Yeah, I usually love Henson workshop things (Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are on my favorites list), but this was completely too far out and poorly put together for my tastes. I have several major beefs with this film.
My first complaint, and my biggest, is I felt it was poorly edited. The whole thing lacked flow, and the for the first 15-20 minutes, I felt like I was watching a student of Bergman try and do something from Circe du Soliel. I got this bleak, post-Iron-Curtain eastern European malaise groove from the very beginning. That's fine, I can grok that, but then it just kept looking like the English seaside, combining sets from bleak and dilapidated Chernobyl-stained tenements to modern American apartments in Virginia beach. Maybe it's because I have bad memories associated with the circus. I agree, the protagonist, Helena, was very cute (as takayla kept pointing out, and I want her to know I was listening, but probably gave a "meh" response because I was too busy focusing on where the hell the story was going), but her cute nose and slightly punkish hair did little to entertain me while I tried to figure out why books flew, spiders appeared out of goo, what they hell all those sphinxes were for, and... well, that's my second beef.
It was too trippy. Dude, I speak trippy. I haven't done acid or marijuana or anything, but I have had my share of hallucinations by things like sleep deprivation, starvation, and possible mental illness. I understood it was all about "imagination." But I can't help but recall something John Lennon once said about a scene in Magical Mystery Tour, "The restaurant scene was based on a dream I had where they wouldn't stop serving me spaghetti. But when saw it on film, it didn't make any more sense to me than the dream had." I didn't care for Magical Mystery Tour, either. I liked "Yellow Submarine," but there was an actual plot I could follow. With "Mirrormask," I felt I really had to work hard to see where the story was going, and not in a clever "Murder She Wrote," kind of way, but more of a "Monty Python Hungarian Phrase Book" kind of way. My hovercraft is full of eels. It was FAR too distracting, and superfluous in many cases, like "look how TRIPPY we are!OMGLOL!!1!!" Although I did like some things like the Very Useful Book and the Floating Giants, but all in all... the trippiness was more of a distraction.
Helena's character was stilted and uninteresting. I compared her to Sarah from Labyrinth, because the message seemed to be the same about growing up, but at least Sarah seemed more real. Sarah was confused by the labyrinth, resisted it at first, came to an awareness, and worked with the environment as best she could to grow as a character. Helena struck me as someone who knew more about the story than I did: one minute she was confused, the next like nothing had happened. As the critical saying goes, I was very aware she was an actress in this film, and I was also aware that she knew how it all ended because it was like she was going through the motions most of the time. Yes, I know these were from her drawings, but if I were thrust into such a world, at least I would be more hesitant and protesting. When she was whisked away in that... skeleton-ribcage-guard-centipede-like thing, she just sat there, like she was really calm about it all. Then she got mad in other places, and I kept saying, "Is that out of character? What?" And solutions to problems didn't come from figuring out as much as it just came to her from out of nowhere.
The sound was really bad. Maybe it was just the cable connection, but the music was LOUD and everybody seemed to whisper all the time. I couldn't hear half the dialogue, and the way all the acting was being done, I half expected the film to be in black and white like a Bergman film.
All in all, I give the film a C to C-. The girl was cute, there were some funny moments, and the artistry was very, very cool... but it was just to difficult to watch.