Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

pans labyrinth

“My mother told me to be wary of fauns.”

The Scoop: R 2006, directed by Guilllermo Del Toro and starring Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones and Sergi Lopez.

Tagline: Innocence has a power evil cannot imagine.

Summary Capsule: A young girl brought to live in rural countryside with her pregnant mother and new Fascist army captain stepfather discovers that she is the reincarnation of an underworldly princess and must act fast to reclaim her prior life and throne.  


Kyle’s rating: I fantasize I’m a prince who serves as referee at women’s beach volleyball tournaments (I love you, Misty May!)

Kyle’s review: Since a major theme in Pan’s Labyrinth is how children believe in/perceive magic while adults have accepted a ruthless world of utter reality, while watching the film I think I was fooled into believing that all the magic in my heart had withered away over the years. But then the film ended and the credits started to roll, and I immediately realized that there’s plenty of magic within and outside of me, but in my heart there’s no love at all for fantasy movies that are all visuals and crappy clichéd storytelling.

Pan’s Labyrinth is an expertly crafted fairy tale melded onto a contemporary (as of the mid 1900’s) tale; I’m certain it will sparkle for plenty of people, including the legions of critics who seem to think this is one of the best films ever made.

The film is curiously cold, actually. It depends almost completely upon two crucial elements: the absolute perfect casting of Ivana Baquero as precocious young bookworm Ofelia who functions wonderfully as both a worrisome young girl placed in a terrifying living situation and a reincarnated otherworldly princess who must perform a handful of tasks to reclaim her throne (an element which works!), and that the tedious scenes of a rural Spanish countryside in 1944 where local revolutionaries attempt to overthrow a local army captain instigating Fascist authority are innovative and fresh enough to be endlessly interesting and compare and contrast in a cool way with Ofelia’s fantasty adventures (this element fails completely).

And yet, despite Baquero’s perfection in her role, it’s very difficult to generate any kind of excitement for her character’s action or apparent destiny; I have to blame the blandness and utter “been there, seen that a hundred times before” banality of all the ‘real world’ scenes for leaching all the fun out of the film. Although you might think from that criticism that there is a healthy balance of fantasy elements that get subsumed by the war junk: the fantasy portions are actually few and far between, and not being someone who will recommend something based solely on special effects I am not prepared to say that the visual effects, including Doug Jones’ excellent costuming in dual roles as Pan and the Pale Man, are anything to get excited about. Since I read Fangoria on a monthly basis I had seen pictures of what I had thought were glimpses of some of the fantasy scenes and costumes of Pan’s Labyrinth; little did I know that the pictures I had seen were pretty much everything fantastical I was going to see in Pan’s Labyrinth. Uh oh!

I don’t mind the subtitles, I don’t mind the “thought-provoking” mystery of whether Ofelia’s fairies and faun are real or if everything otherworldly is only a figment of her imagination to escape the awful living situation she and her pregnant mother are placed in as a result of her mother marrying the villainous army captain. What bums me out is that there is absolutely nothing interesting or exciting about Pan’s Labyrinth. If you’ve developed any kind of experience with storytelling, be it from films or television shows or even Archie comic digests, you will know where the story is going and why every new plot development is shown on-screen. There are simply no surprises here. I suppose that’s a consequence of the film attempting to be a (as of 1944) modern fairy tale: fairy tales are generally simple tales with no real surprises or plot twists. An innocent is placed in a situation where they have to overcome obstacles, and occasionally horrifying villainy, in order to succeed and live happily ever after. I guess how you perceive what’s going on here will determine whether Pan’s Labyrinth has a downer ending or a hugely uplifting one.

As for me, I was just happy when Pan’s Labyrinth ended. I’m all for fairy tales, on the printed page and out in the world. But if they’re completely boring and uninspired, I’d much rather just reread Green Eggs and Ham and have some pizza, instead.


Lissa’s rating: Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro should get together.

Lissa’s review: People annoy me. We were at the video store last night, looking for something recent and good to rent. It was a bit of a challenge, given my distaste for horror and movies centered around violence (unless it’s war). It seems like everything out there these days is one of the two, or really sappy romantic comedies or studios that I also don’t really like. When we got to the P’s, we saw the wall of checked-out Pan’s Labyrinth, and I sighed that that would have been perfect for the night.

Obviously they had a copy behind the desk, or I wouldn’t be reviewing at all. Before she handed it over, the clerk asked us if we knew it was in subtitles. I knew, Duckie didn’t know but didn’t care. We assured her this wasn’t a problem. She then kept telling us it was a rather violent and quite dark movie. Yes, we know. It’s since dawned on me that perhaps she thought that, since we had Ducklet with us and Pan’s Labyrinth is a “fairy story” starring a child, the clerk thought we were going to watch it with Ducklet.

Now, we’re not that stupid. And I’m not annoyed at the clerk. What I’m annoyed at are the number of people who must complain about things like this that she even had to ask us. It doesn’t take much to do your research about a movie, people, and by research I mean “turn the case over and check the rating.”

