As if Pan’s Labyrinth weren’t already one of the most enjoyable movies in recent memory, now comes a two-disc DVD that renders this ravishing, complex fairy tale even more entrancing. You’d think that Labyrinth, with its rich, twin-plot scenario — a young girl’s life in post-civil-war Spain, and the three tasks she must complete to prove she’s actually the princess of a magical underground realm — would benefit from less explanation of the methods and motives behind its making. But Mexican writer-director Guillermo del Toro is such a wizardly artist that listening to his commentary track and journeying through his technical and creative process in the bonus featurettes add layers of pleasure.
Del Toro generously points out the homages his film pays to such classic fantastical tales as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, and observes that his own gorgeous creation contains themes ”about choice and disobedience.” Labyrinth contrasts the life that 10-year-old Ofelia (the grave Ivana Baquero) endures under her cruel stepfather (a fastidiously ferocious Sergi López) with her secret adventures alongside creatures such as the faun Pan and the icky, semi-faceless Pale Man (both portrayed by Doug Jones with masterful physical expressiveness beneath considerable makeup and costume).
Feeling powerless to stop the brutality her military stepfather inflicts upon her mother (Ariadna Gil) and those beneath him, Ofelia at first seems to retreat into the underground kingdom she chances upon. But to paraphrase what del Toro says in a featurette, monsters exist to represent heroes’ fears and problems and as she rises to each supernatural challenge and faces down scary critters, her testing by these mythical beings steels her to challenge human evil as well. Despite its startling physical and emotional violence, Labyrinth remains true to del Toro’s description: a ”hopelessly melancholy, romantic movie.”
The DVD extras include glimpses of the filmmaker’s elaborate notebook drawings, and he expounds eloquently on the literary and philosophical underpinnings of his movie in the featurette ”The Power of Myth.” This commentary is a wild treat: Del Toro goes from patiently explaining Spanish civil war history to justifying the sumptuousness of certain scenes. (They ”are not eye candy — they are, to me, eye protein!” he insists.) All this, plus why he thinks ”cows are evil” and ”horses are nasty motherf—ers.” Like his movie, del Toro infuses everything around him with a tempestuous thrill.