Helena grew up in the circus her parents run. She sometimes wishes she could have a more normal childhood, but it does mean she's learned some unusual skills that come in handy during her adventure.
  • Companion Cube: The Really Useful Book, for Helena, and Valentine's Tower, for Valentine.
  • Conspicuous CG: Done prominently and deliberately. Many of the Computer Generated effects are very obvious, far less realistic than Henson Company is capable of, and front and center. This was done to invoke the unreality of the drawn world.
  • Cool Airship: Although it looks kind of like a giant vacuum cleaner.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Mrs. Bagwell, who has about thirty of the little buggers living in her house with her.
  • A Darker Me: The Dark Princess is an embodiment of Helena's darker and more selfish tendencies. She's more confident and superficially cooler than Helena, but a lot more dangerous to the people around her.
  • God in Human Form: Inverted. While the creation of Dreamland is heavily implied to be Helena's doing, she's ultimately a human girl with a big imagination.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: It's not especially big, but A Really Useful Book is full of plot-relevant advice that lives up to its title. A Complete History of Everything could also qualify.
  • The Heartless: The Dark Queen is a reflection of the way Helena sees her mother when she's angry: selfish, uncaring, and pompous. By contrast, the Princess is everything Helena (implicitly) fears about becoming herself: spoiled, ungrateful, and greedy.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • The Really Useful Book. That's right, a book.
    • Earlier, Valentine's friend Bing is devoured by the encroaching darkness while attempting to hold it at bay long enough for Helena and Valentine to escape.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Valentine seems to have had one.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Valentine and Helena.
  • Hypnotize the Princess: The Dark Queen attempts to hypnotize Helena into becoming a replacement for the Dark Princess.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Mrs. Bagwell tells Helena to go wash her hands, wittering on about hygiene. But when Helena goes to wash her hands in Mrs. Bagwell's bathroom... it's the most disgusting place ever. Everything's got grime on it, there's no soap, no towel for Helena to dry her hands on (she just uses her shirt), and there is a sphinx in the toilet.
    • In the beginning of the movie, Helena's reasoning for not being dressed for the circus is because she looks like an idiot. Her mother replies that "No one looks like an idiot." Cue a girl with a beaked mask, rainbow skirt and stockings coming from behind. The mother tells her to leave.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Valentine's friend Bing throwing his juggling balls at an encroaching shadow.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Helena's desire to run away from the circus and join real life
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: After Helena has been brainwashed by the Dark Queen, Valentine appears and insists that she's still in there. It doesn't work, but juggling does.
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: When Valentine is being menaced by a ravenous griffin, he offers to teach it the best knock-knock joke in the world — "You start."
    Griffin: Knock knock.
    Valentine: Who's there?
    Griffin: ...
    [Valentine escapes]
  • Lovable Coward: Valentine.
  • Magical Library: Where books fly around and have to be caught with a net.
  • Marionette Motion: The boxed singer marionettes.
  • Mask of Power: The MirrorMask. The people of the dreamworld believe it created the world, and it certainly has the power to let one escape that world.
  • McGuffin: The MirrorMask itself.
  • Mind Screw: This movie's definitely got it, as well as much confusion as to whether or not this was an art film.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Quite a few, most notably the Griffon, the Sphinxes, and the Monkeybirds.
  • My Beloved Smother: The Dark Queen, in a subversion of the usual tradition that evil queens are unloving parents. To balance that out, we have Valentine's Parental Abandonment.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Valentine after reading The Dark Princess's note, which she left in the MirrorMask's hiding hole. He quickly realizes that the world is going to end, and Helena's the only one who can stop it.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Helena's family's circus features several clowns, who are friendly and likable both in and out of makeup.
  • Odd Name Out: All the Monkeybirds are named Bob. Except Malcolm.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Part of the set in one scene is a supersized version of a digital model of a flea that the animators had kicking around.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: And they float!
  • Pajama-Clad Hero: Helena.
  • Planet of Steves: Subverted: There is one Monkeybird whose name isn't Bob. It's Malcolm. And they hit him for it.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The Giants always talk like this. Although it's more like Punctuated... For... Emphasis...
