This is a beautifully constructed movie. One can see that care was put into every detail of the production, yet it never feels stuff like a story board come to life. The planning that was put into the transitions from shot of shot create a dreamy fluid viewing experience. The camera tracks into a foreground tree in the forest. On the other side of the tree the next shot has unfolded without a bump. This is done in interiors too. There are scenes of the Captain in his chamber shaving. This stationary situation is transformed and performed as a kinetic dance of dolly shots and editing. Yet this dance is not at all showy. It appears as the only way it should have been done. The technique does not distract from the content. There is a lot of this sort of thing in this gorgeously photographed entertainment.
The fine musical score by Javier Navarrete enhances the dance.
There are times in trying to approach fantasy-fairy tale cinema with an open heart as an adult, that I have failed to be properly moved. In cinema all can seem so explicit it leaves no room for imagination to have anything what-so-ever to do but submit to the machine. In those instances I have refused to submit, or been sadly unable to. The story that Guillermo del Toro tells somehow manages to leave room for the imagination. This on top of the well rendered characters and the high risk melodrama of it all drew me in and made it easy for me to drop my cold disbelief.
I viewed it as a fairy tale within a fairy tale. The outer "real world" fairy tale in the guise of a realist war saga, perhaps allows more of an opening to the little girl's imaginary world. The Captain is so boldly drawn as a villain and brut that one wants to go anywhere to escape him. At the compound there is nowhere to run to escape his tyranny. He is the real monster of the piece, but also has an effect of making one wonder if there are other monsters lurking. There is the question that continues throughout the whole movie; It this monstrous creature really my friend, or yet another danger. All this rather vague mystery makes the movie fulfilling. The viewer can imagine what she wants about the proceedings, we are happily not spoon-fed.
This is the type of adult fairy tale movie that Terry Gilliam has attempted in the last two movies and failed. Tideland came off as just sad and a little sleazy, The Brothers Grimm, what I saw of it, as a slanderous mess.
Guillermo del Toro starting with his original script has done the job of creating a fantasy. It's a very fine piece of work.