Set against the harsh backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, "Pan’s Labyrinth" is a haunting and whimsical journey of a lost princess named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who must prove herself worthy before she can be reunited with her family.
Ofelia’s journey is a unique metaphor for the descent and salvation of man. In the beginning, it is established that Ofelia is a princess who dies and is reincarnated as a human child. She meets a Faun named Pan (Doug Jones) who tells her that she must complete three tasks in order to be reunited with her true family. During one of her tasks, Ofelia is told by the Faun that eating the food in the Pale Man’s cave is forbidden. When Ofelia eats the forbidden fruit, she is told by the Faun that because of her sin she would remain human and would be forgotten by her people.
After her mother’s death, Pan returns to Ofelia and offers her one final chance to complete her task. The Faun tells Ofelia that her final task is to sacrifice her infant brother’s blood in order to open the portal that would return Ofelia to her world. Although her failure to complete the tasks means she will never be reunited with her true family, Ofelia refuses to give her brother over to be sacrificed. When she inadvertently sacrifices herself in her brother’s place, Ofelia’s true identity as a princess is restored and she is reunited with her family.
Time plays an important role in "Pan’s Labyrinth". When Pan sends Ofelia on her journey to complete the three tasks needed to restore her true identity as a princess, he tells her that she only has until the next full moon to complete the tasks. The symbolism of the moon is an important part of Ofelia's journey. Throughout the movie, Ofelia is shown bearing a mark on her shoulder with the image of a crescent moon. When Ofelia's sacrifices herself to save her brother, the moon is full, symbolizing the completion of Ofelia's journey.
Ofelia’s stepfather, Captain Vidal, has a rather unique obsession with time – as a symbolic illustration of marking the end of life. When his father dies, he breaks his watch so that Captain Vidal would know the precise time of his death. When Captain Vidal dies, he asks his servant, Mercedes, to tell his son what time his father died but she refuses to honor that wish.
The unique essence of the story combined with a powerful marriage of stunning animation, a haunting score, and a stellar cast have brought to life a fairy tale that is so painfully beautiful that by the end the audience will be convinced it was more than just a whimsical dream.