Stardust is your typical love story. Boy meets girl. Boy kidnaps fallen star, who also happens to be a girl, to impress the first girl. Star falls in love with boy. Boy must protect star from evil witch who would like to eat the star's heart, and from princes who want her jewelry.
So perhaps it's not the sort of plot one sees on The Gilmore Girls. After all, Stardust mostly takes place in Stormhold, a magical and surprisingly sunny world populated by witches, lightning smugglers and bloodthirsty nobles who literally bleed blue.
The picturesque-yet-dowdy English backwater of Wall is separated from Stormhold by, well, a wall, guarded by an elderly and fantastically mustachioed man in a top hat. The guard is there to protect the British citizens of Wall from the havoc beyond, and it's rarely been breached: Perhaps only once—by an adventurer who promptly had a one-night tryst with a captive princess.
Nine months later, the man receives a gift from the "other side." It's a baby boy.
Fast-forward 18 years and the boy, Tristan, finds himself smitten with a girl named Victoria, who would clearly be Wall High School's cheerleading captain if Wall had a cheerleading squad. Or a high school. Alas, Victoria has eyes for Humphrey, who has gone all the way to Ipswich to buy her an engagement ring. Tristan, in an effort to one-up Humphrey, promises to bring her back a fallen star. But he'll have to go over Wall's wall to do it.
What Tristan doesn't know is that stars are in great demand in Stormhold. Not only are they Clair Danes-cute and glow like divine night-lights when they're happy, but eating the heart of one, Hannibal Lecter-style, will make the diner immortal.
Tristan finds the star Yvaine first, and once she gets over the whole I'm-kidnapping-you-to-show-you-to-my-one-true-love thing, they hit it off. But peril surrounds them. Yvaine wears a necklace that Stormhold's crown princes are killing each other to obtain: The one who gets it becomes king. They, and a ghastly peanut gallery of their murdered brothers, are hot on her barely cooling heels. To make matters worse, Lamia, a highly nasty witch, has developed a hankerin' for star heart.
This Princess Bride wannabe holds high a traditional fairy-tale theme: twue, er, true love conquers all. The star says the only thing that broke up the tedium of watching Earth for so many eons was "to see the way mankind loves." And then she suddenly finds that kind of love herself with Tristan.
The film is full of deep-sigh moments like that—moments that might make the more cynical among us roll their eyes. Still, that central unconditional love theme is so sweet you can't chuck it entirely.
Stardust also features moments of swashbuckling heroism from Tristan, who puts himself in harm's way plenty to save his darling star. And, when they run into a supposedly hardhearted "lightning pirate" (his floating ship collects electricity from the air for resale), the sailor keeps Yvaine's true identity a secret—even though selling her out could mean a life of luxury for him and his crew.
Elsewhere, there are glimpses of a warm father-son relationship. Dad shares history with his son and equips him for his journey.
Stormhold is a mixed-up world of wonder and wizarding and voyeuristic ghosts. Witches in Stormhold are uniformly bad: Lamia and her two cronish sisters divine the future by slaughtering animals and studying their entrails in a most goopy manner. (Bones are also thrown to make predictions.) Ditchwater Sal, a more blue-collar witch, turns people into squirrels and birds at the drop of a hat, and she keeps Tristan's mother magically tethered to her gypsy cart as a slave. All the witches cast magic spells with Shakespearian glee—their magic often accompanied by green fire. Lamia uses a voodoo doll to first kill and then reanimate a hapless prince.
The good guys, meanwhile, are uniformly ... good. But they use bits of magic, too. Tristan carries with him a magic traveling "Babylon Candle" and a mysterious glass flower that acts like a buffed-up good-luck charm. When he asks Ditchwater Sal if she has such a candle for sale, she claims not to. "I don't deal with black magic," she lies. The flower is able to ward off attacks from Lamia, Sal and any other witch who tries to harm him.
Stormhold's claimants to the throne are dispatched one by one and, rather than being sent to heaven or hell, must loiter about and watch the action in the living world around them. All carry with them the injuries that killed them (à la Harry Potter's Nearly Headless Nick). They're surprisingly tolerant of one another, considering they all spent their lives trying (and succeeding) to off one another. But they cannot be "released" from this state until the next king takes the throne. Once the king is found, the ghosts vanish into little points of light. Perhaps they eventually become future stars and end up looking like ... Claire Danes.
This fantasy essentially begins with a one-night stand between Tristan's father and a total stranger on the other side of the wall. The soon-to-be father "buys" the glass flower from the woman with a passionate kiss, after which they sneak away to a gypsy cart and close the doors behind them.
Tristan waits a little longer before he dares to dally with his captive star—but not much longer. The two kiss when Yvaine is wrapped only in a towel, and the next thing we know, we see them in bed together the next morning, she sleeping soundly and contentedly "glowing," apparently from happiness and love.
There is no explicit nudity, but Yvaine is shown twice, from the shoulders up, taking a bath. (Tristan sneaks a peek.) A prince also splashes around in a bathtub just before his untimely death.
Lamia transforms herself into a young, beautiful woman who takes measure of herself in a mirror. (Bare shoulders prompt viewers to think she's naked.) She enjoys wearing cleavage-revealing dresses, too. As magic gradually eats away at her youthful appearance, wrinkles and age spots appears—and her breasts suddenly fall. Conversely, when a boy is turned into a young woman, breasts pop out as if inflated under his/her tunic.
Captain Shakespeare portrays himself as a manly-man's pirate. But in his private moments he enjoys dressing in women's girdles, wrapping feather boas around his neck and dancing the can-can. He speaks with an effeminate lilt and gets a kick out of working on Tristan's hair. At one point, Shakespeare winks at another man, and there's the slightest of suggestions he may have had a homosexual encounter with his first mate.
Shakespeare's secret gets out when his ship is attacked while he's in drag. His shipmates' reaction? "We always knew you were whoopsy."
Characters fall like trees in the Amazon. Some are stabbed or impaled. One is magically decapitated. Another is, most disturbingly, torn apart by revenge-minded ferrets and wolves.
Only one of the deaths is particularly bloody, and many are played for their comedic affect. (Hardly an endorsement.) Prince A pushes Prince B out a window. Prince C poisons Prince A and, accidentally, the realm's bishop. Prince C has his throat slit in the bathtub, blue blood spilling over his naked torso. Prince D drowns, magically, in midair, and his animated corpse starts fencing with Tristan.
Crude or Profane Language
Profanity is relatively sparse for a PG-13 movie, but "d--n" and "bloody" do pop up now and then, along with a half-dozen misuses of God's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Tristan, who is 18, splurges to buy a bottle of champagne to impress Victoria, and the two share the bubbly during a candlelit picnic. Three princes and Stormhold's bishop toast, presumably with wine.
Based on a comic book series by acclaimed graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, Stardust is a mash-up of The Princess Bride, The NeverEnding Story and Pretty in Pink—with nods to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling thrown in for good measure. It boasts a plotline tailored to teens and tweens, and a star-filled cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Peter O'Toole, Ian McKellen) designed to pull in their parents.
Once in theaters, though, neither demographic will be able to overlook the film's predictable plot and timeworn contrivances. This stuff is about as nourishing as cotton candy.
It winks at casual sex. It smiles compassionately at homosexual behavior (even as it stereotypes it). It deems death funny. And the afterlife funnier. Here, true love is the product of a weeklong adventure, not the process of a lifelong journey. Stardust is a movie all about heart. But it has very little of its own ... and even less morality.