Guillermo Del Toro's new film, Pan's Labyrinth, is about young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who finds a gateway to a fantastic world of gods and monsters, pleasures and perils; a fairly standard set up. She's her mother's best friend, especially now that her mother has married her wicked step-father; again, off the production line for fairy tales. But Ofelia's new father isn't merely wicked; he's a Captain in Franco's army after the right-wing has seized Spain, and this is where you get a sense of the customary flair and shading Del Toro's putting on traditional fantasy ideas.
Good fantasy takes place in a world full of conflicts -- between good and evil, desire and sacrifice, cruelty and mercy, freedom and slavery. Or, put more succinctly, good fantasy can often be appreciated in terms of how much it resembles the real world, not by how much it departs from it. When Ofelia finds a fantastic kingdom in the labyrinth garden near her new home, it's a bizarre place full of visions and creatures and a smiling-scary satyr (actor Doug Jones, performing in thick layers of extraordinarily well-done practical effects). As odd and frightening as that world seems, it's just as odd and frightening as the world she lives in normally -- where her new father, Captain Vidal (Sergi López) is dedicated to wiping out the republican holdouts and local partisans by any bloody means necessary. The satyr explains to Ophelia that she is not who she thinks she is; she is a lost princess, and she can return to where she belongs if she carries out the three tasks he gives her, without fail and without question.