In Guillermo del Toro’s movie Pan’s Labyrinth, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is a lonely eleven year old girl who lives with her pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil). At the beginning of the movie, Ofelia and Carmen arrive at a military post near the mountains to live with Carmen’s husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López i Ayats), who is fighting with his troops to eliminate the elusive rebels of the Franco regime. Such a place is ill-suited for a young child, and Ofelia soon wanders off to discover an old labyrinth in the forest. There, she meets a mysterious faun (Doug Jones) that tells her that she is the spirit of Moanna, Princess of the Underworld. The faun gives Ofelia a magical book that reveals tasks that she must do before the next full moon to prove that she really is the Princess. She immediately accepts the quest, and heads out on a journey that will test her capabilities of handling both of her worlds simultaneously.
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Quests that test a character’s determination and will are common in fairy tales. The main female character will have some kind of problem, and will have to endure through various challenges to achieve her happy ending. Ofelia is no different; she must also follow this fairy-tale model. She feels troubled and trapped in her reality of brutal disappointments, and so uses her imagination as an escape. She spins her own fairy tale in which she is the main character. But is being the protagonist enough to ensure a happy ending? When compared to many Disney princesses, she lacks many characteristics required of a heroine. Through her decisive actions and strong will, Ofelia is able to successfully play the role of the heroine in a fairy tale, despite her obvious human faults.
One of the characteristics that Ofelia shares with many protagonists in Disney is the eagerness at the start of an adventure. She completely embraces the idea that she is a Princess, and hurries to complete the first task. Despite being happy after receiving a new dress from her mother, she decides that her task is more important, and opts to risk ruining her dress. After rescuing a giant tree from a parasitic toad, she returns soaked in mud, but doesn’t show any remorse when scolded by her mother; she is too preoccupied with her achievement. She knows that she is one step closer to proving that she is the Princess.
Disney princesses are designed to be determined, courageous, and strong, but not strong enough that they are able to survive on their own. Women in Disney movies are weak. One example of a princess from a Disney movie is Snow White. Snow White has all the good intention to survive by herself, but suffers from the inevitable plot twist of Disney movies and soon falls prey to a strong and evil witch. Against such a villain, she is lowered into ultimate submission, where her only chance of survival is if her Prince rushes in and rescues her from her terrible fate. The chance of a hero suddenly appearing at the right place and time is something almost unheard of in the real world, which might be one of the reasons why no prince showed up for Ofelia. Ofelia, in her attempt to escape to her fantasy, runs out of options when she is cornered by Captain Vidal. Because Ofelia’s reality is our world’s history, a world where hope is scarce, no one comes to her aid.
Besides being trapped in the “Princess of a fairy-tale” model, Ofelia doesn’t show many other similarities to the princesses from Disney. She diverts from the set path of a traditional heroine when she receives her second task. During this time, her pregnant mother is totally bedridden and failing in health. Her mother’s sickness bothers Ofelia so much that the faun must give her a way to cure her mother before she feels well enough to continue on her quest. When she goes on to do her next task, she is presented with a fabulous feast. Feeling that she is free from any threats and worries, she seeks a moment of reprieve, and lets her guard down. She gives in to her personal wants instead of obeying the directions given to her. When told not to touch any of the food on the monster’s table, she disobeys and eats two grapes. Her careless action results in her being severely punished; she has failed the faun, and can no longer hope to return to the Underworld.
Ofelia’s life, once glowing with hope, has taken a drastic turn for the worse. She is suffering from complete desolation, and unlike her typical Princess counterparts, she has no Prince to save her. She longs to escape from her hellish reality and will do anything to gain entrance to the Underworld. She gets another chance to prove herself as Princess Moanna, and in the process of carrying out her final task, she ends up taking desperate measures. A clear difference is now seen between the mainstream princesses and Ofelia. Fairy-tale princesses would never hurt another person knowingly. Innocence, in its purest form, takes shape in the fantasy world through princesses. On the other hand, Ofelia has been exposed to too much violence and tragedy to be completely innocent. Her lack of complete naÃ¯veté on her situation leads her to pour the rest of her mother’s medicine into Vidal’s drink and take the chance to steal her baby brother away. Some might think that she has completely gone to the dark side, but she still retains her love for her brother. When faced with the decision of either taking blood from her baby brother and entering the Underworld or remaining mortal forever, she chooses the latter. She refuses to harm her innocent brother, who she wishes will never experience the same pains that she has.
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As Ofelia delves deeper and deeper into darkness, the audience may begin to wonder, “Where is her Prince?” Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale; therefore, if Ofelia is the Princess, she must have a Prince. Unfortunately, this is not a Disney film. Unlike Snow White, Ofelia does not have The Prince to save her and lead her to the wonderful life waiting for her in the Underworld. Young and scared Ofelia feels abandoned in the real world, and even she knows that no one will come to save her. She is an independent princess; a princess that attempts to stand on her own. However, is it because she did not have a Prince that she failed to survive in the human realm? Is there some kind of underlying message that says that women cannot survive without their men?
In the end, Ofelia fails to balance her reality with her fantasy. She loses her place among mortals, but goes on to be reunited with her lost family. While she loses one world, she gains another. It’s not the happiest fairy-tale ending that she could have received, but it’s proof of all of her hard work and perseverance when she was faced with darkness. Ofelia’s story might stray from that of a princess in a traditional, innocent fairy tale, but she eventually reaches what she believes is a happily-ever-after ending. She tried her hardest to escape from her disastrous reality that she was forced to endure, and as her story comes to a close, she succeeds.
Although a fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth is definitely not suited for children. The movie plays out to its “R” rating through the numerous scenes of overly bloody violence. An example of such a scene is when Captain Vidal breaks a glass bottle and repeatedly pounds it into another man’s face, effectively killing him. On the other hand, this film is recommended for adults that have forgotten the real meanings of fairy tales. Adults don’t need to worry about cute, talking animals or corny plotlines that are often present in Disney movies. With an unpredictable storyline and a set of diverse characters, Pan’s Labyrinth is sure to satisfy even the toughest fairy-tale critic.
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