Guillermo del Toro not only wrote this story, but also directed it with crisscross patterns of creative fantasy and harsh reality. The animation is nothing like Disney. The sometimes crude and frightening fairies and faun serve his purpose well. His creatures are reminiscent of Return to Oz when they evolve from rocks and insects.
In this dark fairy tale, only for adults, the strength of women is uplifting. The young lady, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), from her first meeting with Capitán Vidal (Sergi López), exhibits an unconquerable spirit. Her mother (Ariadna Gil) and Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) all show a shadowed optimism in this 1944 Franco Spain setting. All three exhibit outstanding performances that captivate the audience’s empathy.
The exact opposite is the Fascist Capitán Vidal. From the first words about his wife’s arrival being fifteen minutes late, you know he is evil. His handsome charm betrays his sinister obsession with cruelty. His military genius gives him many opportunities to exhibit this side. He exploits his wife and those who care for her only to gain a son, not for love but to extend his military heritage. López gives a performance that should be rated with the renowned villains of all time.
This historic fiction enriches the viewer’s knowledge of the emotions during WWII in Spain. The fantasy, like del Toro’s Book of Crossroads, gives the mind an imaginative blank book, ready to be filled with challenges. Watch it at least once.