When I think about the best movies of the past 10 years, "Pan's Labyrinth" certainly comes to mind. Released back in 2006, "Pan's Labyrinth" introduced (most) Americans to the brilliant Guillermo del Toro. I remember watching "Pan's Labyrinth" with the faintest notion that del Toro would be the next Tim Burton. With his whimsical characters, his eye for the fantasical, and a talent for storytelling, del Toro has been forever solidified in my mind as a true artist. "Pan's Labyrinth" is a story for all ages.
The film opens with the epic tale of Princess Moanna, the daughter of the King of the Underworld. The Princess grows curious about the world above, and one day she decides to leave the safety of the Underworld. As she spends time on Earth, she begins to forget about her father and her kingdom. Princess Moanna dies as a mortal, but the King believes that her divine soul will return to the Underworld some day.
In 1944 post-Civil War Spain, a curious young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is forced to live in a remote military outpost in the forest. Her mother is pregnant with the son of Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), whose attention is focused on destroying the remaining members of the Republican opposition. The harsh reality of her new situation doesn't stop Ofelia's love for fairy tales and adventures. As she roams the grounds of her new home, Ofelia comes across an old labyrinth. Here, she meets the Faun for the first time. A gangly creature made of leaves and branches, the Faun explains to Ofelia that she is meant for bigger and greater things. He tells her that she has the soul of Princess Moanna, and that she must complete three tasks to prove that she is the real Princess.
As Ofelia attempts to complete the Faun's tasks, her nanny Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) is attempting to accomplish tasks of her own. Mercedes and the house doctor work together to bring food and medical supplies to the Resistance. There is a strong connection between the characters of Ofelia and Mercedes. Although they are aware of the painful reality of life, both Mercedes and Ofelia abandon thoughts of hopelessness and instead go on individual missions to make their world better. Mercedes encourages Ofelia to embrace her imagination, while Ofelia is the only one who knows that Mercedes is working for the Resistance. The two form a very strong bond, and their relationship is perhaps the most touching element of del Toro's fairy tale.
Guillermo del Toro has a keen eye when it comes to creating creatures and critters. Ofelia's first task involves retrieving a golden key from the mouth of a large toad that lives under a tree. After feeding it three magic stones, the toad explodes from the inside out, revealing it's stomach contents where the key is found. For her second task, Ofelia must face a grotesque creature. Its eyeballs rest not in the sockets of the head, but in the sockets of the palms. With murals depicting the creature violently gorging on the flesh of babies, and a heaping pile of children's-sized shoes resting in the corner of the room, this creature is truly terrifying. Ofelia must resist the urge to feast on the wealth of fruit and sweets in order to keep the creature from waking up.
I do not want to go too far into detail with the ending, in case some of you have not seen the film. I will say that the climax of the movie brings the struggles of both Mercedes and Ofelia together in an edge-of-your-seat moment. (I will also say that if your eyes do not water towards the end of the movie, then I believe you have no soul).
Upon reading some other articles on "Pan's Labyrinth," I discovered that when it made its debut at Cannes the movie was received with a 20-minute standing ovation! Well-deserved, if you ask me. "Pan's Labyrinth" is right up there with "Edward Scissorhands" as an unforgettable modern fairy tale. It's a beautiful movie that is sure to not let you forget about it.