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still-of-claire-danes,-robert-de-niro-and-ricky-gervais-in-stardustStardust, a new movie starring Claire Danes and Robert De Niro evokes the fantasy films of the 1980s. Movies with titles like Labyrinth and The Princess Bride were sweeping whimsical epics that combined flights of the imagination with, as Peter Falk says in the latter, “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” Stardust, based on a graphic novel by fantasy superstar Neil Gaiman, breathes the same air and is a welcome blast of originality in a summer of remakes and sequels.

The story begins with a young man named Tristran (Charlie Cox) who sets out to win the heart of the beautiful, but shallow Victoria (Sienna Miller). He promises to fetch her a fallen star as a sign of the lengths to which he will go to prove his love. To do so he must cross The Wall, a barrier separating his sleepy village from the strange, supernatural land that lies beyond. To his shock he discovers that the fallen star has assumed human form. Named Yvaine (Claire Danes) she is beautiful, feisty and completely unaware of the trouble she is in.

She is sought after by not only the King’s (Peter O’Toole) ruthless sons, who need her secret power to secure the throne, but also by a powerful witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) who needs the star’s youthful vitality to restore her beauty and achieve eternal youth.

When Yvaine’s cosmic countenance takes a more earthly turn she falls in love with Tristan and as their adventures deepen and become more perilous—they meet a flamboyant pirate captain (Robert De Niro) and shifty merchant (Ricky Gervais)—the young man and former heavenly body discover the true meaning of love and their real destiny.

Usually this kind of thing puts me to sleep before the opening credits have finished. The first mention of forbidden lands or evil witches and I’m out, but Stardust has more going for it than the run-of-the-mill fantasy. It’s quite funny, a welcome change from a genre that often takes itself a little too seriously and has a top-flight cast that includes superstars Ian McKellen, De Niro, O’Toole, Pfeiffer and Gervais in concert with up-and-comers like Claire Danes and Charlie Cox.

Each play to their strengths but it is De Niro who really makes an impression as a cross-dressing pirate. That’s right, he wears a dress and minces across the screen in a way that we have never seen before from the tough-guy actor. He’s made comedies before, but usually playing a riff on his well-established heavy characters. This time out he shakes it up and it is great to see him have some fun on screen in a role that is a polar opposite from the kind of thing he usually does.

Stardust is a beautifully realized fantasy that takes many of the standard features of the genre, dying Kings, a quest to find true love and evil witches and throws them together in a way that avoids cliché. It’s magical and fun, and best of all, it ain’t Rush Hour 3.

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