Retro Review: Mirrormask

Helena is fed up with life at her parents' circus and desperately wants to get away. One day she loses her temper and wishes her mother dead - and is mortified to see her cruel wish seemingly begin to come true

Synopsis: Mirrormask tells Helena’s story. Helena is fed up with life at her parents’ circus and desperately wants to get away. One day she loses her temper and wishes her mother dead – and is mortified to see her cruel wish seemingly begin to come true. She realises that she’d do anything to retract her `curse’, but instead finds herself thrown suddenly into a surreal landscape that’s by turns beautiful, sinister and scary.



Mirrormask draws upon fantasy classics. Such as Labyrinth. To create a beautifully dark adventure. Furthermore. This film displays brilliant real world drama. With Helena’s mum’s illness and Helena’s self blame because of this. Indeed, the real world scenes where our protagonist visits her mum in the hospital. Have as much emotional impact as any of the fantastical elements. It’s clear that Neil Gaiman has a deep rooted understanding of how humans work. And is able to translate this into one of the best films I have seen. This production follows a hero’s journey story as Helena journeys through the City of Light into the Dark Lands. To find the Mirrormask; the charm that will wake the sleeping Queen of Light. This is clearly a metaphor for Helena’s guilt over arguing with her mother, only for her to fall ill. Our heroine is accompanied by Valentine. A sidekick/plucky comic relief in the best fairytale tradition. Notably, Valentine sells Helena out to the Queen of Darkness. Thus subverting his companion role. Helena sees the Dark Princess, who has replaced her in the real world. Argue with Helena’s dad and destroy Helena’s drawings.


Close To You

In one of the most disturbing and surreal scenes I have ever seen. Helena is transformed into the Dark Princess. By the Dark Queen’s servants. As a dissonant rendition of the Carpenters’s Close To You is played. Meanwhile, Valentine discovers that the jewels the Dark Queen gifted him for capturing Helena. Are fakes. Our companion performs a face turn and snaps Helena out of her trance. Using his and her juggling skills. Our heroes locate the Mirrormask within the Dark Queen’s palace. And beat a hasty retreat. Nevertheless. The Dark Queen and her forces give chase to them.

In a crowning moment of awesome. Helena stands up to the Dark Queen; telling her she cannot control and smother her daughter any longer. In addition, Valentine summons his tower and our adventurers escape the Queen of Darkness. However, the Dark Princess destroys all of Helena’s drawings in the real world. Making it impossible for our heroine to ever return. As the Princess of Darkness celebrates her victory. She foolishly stands in front of a mirror. Enabling Helena to use the Mirrormask to return to the real world and send the Dark Princess home.


The phone call

The sleeping Helena is found by her dad, who wakes her. Our protagonist then receives a phone call from the hospital for her father. In the most dramatic moment of tension in the entire film. Helena awaits the news of her mother. Who turns out to be fine. This was such a satisfying emotional payoff. Probably the best I have seen in any film, ever. Once again, Gaiman understands that the human elements of a story are at least as important as the fantasy elements. The film ends with Helena’s parents’ circus going back on tour. There is a sweet moment at the very end where Helena meets a guy who looks like Valentine who is completely nonplussed. By her apparent recognition of him.



Mirrormask boasts some impressive performances. Evidently. Stephanie Leonidas shows Helena’s initial immaturity and vulnerability well. Her interactions with Helena’s mum (Gina McKeeare utterly sweet and heartwarming. I loved their hospital scene together as well as their shared dream in the fantasy world. McKee also played a great authoritarian Dark Queen. Showing great creepiness, menace and yet motherliness. Again, Leonidas showed a great combination of courage and vulnerability when she stood up to the Dark Queen. Going back to Leonidas, I felt that she depicted just the right mix of childishness, curiosity and bravery.

Throughout the film. I adored her line “Butterfingers” when Valentine brought Helena out of the Dark Queen’s trance. Speaking of Valentine. I believe that Jason Barry portrayed the character’s humour and extroversion well. For this reason, he and Leonidas really clicked as companions on an adventure. Which made his betrayal of her all the more shocking. Rob Brydon really showed Helena’s father’s caring nature in all their scenes together. As well as playing an entertainingly fastidious Prime Minister of Light City. Of contrast, Brydon and Leonidas really delivered the tension of the penultimate scene brilliantly.


Incidental Music

Mirrormask’s incidental music is the greatest of any film in my opinion. The opening theme was brilliant and really put you in another world. I really liked the use of horns when Helena was walking around her grandmother’s flat in the dark. Likewise, the Labyrinth-esque theme when Helena and Valentine flew on the books was so beautiful and freewheeling with an edge of darkness to it. The sitar theme when Valentine and Helena climbed the stairs to the orbiting giants was also beautiful. As I have said, Mirrormask’s music is very Labyrinth like at times. Especially during the scene between the hypnotised Helena and the Dark Queen. There was some really nice chime like music during the scene where Helena finds the Mirrormask. Which helped put across the idea of secrets being uncovered.



Mirrormask’s CGI is the best I have ever seen. It was introduced brilliantly by having a couple of musicians be transformed into 2D drawings, causing Helena and Valentine to flee. The effects of Light City are beautiful and put me strongly in mind of the Neverending Story. The library’s rendition was also excellent, as were the effects of the orbiting giants. The Dark Queen’s shadows had a lovely viscous effect that made them seem like flowing oil. Also, the creation of the dream lands was stunning. There was a fantastic moment at the film’s climax where the Dark Queen’s giant face confronted Helena and Valentine. The special effects really helped sell the terror of this moment, as well as creating the Dark Queen’s menace earlier in the film. Lastly, the effect of Valentine using the Mirrormask to summon his tower was superb.



Mirrormask is a phenomenal film. It combines a classic fairytale/adventure story with real world issues in an utterly seamless way. Although the CGI can make it somewhat difficult to follow exactly what is happening at times. This is a wildly entertaining movie with a real emotional core at its centre. Watch this.

Check out our review of Wizards here
Check out our review of Masters of the Universe (1987) here
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Incidental Music
  • CGI

Autistic writer who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. Actor with Theatre of the Senses. He/him.
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