When I exited the theater after seeing Stardust with a large grin, I might add I heard a patron complain that the film was too childish. Assailing a fairy tale for retaining the very essence of its intended audience … talk about a backwards c
ompliment! Who knew immaturity could block the lighthearted magic of a thoroughly whimsical film.
Stardust begins like any other fairy tale story with a narration introducing us to a nearby magical land. We learn, from Ian McKellens soothing voice, of a tiny British village called Wall that is so named for a wall that runs across its land. Unbeknownst to most in Wall is the fact that the stone barrier separates our world from a magical one named Stormhold.
While the great king of Stormhold (Peter OToole) lies dying in his bed, a young boy in Wall by the name of Tristan (Charlie Cox) tries desperately to woo his love Victoria (Sienna Miller). Tristan, whose father once ventured into the land of Stormhold, spies a falling star and proclaims that he will procure it in exchange for Victorias hand in marriage.
But Tristan quickly discovers that things in Stormhold are not as expected. It turns out the star is not a hunk of celestial rock, but rather a beautiful and fairly irritated young girl by the name of Yvaine (Claire Danes).
Thinking only of his love for Victoria, Tristan wrangles Yvaine into his possession and sets off back to Wall, clueless that the kings sons and an evil witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) are fast on his trail, for to them, the star represents the key to power, youth and beauty.
With the requisite fairy tale elements like magical boons, evil witches, ruthless rulers and magical creatures, it is tempting to, cynically, see Stardust as just another recycled story (although the idea of a star being a beautiful girl is fairly inventive). But as any soothsayer worth their weight in divination bones will tell you, it is not the individual pieces that matter so much as they way they fall together.
Director Matthew Vaughn, working off a script co-written with Jane Goldman and based off a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, does a great job of blending the multiple storylines into a sweet, coherent story of love and happiness.
Cox does a fantastic job of maturing his character Tristan throughout the film, and Danes manages to absolutely shine, literally in some places, as the Pinocchio-like star. And Pfeiffer is positively brilliant as the sagging, vile witch Lamia a true asset to the film.
The special effects are spectacular in most places, giving the films Stormhold an almost indie-type vibe of preternatural other worldliness, which further distinguishes Stardust from the high-tech gloss and high-fantasy elements of the Lord of the Rings movies.
But, being based off a Gaiman story, Stardust retains some of the famed writers quirks. Some of Yvaines soliloquies on love and identity are too preachy even for a fairy tale.
And, while many fine actors give cameo performances as secondary and tertiary characters, things like the princely ghosts and the pirate Captain Shakespeare are distracting. They add to the films overall lighthearted nature, but they also drag into the otherwise fast pace, especially in the case of Robert De Niros swish-buckling pirate Shakespeare.
Still, as Cox and Danes lead their characters in a rousing fight for survival from persnickety girlfriends and heart-eating witches, it is hard not to be enchanted. Because for those mature enough to appreciate it, Stardust is a shinning example of how fun and magical fairy tales can be.