Pan’s Labyrinth has been billed as a fairy tale for adults and as we’ll see, this is a key distinction for its success as a modern fairy tale. Of course, “adult fairy tale” conjures images of bound and gagged fairies and little hairy fauns with an appetite for tickling (at least for me), but the “adult” tag instead describes a darker, more subtle style of storytelling that eschews happy talking animals in favor of freaking huge goat men with cryptic motives and Nazis. This turns out to be a very good move for audiences with the exception of small children who will probably become confused and perhaps more than a little afraid of the woods, the dark, and authoritarian military regimes.
Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother move into the Spanish countryside to be with her militant stepfather (Sergi Lopez). The young girl’s name is Ofelia and her new home is full of surprises as she is soon approached by creatures of the underworld (ie: the freaking huge goat man/faun) who promise her the eternal life of a princess if she is able to complete a series of tasks. Admittedly, this may sound a bit blah, but there’s much more going on beneath the idyllic surface because as it turns out, the stepfather isn’t just your run-of-the-mill-abusive-man-of-the-house (whew), but a Nazi general tasked with the destruction of the region’s anti-fascist rebels. And it isn’t long before little Ofelia’s quest for princess-hood throws her smack dab in the middle of this very real and very violent conflict. With princesses and fairies, freedom fighters and Nazis, we certainly have the makings of a modern fairy tale and fortunately Pan’s Labyrinth looks like one too.
faaaabulous. The lack of computer-generated effects is also a strength as the fauns and creepy baddies prowl and lurk with a realism that will keep you awake at night (or so I’m told - ahem). Even during gunfights and torture scenes (oh yes, there is torture) the lights and colors are appropriately bright and cheery or dark and threatening. Everything on the screen is just a little more beautiful and a little more haunting as befitting a fairy tale.
I'm saving it for a potluck.
And the acting really is top notch. Ivana Baquero deftly walks the fine line of innocence without falling off the edge. Sergi Lopez also stands out as the loathsome stepfather/dictator. There isn’t a weak link in the cast and Pan’s use of Spanish lends the entire film a sense of exoticism that further serves the film’s fairy tale roots.
If I were a smarter man with a larger ego (mine is actually small, humble, and modestly gorgeous), I might argue that Pan’s Labyrinth could be seen as an allegory for that troubling passage between childhood and a full blown case of adult-itis. I’ll leave you, my beautiful readers, to draw your own conclusions, but it is thanks to Pan’s layered nuances in both plot and design that this interpretation is even possible. You may ultimately agree or disagree with my deductions here, but you will also thank me for seeing this film.