When two young fairy-tale ingénues find themselves in the clutches of fearsome Captain Shakespeare and his crew of cloud-sailing pirates, Tristan (Charlie Cox) and Yvaine (Claire Danes) can't be blamed for thinking they've reached their fateful end. When Shakespeare, played by Robert De Niro at full bore, yells at them and thrusts them behind the closed doors of his cabin, it looks like curtains. But there's more than meets the eye in Neil Gaiman's cracked fairy-tale Stardust, the basis for the latest film by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake).
The madness begins when young villager Tristan ventures into a magical world that's always bordered his. He's there to collect a star, personified in the form of Danes' Yvaine. It's a long way home, especially with an ornery star in tow and an evil crone (Michelle Pfeiffer), hot in pursuit, who sees Yvaine as the world's most effective beauty product. Meanwhile, the royalty of the land contemplates the proper heir to the king (Peter O'Toole)--backstabbing immediately ensues.
It's been quite some time since a fantasy adventure this cheekily entertaining has made its way down the pipeline. Stardust is comparable to Willow, The Princess Bride and other pastoral tales of heroes, witches, class struggle, and magic. A boy will become a man, with plenty of spectacle, romance, and comedy along the way. Rupert Everett, Jason Flemyng, Sienna Miller, Peter O'Toole, and Ricky Gervais fill out the irreverent cast of characters, with Ian McKellen doing the narration. But it's De Niro and Pfeiffer who takes the cake with their colorfully witty turns.
Since the story is English in authorship, there's a decided ambivalence about royalty, but the young—and young of heart—will be too busy to notice as they take in the pleasing romance and rollicking action (including a most unusual climactic swordfight). For a bit of storybook summer enchantment, Stardust's your ticket.