Anyway. Because we are smart people who know what an R rating means, and because we frequent the fantastic Mutant Forum and we’ve both read reviews, we knew exactly what to expect. We knew that Pan’s Labyrinth was a dark, rather violent tale set in 1944 in Spain, was in Spanish (thank GOD with subtitles instead of dubbing), and was sort of the underground geek movie of the year. Beautifully shot, really well acted, and some fascinating critters (even if they were quite gross).

I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Take Kyle’s review, and pretty much reverse it for me. While there were elements that were predictable (the stock elements of a fairy tale, really), I really liked the juxtaposition of the real world and the fantasy one, and I liked the scenes in the real world (which were the parts I found less predictable) just as much as the fantasy. In fact, I liked this movie so much, I’m going to skip highlighting details and talk about something else, instead.

In general, I don’t believe in “perfect” movies. I think that movies are a very subjective experience, and that one person’s ideal is another person’s reason to puke. Heck, that’s part of why we even have MRFH — so Kyle can tell you how disappointed he was with Pan’s Labyrinth and I can say I loved it and you can say “well, my tastes are more like Kyle’s, so I’ll listen to him” or “Lissa rocks, I’ll rent this movie right now cause she said so.” I don’t even think some of my favorite movies are perfect. Lord of the Rings cut some scenes that shouldn’t have been cut (proven by their appearance in the extended edition.) Moulin Rouge! has some pretty glaring logistical flaws. October Sky can be way too sappy, especially with the bits about the teacher. Don’t get me wrong — I adore these movies. But I can always find something I’d change about them.

The only movie I’ve never been able to say that about is Amadeus. Amadeus is my standard for what I would consider an absolutely perfect movie. I cannot think of one single thing I would change in the movie that would improve it, and I think it stands up well to the passage of time. Everything is exactly as it should be for that movie, and it’s a movie worth making.

With two exceptions, I would say the same thing about Pan’s Labyrinth.

The two exceptions are two very violent episodes. It’s not the violence that necessarily bothers me: it’s the extent. For example, in one of the scenes I am thinking of, two men are captured and claim that they are not guerillas, but were hunting rabbits. The Captain kills them both, fishes through the backpack and finds the rabbit, and tells his second in command to search people properly next time. And to top it off, it’s then revealed that the rabbits were too small to be much good; things are that bad that the common people are resorting to eating what they can find. All of that I am absolutely fine with. It paints the picture of the desperation in the area, and it really emphasizes the cruelty of the Captain’s character. However, when the Captain kills one of the men, he literally bashes his face in repeatedly, on camera. It’s overly violent and does not add anything more to the story, characterization, or setting. It bothered me. The second incident is very similar in nature, and is more of a spoiler. But suffice to say, it’s the excess of violence shown on screen that bothers me.

Aside from these two scenes, however, I wouldn’t have changed anything else about Pan’s Labyrinth. It was a beautiful movie, with nothing that should have been cut or added, very well acted, and creative and fresh. The effects and creatures are beautiful without falling into glittery cliches, and there is a very different sense of magic in the movie than there is in most films. Good fantasy movies are hard to find, and I’m delighted to see another one added to the very limited collection.

Even monsters need hugs.
Even monsters need hugs.


  • It took five hours for Doug Jones to get into The Pale Man costume and once he was in it, he had to look out the nose holes to see where he was going.
  • SPOILERS As I mentioned, you have to decide for yourself whether or not the otherwordly faires and Pan the faun are real or just figments of young Ofelia’s imagination. According to interviews, director and writer Guillermo del Toro has stated that he believes in the fantasy world. Almost everything can support one interpretation or the other. The one thing I (Kyle) noticed, and I feel awesome for having immediately gone “oh, it’s ALL real!” in the theater after I realized it had become a plot device (maybe you will, too!), is that if Ofelia’s “magic” chalk doesn’t allow her to pass through a solid wall when she is locked and guarded in her room, there’s no other way she could have escaped. So it must be magical chalk after all! END SPOILERS
  • The ruined town seen during the opening sequence of the film is the old town of Belchite, which was also used by Terry Gilliam for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The town was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and never rebuilt.
  • Doug Jones had to memorize not only his own lines in Spanish (a language he does not speak) but also Ivana Baquero’s (Ofelia) lines so he knew when to speak his next line. The servers in the Pan head piece that made the facial expressions and ears move were so loud, he couldn’t hear her speak her lines.
  • In 2007, this film became the first Fantasy film ever in being nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars.

Groovy Quotes:

Ofelia: Hi! Are you a fairy?

Ofelia: My name is Ofelia. Who are you?
Pan: Me? I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am… I am a faun. Your most humble servant, Your Highness.

Capitán Vidal: You could have obeyed me!
Doctor: But captain, obey for obey’s sake… without questioning… That’s something only people like you do.

Carmen: The captain has been so good to us… Please, Ofelia, call him father. It’s just a word, Ofelia, just a word.

Pan: A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world. She dreamed of blue skies, soft breeze, and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside, the brightness blinded her and erased every trace of the past from her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness, and pain. Eventually, she died. However, her father, the King, always knew that the Princess’ soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning…

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