It's been several years since I read Neil Gaiman's original novel (to sum up: young half-human/half-faery boy goes from our world to faery world, has adventures, falls in love, becomes a man, all that), so I'm not able or inclined to run down the "they changed this and that and this other thing!" litany. What strikes me big-time about the flick is how packed it is: full of plot threads that miraculously don't tangle on each other, with a nicely off-hand way of making some major revelations and even handling some of the movie's deaths in a darkly funny way (I'm thinking of the seven brothers; I'll say no more). It's frequently manic without ever slopping over into goofiness, and it emphasizes Gaiman's sillier side, which isn't always as obvious as Gaiman's precise, poetic, economy-of-words, myth-loving side.
And, more obviously, it's a joyful film. Love happens; it's that kind of fairy tale, one with romantic comedy thrown in and where you know that the people who start out hating each other will turn out to be perfect for each other. The people in question are Tristan (changed from Tristram in the novel and played by Charlie Cox), the son of a human father and a faery woman, and Yvaine (Claire Danes), a fallen star -- literally -- who's been knocked out of the sky because a dying king did one last magical act. (Yes, magic happens, too. In fact, I really like Stardust's use of magic, which has side effects and consequences that are frequently hilarious, like Yvaine and Tristan's escape from the inn.) Danes really throws herself into playing the ornery Yvaine (a side of her that the ads mysteriously omit, to Neil Gaiman's annoyance), a young woman utterly non-enthused about getting dragged across half of creation by a kid. It's great seeing Danes's forceful side; the story wouldn't work if Yvaine were some sort of quavering waif. (This is the story described as "the fairy tale that won't behave," so that forcefulness is even more appropriate...) And the energy that results from this key personality-collision turns out to be a joyful energy. It's enough to make me forgive the loss of Yvaine's original opening line from the novel.
And speaking of joyful energy, I and the audience absolutely loved Robert DeNiro. Yay for him doing comedy again, and reminding us he can be good at it!
WARNING! Film-music fanboy bit:
My inner Michael Kamen fanboy was happy to hear some very Kamen-style flourishes in Ilan Eshkeri's score (though I wasn't as happy to hear that the music for the confrontation in the inn sounded way too much like Wojciech Kilar's "Vampire Hunters" theme from Bram Stoker's Dracula; methinks someone had Eshkeri ape the temp score a little too closely there), so I was happily surprised to find that the composer worked with the same music producer (Stephen McLaughlin) as Kamen did, so that could explain the influence. (It also might explain why Shawn Levy didn't like the music; I don't think he's a fan of that style.)
End of film-music fanboy bit
If you can't tell I had a blast at Stardust, then you just can't read English.