The story of Stardust begins when an Englishman crosses over a wall that separates his village from the mysterious, magical kingdom of Stormhold. Years later, his son Tristran (in an attempt to win the heart of Victoria, the beautiful but indifferent object of his affection) promises to bring her the falling star that passes over them and lands beyond the wall. In the magical world, stars are people too. This one is named Yvaine (played by Claire Danes), and when Tristran (played by relative-unknown, Charlie Cox) is magically transported to the crater where Yvaine landed, he ensnares her with an enchanted chain and starts bringing her back to Victoria (played by Sienna Miller). That’s only the beginning of the fairy-tale adventure which includes Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia who wants to steal the star’s heart for immortality and power, and seven princes who each want the jewel around Yvaine’s neck in order to become king, not to mention the unicorn, the men turned into goats, the travelling witch who turns people into animals (including Tristran’s mother), and the crew of an airship who harvest lightning from the sky. It’s the perfect blend of a classic Grimm-style story, with a touch of new imagination (courtesy of writer Neil Gaiman, on whose novel this movie is based).
Some have already compared this movie to its fairy-tale predecessor, The Princess Bride, but while that movie had more of a comic and satirical tone, this one is more straight, with a generous smattering of humour. Charlie Cox is alright as the slightly-charming, slightly-bumbling hero Tristran, though he and Claire Danes don’t have the most chemistry on-screen (though I kind of blame her, not him). Suitably delicate and damselly, most of the time Yvaine doesn’t really have that much to do. Like most fairy-tale damsels, we just wait around until the moment when she declares her love for the hero. Michelle Pfeiffer is lovely as ever (once she applies her magical makeover — Lamia’s supposedly hundreds of years old so her natural appearance is pretty decrepit) but the sight of her driving a chariot pulled by two goats is (perhaps intentionally) a bit silly. Finally, Robert DeNiro makes an odd appearance as gay, cross-dressing Captain Shakespeare — Dread Pirate Roberts he is not, though for him too it’s all in the reputation.
There are not a lot of surprises to the story, no major twists or turns, but there is a sense of whimsy throughout. There are many fun scenes, including Lamia pretending to be an innkeeper’s wife, some scenes with the pirate crew, the swordfight between Tristran and a reanimated corpse (not as gross as it sounds). I have always enjoyed a good fairy-tale, and I think they’re even better on screen with beautiful scenery, swelling musical scores, lavish costumes, and special-effects magic. Stardust may not be revolutionary or innovative, but it’s more like a new by-the-book classic. You may see it coming, but it’s still a happy ending.