The one thing that Pan's Labyrinth proves is that the director, Guillermo del Toro, is a true artist. I got the feeling that he was from some of his other movies like Hellboy and even Blade II, but let's face it, those are B-movies. Sure, they're entertaining, but they wouldn't belong in a "Best Picture" category. Still, they have a certain something to them that make them stand out from a lot of other action flicks that are completely mindless. With Pan's Labyrinth though, del Toro really shows us what he was capable of doing. (To be fair, you can also figure this out from his films Chronos and The Devil's Backbone - but "Pan's" is a step up from both of those films.)
If you were reading my review of The Bridge to Terabithia and you were thinking to yourself that it sounded interesting, yet you were still turned off by the thought of a movie that's intentionally aimed for kids, then this film might be more up your alley. It's basically a fairy tale for grown ups, and I should probably be very clear that this movie is definitely NOT for kids. It's very violent in places. There's a part where I was covering my eyes for a moment. Not only that, but kids would be bored by a lot that's going on. Teenagers could probably handle it, but it's definitely not for the wee ones.
Just like The Bridge to Terabithia, there are scenes that take place in the real world and scenes that take place in a fantasy world. The real world of post Civil War Spain deals with a little girl and her mother who's come to live with her new father, a fanatical devotee of Franco's fascist policies. They live in an army base up in the mountains, and they're surrounded by rebels - who are the good guys in this film. The fantasy world deals with the girl's encounters with a mysterious faun who declares that she's really a princess, and in order to claim what is hers, she has to perform a series of dangerous tasks.
This movie was made for people like me - adults who like kids movies but not because they have immature tastes. (I've known adults who still watch Disney films, which I do too, but that's pretty much all they watch.) What I also like is that the film is very ambiguous as to whether the fantasy world is "real" or not. I guess for people who just can't accept fantasy being real - even in a metaphorical sense - then they can choose to believe it's all in Ofelia's head. Me? I believe that all of the fantasy stuff really happened to her.
The strange thing is that one of the adjectives I'd use to describe this film is "beautiful". That might seem strange, considering how much ugliness there is in the film. There's the brutal Capitan Vidal, who tortures people. There's a gruesome, macabre monster whose skin is a pasty white and has eyeballs on his palms. (Behind him are artistic depictions of him killing children.) The ending is also tragic. Still, the film is about the ultimate victory of good over evil. Evil might have its momentary wins, but in the end it can never sustain itself.