Fairy-tale fantasy collides with brutal post-war reality in "Pan's Labyrinth," an epic achievement in riveting and imaginative storytelling from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.
Set in 1941, the story centers on Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young Spanish girl who moves with her pregnant mother to the countryside to live with her stepfather, Capitán Vidal (Sergi López, "Dirty Pretty Things"). A high-ranking military officer in the Fascist party, which has just emerged victorious from the country's civil war, he pretty much personifies evil.
Ofelia finds an unexpected escape from her plight when a faun named Pan (Doug Jones, "Hellboy") visits her room one night and tells her she is actually a princess of mythic importance. Ofelia accepts the challenging tasks Pan presents to her and dives into a fantasy world that intersects with reality in unexpected ways.
Del Toro expertly examines the contrasting qualities of both worlds and provokes questions about the nature of each, but never loses focus on the story. The fantasy world he creates may not have the scope, or budget, of something like "Lord of the Rings" (or even his own big Hollywood efforts "Hellboy" and "Blade II") but it still dazzles, and the comparatively small story packs a potent emotional punch.
"Pan's Labyrinth," an often brutal movie, earns its R rating and challenges the notion that anything involving fairies and fauns must be kids' stuff. Ultimately, both Ofelia's journey on screen and the grand accomplishments of those behind the scenes prove the same point: there's nothing more powerful than imagination.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times