14 Fantastical Facts About Pan's Labyrinth

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Between his modest comic book hits Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, imaginative Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro made a film that was darker and more in Spanish: Pan's Labyrinth, a horror-tinged fairy tale set in 1944 Spain, under fascist rule. Like many of del Toro's films, it's a political allegory as well as a gothic fantasy. The heady mix of whimsy and violence wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but it won enough fans to make $83.25 million worldwide and receive six Oscar nominations (it won three). Here are some details to help you separate fantasy from reality the next time you take a walk in El Laberinto del Fauno.

1. IT'S A COMPANION PIECE TO THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE.

Del Toro intended Pan's Labyrinth to be a thematic complement to The Devil's Backbone, his 2001 film set in Spain in 1939. The movies have a lot of similarities in their structure and setup, but del Toro says on the Pan's Labyrinth DVD commentary that the events of September 11, 2001—which occurred five months after The Devil's Backbone opened in Spain, and two months before it opened in the U.S.—changed his perspective. "The world changed," del Toro said. "Everything I had to say about brutality and innocence changed."

2. IT HAS A CHARLES DICKENS REFERENCE.

When Ofelia (IvanaBaquero) arrives at Captain Vidal's house, goes to shake his hand, and is gruffly told, "It's the other hand," that's a near-quotation from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, when the young lad of the title meets his mother's soon-to-be-husband. Davey's stepfather turns out to be a cruel man, too, just like Captain Vidal (Sergi López).

3. DUE TO A DROUGHT, THERE ARE VERY FEW ACTUAL FLAMES OR SPARKS IN THE MOVIE.

The region of Segovia, Spain was experiencing its worst drought in 30 years when del Toro filmed his movie there, so his team had to get creative. For the shootout in the forest about 70 minutes into the movie, they put fake moss on everything to hide the brownness, and didn't use squibs (explosive blood packs) or gunfire because of the increased fire risk. In fact del Toro said that, except for the exploding truck in another scene, the film uses almost no real flames, sparks, or fires. Those elements were added digitally in post-production.

4. IT CEMENTED DEL TORO'S HATRED OF HORSES.

The director is fond of all manner of strange, terrifying monsters, but real live horses? He hates 'em. "They are absolutely nasty motherf*ckers," he says on the DVD commentary. His antipathy toward our equine friends predated Pan's Labyrinth, but the particular horses he worked with here—ill-tempered and difficult, apparently—intensified those feelings. "I never liked horses," he says, "but after this, I hate them."

5. THE FAUN'S IMAGE IS INCORPORATED INTO THE ARCHITECTURE.

If you look closely at the banister in the Captain's mansion, you'll see the Faun's head in the design. It's a subtle reinforcement of the idea that the fantasy world is bleeding into the real one.

6. IT MADE STEPHEN KING SQUIRM.

Del Toro reports that he had the pleasure of sitting next to the esteemed horror novelist at a screening in New England, and that King squirmed mightily during the Pale Man scene. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life," del Toro said.

7. IT REFLECTS DEL TORO'S NEGATIVE FEELINGS TOWARD THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Del Toro told an interviewer that he was appalled by the Catholic church's complicity with fascism during the Spanish Civil War. He said the priest's comment at the banquet table, regarding the dead rebels—"God has already saved their souls; what happens to their bodies, well, it hardly matters to him"—was taken from a real speech that a priest used to give to rebel prisoners in the fascist camps. Furthermore, "the Pale Man represents the church for me," Del Toro said. "He represents fascism and the church eating the children when they have a perversely abundant banquet in front of them."

8. THERE'S A CORRECT ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF WHETHER IT'S REAL OR ALL IN OFELIA'S HEAD.

Del Toro has reiterated many times that while a story can mean different things to different people, "objectively, the way I structured it, there are clues that tell you ... that it's real." Specifically: the flower blooming on the dead tree at the end; the chalk ending up on Vidal's desk (as there's no way it could have gotten there); and Ofelia's escape through a dead end of the labyrinth.

9. THE PLOT WAS ORIGINALLY EVEN DARKER.

In del Toro's first conception of the story, it was about a married pregnant woman who meets the Faun in the labyrinth, falls in love with him, and lets him sacrifice her baby on faith that she, the baby, and the Faun will all be together in the afterlife and the labyrinth will thrive again. "It was a shocking tale," Del Toro said.

10. THE SHAPES AND COLORS ARE THEMATICALLY RELEVANT.

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Del Toro points out in the DVD commentary that scenes with Ofelia tend to have circles and curves and use warm colors, while scenes with Vidal and the war have more straight lines and use cold colors. Over the course of the film, the two opposites gradually intrude on one another.

11. THAT VICIOUS BOTTLE ATTACK COMES FROM AN INCIDENT IN DEL TORO'S LIFE.

Del Toro and a friend were once in a fight during which his friend was beaten in the face with a bottle, and the detail that stuck in the director's memory was that the bottle didn't break. That scene is also based on a real occurrence in Spain, when a fascist smashed a citizen's face with the butt of a pistol and took his groceries, all because the man didn't take off his hat.

12. DOUG JONES LEARNED SPANISH TO PLAY THE FAUN.

The Indiana-born actor, best known for working under heavy prosthetics and makeup, had worked with del Toro on Hellboy and Mimic and was the director's first choice to play the Faun and the Pale Man. The only problem: Jones didn't speak Spanish. Del Toro said they could dub his voice, but Jones wanted to give a full performance. Then del Toro said he could learn his Spanish lines phonetically, but Jones thought that would be harder to memorize than the actual words. Fortunately, he had five hours in the makeup chair every day, giving him plenty of time to practice. And then? Turns out it still wasn't good enough. Del Toro replaced Jones's voice with that of a Spanish theater actor, who was able to make his delivery match Jones's facial expressions and lip movements.

13. NEVER MIND THE (ENGLISH) TITLE, THAT ISN'T PAN.

The faun is a mythological creature, half man and half goat, who represents nature (it's where the word "fauna" comes from) and is neutral toward humans. Pan is a specific Greek god, also goat-like, who's generally depicted as mischievous, harmful, and overly sexual—not a creature you'd be comfortable seeing earn the trust of a little girl. In Spanish, the film is called El Laberinto del Fauno, which translates to The Faun's Labyrinth. "Pan" was used for English-speaking audiences because that figure is more familiar than the faun, but you'll notice he's never called Pan in the film itself. "If he was Pan, the girl would be in deep sh*t," del Toro told one interviewer.

14. DEL TORO WROTE THE ENGLISH SUBTITLES HIMSELF.

After being disappointed by the way the translators handled The Devil's Backbone ("subtitles for the thinking impaired"), the Mexican filmmaker, who speaks fluent English, did the job himself for Pan's Labyrinth. "I took about a month with a friend and an assistant working on them, measuring them, so that it doesn't feel like you're watching a subtitled film," he said.

Additional Sources:
DVD features and commentary

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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