Release Year: 2006
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, War
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro
Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? Those dusty garage-sale paperbacks with amazing titles like Prisoner of the Ant People or Vampire Express?
Well, the protagonist of Pan's Labyrinth is like the main character of a Choose Your Own Adventure book…if you consistently made that character choose the weirdest, most inexplicable way forward.
Check it out, CYOA-style:
A giant praying mantis flies into your room and hops up on your bed.
Do you scream and try to get rid of it? (Turn to page 76)
Do you ask it if it's a fairy? (Turn to page 52)
We'd probably go with the former…but not our gal, Ofelia. She's going to follow it all the way into an ancient labyrinth where…
You meet an old, milky-eyed, moss-covered, fairly creeptastic Faun.
Do you scream and run away? (Turn to page 43)
Do you listen to him as he tells you that you're a long lost princess who must complete three tasks to return to your true home? (Turn to page 24)
Again, Ofelia picks Door #2: the weird option.
But, to be fair: Ofelia's violent step-father and the war he's raging against the rebels in 1944 Spain, combined with her mother's difficult pregnancy, aren't making this the most pleasant time in her life. So we can't really blame her for wanting a little escape.
What follows is a fairy tale…but the kind of dark, deeply disturbing fairy tale that you want to keep the young'uns far away from. This cinematic weirdness (and family unfriendliness) led to a middling box office performance. But Pan's Labyrinth has been hailed as a critical success ever since it first hit screens 2006, being nominated for six Oscars including awards for Screenplay, Cinematography, and Art Direction.
And not only did this movie launch director/screenwriter Guillermo del Toro into the fame stratosphere, it also fixed itself in the hearts and memories of pretty much everyone who's seen it. Because this film shows that fairy tales, horror, and political drama are a combination as compatible (if not as delicious) as caramel, chocolate, and almonds.
Every choice that young Ofelia makes in this warped-yet-moving film is slightly baffling (crawling under a dead tree to feed a massive, belching toad?) but it leads her—and us—deeper into the labyrinthine plot of Pan's Labyrinth. And even when we're begging her to stop (don't go into the room with the child-eating monster with eyes in its hands, Ofelia!) we understand that she's compelled to find a world that's better than her current reality, despite the dangers that lie in her path.
In other words, she doesn't want to live the life that's laid out before her. She wants to, well, choose her own adventure.
Now if only del Toro would adapt some of those actual, insane-sounding CYOA books like You Are A Shark or The Trumpet of Terror…
Here's the thing: Pan's Labyrinth may be dark n' disturbing…but it's actually pretty much par for the course when it comes to fairy tales. The original versions of fairy tales.
For example, you might know Snow White as the beautiful young woman whose evil stepmother wants her heart cut out.
That's pretty disturbing…but not as disturbing as the original version, which states that her mother wanted her heart, liver, and lungs. And—oh, yeah—Snow White was originally seven years old when her mommy dearest decided that she was just too pretty to live. (Source)
Or how about Sleeping Beauty, that lovely lass who pricks her finger on a spindle and is forced to sleep until a handsome prince wakes her with true love's kiss?
Yeah: in the original a king rapes her. This results in her giving birth to twins while still in a coma. After she wakes up, the king wants to be with her—but there's one catch: he's married. The queen tries to kill Sleeping Beauty and her kids by boiling them alive…but the king ends up walking in and instead the queen commits suicide by jumping into the bubbling cauldron of soup she'd prepared for Sleeping Beauty & Kiddos. (Source)
Hmm. Suddenly a fairy tale film that involves a weird faun, a terrifying child-eater with eyes on his hands, a huge toad, and some very insect-looking fairies seems pretty tame.
We don't think it was Guillermo del Toro's intention to make a tame fairy tale…but we do think it was his intention to return to the original pitch-black goriness that the original stories contained.
Pan's Labyrinth isn't a film for young whippersnappers, that's for sure. But neither were the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales. They were meant to entertain adults, and remind adults of the magic and wonder and (yes) horror that existed all around them.
So in a very real way, Pan's Labyrinth is a return to the kind of fairy tales that existed once upon a time, when they were meant for jaded adults, told stories of gruesome torture, and the family unit was portrayed as a lot more horrific.
Because here's the thing: these dark fairy tales (like Pan's Labyrinth) still almost always ended with a resounding "…and they lived happily ever after." It's just that the stuff these early fairy tale heroes and heroines went through was way harsher. But in a certain warped light—like the kind that permeates Pan's Labyrinth—"happily ever after" only really matters if you've actually been through something pretty intense.
That being said, we'll take the sanitized version of Sleeping Beauty over the original any day.
In the DVD commentary, del Toro talks about his original story that goes something like this: pregnant woman goes to the mansion her husband works at to fix it up, woman falls in love with a faun in a labyrinth, faun asks her to give up her child to enter the magical kingdom, she does it. And you thought the final version was morbid. (Source)
Pan's Labyrinth is meant to be the spiritual successor to del Toro's earlier film, The Devil's Backbone. While the latter was a boys' movie the former is meant to be its sister parallel, a female heroine fighting against patriarchal authoritarianism. (Source)
The part of Ofelia was first written as an eight- or nine-year-old girl. But when Ivana Baquero read, del Toro's wife was brought to tears and del Toro was willing to do some rewriting to make it work for her. (Source)
During an early screening of the film, del Toro sat next to the master of horror, Stephen King. Del Toro said that when King squirmed during the Pale Man scene, it was one of the best moments of his life. (Source)
The Sketches of a Madman
Del Toro began his creation of Pan's Labyrinth in a jumble of notes and pictures of creatures and sets. We recommend focusing on the sketches…unless you're proficient in cursive Spanish.
Guillermo del Info
Everything (okay, a few randomly selected things) you wanted to know about del Toro, including his top five favorite scary movies.
Here's a look at the first concept design for the Faun where you can see the beginnings of his mixture of his body with the earth. Click on the pics to enlarge and use the link at the bottom of the page to check out cool behind the scenes photos.
This article is all about how Pan's Labyrinth represents the journey of a young, innocent girl into the cruel world of adulthood. Spoiler alter, there's a lot of blood.
Having Fun with the Occult
Check out this article to experience all the magic of the symbolism and allusion you might have missed while watching it. Don't worry: there are plenty of mandragora to go around.
The Grapes Were Worth It
How could we not include the most iconic scene from the movie? The visuals are simply stunning (and pretty frightening. Don't watch this alone in a dark room).
The Pale Man Speaks
Check out this interview with Doug Jones, the actor who played both the Faun and the Pale Man. He talks about getting into character and being, literally, in character.
The Heroine's Journey
Ivana Baquero talks about the experience working with costumed actors and invisible fairies as well as her own opinion on fairy tales and her understanding of the Spanish Civil War. It's pretty adorable.
While Guillermo prefers costume design, sometimes you can't find anyone small enough to play a fairy. Luckily, there's this thing called computer animation…which you can see bits and pieces of in this montage.
From Man to…Earthy Faun
Take a looksee at the genesis of everything from the Faun to the pale man, the toad, the mandrake. And don't forget the scariest of them all: Vidal's face.
Fawnin' on the Faun
This was an original concept for the cover art and was used for the soundtrack cover. It would definitely make you think of the Faun differently going into the movie.
The Adventurous Mr. Faun
A cool take on what the Faun might have looked like before he was all cooped up waiting for some dead princess.
Not So Scary
See, he's really just a nice faun, lookin' out for Ofelia. And did you notice the trick with the legs? Probably less CG that you imagined.