I do not begrudge Guillermo del Toro the lauds and laurels of his much-extolled, award-winning fantasy movie, Pan’s Labyrinth. Especially not the raves received by the stunning special effects and imaginative fairy world that is his own creation.
By the time I watched the movie on DVD, all the awards had been handed out, and all the word-of-mouth recommendations had gone the rounds. And what stood out was, “Fantastic special effects!”
Fantastic, indeed, are the special effects. It starts with the stick insect-ish creature, which you know right away is fay. Its transformation into the more traditional fairy form, in front of the young Ofelia, is endearing, bordering on the Disney-like. But then, when she meets with Pan, the image he presents is disturbing. Although the version of this Pan is visually splendid and imposing, his overall aspect is dark, dangerous, and frightening. Malevolent, even. Certainly not child-friendly. He is no Mr. Tumnus of Narnia.
When the central character of a story is a young girl, and the genre is fairy tale fantasy, the general expectation is that the material is meant for a young audience. The movie trailer reinforces this perception. It speaks of “escape from dark times”, and a “journey that will make you believe”.
But the movie turns out to not be the kind of magical family entertainment that the signs were pointing to. The brutal torture scenes could make a viewer turn away from the screen. The cruelty that
Ofelia’s stepfather displayed towards her, her mother, the rebels, and even the innocents (the rabbit-hunters), are graphic and stomach-churning. The child-eating Pale Man looks disgusting and repulsive — the kind that will haunt children’s nightmares.
Even the ending was tragic. Ofelia may have finally reunited with her real father and mother, the King and Queen of the underworld, but she had to die in order for that to happen, and it broke the heart of Mercedes, the household staff who loved her, and who was ready to take over the role of mother to her.
This is not one of those feel-good movies. One could actually be depressed after watching it. That is not to say that one could not appreciate the many reasons that it is critically-acclaimed. As mentioned at the start, I do not begrudge Guillermo del Toro his awards and praises. I understand the genius behind the imaginative world; the realities of war; the complications of relationships; the frailties of humans. I just do not think that these elements belong in a fantasy film for children.
The fault could have been mine. In my equation, princess + fairy tale + hope = wholesome family entertainment.
Sure, there is such a thing as “adult fairy tale.” Neil Gaiman got a lot of flack for Stardust when critics and audiences complained that it is not suitable for children. A lot of explaining had to go around about how it is an adult fairy tale. But this categorization makes sense, given that the central character is not a child, but a young man of marrying age. There is nothing misleading there. Note, though, that despite the adult audience that Stardust is intended for, it does not have the violence, cruelty, terror, sadism, and gruesome creatures that Pan’s Labyrinth has.
Thus, I concede that I am in the minority for finding Pan’s Labyrinth disturbing, and for misunderstanding the audience it was meant for. If you have not seen it yet, at least now you know what to expect.
I would classify this as adult horror fantasy.
Rating: One heart out of five ♥