Terry Gilliam's family film -- Heath Ledger's final movie is a dark fantasy that opens on Christmas Day

By Nicole Sperling
October 30, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus hardly seems like a typical children’s movie. For one thing, the story line is dark: It centers on a traveling magician who must turn his 16-year-old daughter over to Satan as payment for an immortality pact he made a thousand years ago. And for another, it features images of Heath Ledger, in his last role, hanging from a noose. (After Ledger’s death, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell stepped in to complete the film.) So why is the film’s distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, screening the trailer before the animated Astro Boy? According to studio co-president Tom Bernard, Parnassus — which has a PG-13 rating — has connected with kids 11 and up in test screenings. ”Young audiences are crazy for it,” he says. ”The star power is very big…and the [nonlinear] way that the information is presented connects with the younger mind.” The trailer — which, in its first week on Yahoo! Movies, was viewed more than 1.1 million times — probably helps the appeal: It seems to have been cut for fans of Up and Cinderella and features extensive fantasy sequences. But will the kids really turn up for a film presented (500) Days of Summer-style from the man who brought us Brazil and Twelve Monkeys? We’ll find out on Christmas Day, when Parnassus opens up against Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.