So now, three years later, I've returned to the film, as I became convinced last night to check it out again. Going into it, I figured: now that del Toro has put out another Hellboy film, become an unlikely uber-producer, has a bunch of imitators, and has been attached to direct The Hobbit and its sequel (which he then left), the film that won him so much acclaim will probably feel overrated, like a then-masterpiece that has aged into something more like a film that people went too crazy over. But I was surprised by how well it held up. The film was just as magical as before, and I think I may have fallen more in love with it this time.
One thing that I appreciated more this time was the parallels between the two storylines. Of course, I had noticed a lot of these the first time, but I realize now how similar Ofelia and Mercedes are in their respective subplots: both women are faced with the struggle to break free of complete, unquestioning obedience, and find ways to transcend the darkness around them. The film is very well structured; its easy to see why del Toro earned an Original Screenplay nomination at the 2006 Oscars. And the acting is terrific from all involved; Ivana Baquero (Ofelia) in particular gives a wonderfully assured performance that is rare in a young actress.
Another thing that I grew more appreciative of was the beauty of the film: the sets are inventively dark, particularly the twisted, gnarled fig tree that Ofelia crawls under as part of her first task. The effects are also well done, as are the truly astounding creatures; the Faun, the Pale Man, and the toad are all terrifying yet beautiful, dark creations that don't always have dark intentions. And then enough cannot be said about Guillermo Navarro's Oscar-winning cinematography. Every shot, whether it be completely rooted in reality or a part of Ofelia's quest into other worlds, is given qualities of both that beautifully enhance the film's story and themes. Even without the powerful storytelling, Pan's Labyrinth stands as a beautiful visual film, with images that stick with you long after the credits roll.
So does the film still hold its place? Yes. This still remains del Toro's greatest achievement, and he will probably never be able to top it. There may be plenty of imitators, but none of them can hold a candle to this.
PS 2006 was a really good year for foreign cinema, between this film and The Lives of Others and several others.
PPS Another thing I caught this time around was how heavy an influence Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland had on this film.