The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

WeekEnder

December 29, 2006

Del Toro crafts a harrowing fairy tale

By BEN NUCKOLS

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - - Guillermo del Toro was asked to direct "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," but he turned it down because, as a lapsed Catholic, he couldn't see himself bringing Aslan the lion back to life.

Instead, he put his dark, fervid imagination to work on an original story, "Pan's Labyrinth," a bloody and harrowing fairy tale that incorporates elements from C.S. Lewis' beloved Christian allegory and various other classics of children's literature.

Set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, "Pan's Labyrinth" shows why del Toro's sensibility is somehow both perfectly suited and utterly alien to the gentle "Narnia." He subjects his hero, an 11-year-old girl whose mother has married a captain in Gen. Francisco Franco's army, to shocking violence and vexing moral quandaries.

"I'm not proselytizing anything about a lion resurrecting. I'm not trying to sell you into a point. I'm just doing a little parable about disobedience and choice," del Toro said. "This is my version of that universe, not only 'Narnia,' but that universe of children's literature."

Del Toro, 42, a native of Guadalajara, is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron, two other Mexican filmmakers who've enjoyed international success this decade. All three released acclaimed movies in 2006 - - "Babel" from Inarritu and "Children of Men" from Cuaron.

The comparisons are inevitable because the three men are friends (Cuaron was a producer of "Pan's Labyrinth"), but del Toro stands out for his arresting visual style - - he uses color as evocatively as any contemporary filmmaker - - and his commitment to exploring mature themes through fantasy.

Comics fans know del Toro from "Blade II" - - easily the best in the series - - or "Hellboy" (he's in preproduction on the sequel). Arthouse habitués may have discovered him in 2001 with the release of "The Devil's Backbone" - - his first Spanish Civil War movie, a ghost story set in an orphanage. Horror cultists may adore his 1993 feature debut, "Cronos," a bizarre, allegorical vampire tale.

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