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: Courtesy of the Really Useful Book.
    Helena: I like books!
  • Rebellious Princess: The Dark Princess rebels against the smothering role her mother forces her into. Whatever sympathy the audience might have for her is balanced by the extreme measures she's willing to take to avoid being taken back.
  • Repeated Cue, Tardy Response: when Joanne must run off-screen, change into a gorilla costume, and come back on as a different character, she unfortunately has a sudden migraine and passes out, forcing another crew member to take her place. The delay results in oblivious Morris repeating her cue (mention of bananas) with increasing pointlessness until the replacement appears.
  • Riddling Sphinx: Subverted. The classic Riddle of the Sphinx is delivered by an easily stumped griffin. There are sphinxes in the city, but they're implied to be less intelligent and more interested in eating books (and people) than solving riddles.
  • Save Both Worlds: Emotionally, at least. The waking world isn't threatened with physical destruction as the dreamworld is, but by saving the dreamworld, Helena also saves, symbolically, at the very least, her mother's life, and stops "her world" from being shattered.
  • Scenery Porn: At 24 frames per second, the movie has roughly 120,000 scenery porn moments. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to live inside a Dave McKean drawing...
  • The Scream and Screw Destiny: "That's not my future. That's not my future. NO, I DON'T WANT TO BE A WAITER!"
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Show Must Go On: After Helena's mother passes out, another performer takes her place.
  • Significant Double Casting: Helena and her parents have doppelgangers within the dream world; to wit, the Princess, the Prime Minister, and the Light and Dark Queens.
  • Skewed Priorities: The Dark Queen would rather keep Helena captive and let the dream world be destroyed rather than think of The Needs of the Many.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Also Lyrical Dissonance — "Close To You" is sung in a creepy, unnatural way by uncanny puppets, which fits the terrifying tone of the scene.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • The Henson Company asked Gaiman for a movie that's "whatever genre Labyrinth is".
    • In case you missed it the first time, Mirrormask was written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Dave McKean. Would you like to know what else was written by Gaiman, with illustrations by McKean, a few years earlier? Coraline, where Gaiman visits a few of these same themes - an alternate universe with an alternate, oppressively-affectionate mother figure who has strange, black eyes. This makes Mirrormask a sort of spiritual successor to Coraline. Then, a few years after Mirrormask, Coraline was adapted into a movie of its own, but the Coraline movie was directed by Henry Selick, making it look more like The Nightmare Before Christmas than like its own source material.
  • Stealth Pun: Inside Helina's riddle. You can paint a herring green, you can hang it on a wall, but the whistling? That keeps it from being to obvious. It's a red herring.
  • Strawman Political: The Dark Queen's advisers are parodies of British politicians on both sides.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: At one point in her journey, Helena meets her mother, who says that from her point of view she's asleep in her hospital bed having a dream in which she's just met Helena. Like everything else about the dreamworld, it's never solidly established whether that actually happened.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Putting aside that she switched lives with Helena against Helena's will, the Dark Princess is a bitch. She's basically a reflection of everything wrong with Helena with none of her good traits.
  • The Tell: When Helena's father is trying to calm her about her mother's impending brain surgery, and unconsciously chews his lip, she blurts, "Anyway, you're worried. You only do that when you're worried!"
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Malcolm the Monkeybird's reaction to the approaching darkness.
    Malcolm: Regrettable.
  • This Is My Side: A damn heroic one enforced by Helena when she finally confronts the Princess.
  • The Trickster: Valentine.
  • Uniformity Exception: There are a tribe of "monkeybirds", basically gibbons with conical orange beaks, who can only speak their own name. All of them are named Bob, except for one, Malcolm, who has an blue beak and is more helpful to the protagonists than the rest.
  • Voiceover Letter: Left by the Dark Princess and read by Valentine.
  • Winged Humanoid: The Monkeybirds, although they don't really have bird-like wings; they actually have skin-flaps that stretch from their arms to the sides of their bodies, and they don't really fly with them, just glide really well.


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