Every once in a while, the inventiveness of a movie just catches you off guard. This is such a film. Played out primarily with marionettes and a minimum of CG, it will surprise you how quickly these strung up chunks of wood come alive for you. Some powerful voice talent certainly helped with that (Jacobi, McAvoy, Glover, McCormack), not to mention the quality of the production over all.

As a tale, it is an often told one. Classic, if you will. Old king dies, brother vies for power, son comes into his own. There isn’t anything new here, but fables aren’t new, they are there to entertain and make us think. But part of what sets this telling apart is that they didn’t pretend that the characters weren’t marionettes… in fact, they focused on that fact. The world is built and conceived more as you would for a science fiction story: what if people really were connected to the heavens by strings? How would the world be different?

But this tale also rises above the standard fable. It  is more than the tension between good and evil or family and country or even revenge and forgiveness. From the opening shots it is clear the whole intention is make you think about your relationship to the universe, others, and your own sense of freedom — and what you allow to inhibit or inform that sense and your actions. This is as much religious and philosophical treatise as it is an adventure tale with incredible sets and beautiful moving art. Don’t let that turn you away–honestly, it isn’t harped upon, it is simply an inevitable set of questions you can’t avoid as the story plays out. Having watched this as part of a double feature with The Grey, it especially hit home for me. (Yes, I’m aware of just how odd a double feature that was, but it worked.)

Whether you come for the art and story or the simple and joyous entertainment of watching master puppeteers at work, this is a movie that you should see.

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