Guillermo del Toro's films have a distinct style and approach to filmmaking. He uses gothic romance to tell stories of love and hope within the aesthetic conventions of the horror genre. In this film, like his others such as Devil's Backbone, he centers the story on a child. Ofelia's innocence contrasts with the elements of horror and violence that are seen throughout the film. By centering the experience of a child, Del Toro suggests that it is children who suffer the most for the wrongdoings of adults.
Pan's Labyrinth had an exceptionally long and unique path to the silver screen. del Toro gave up his entire salary, as well as back-end points on the box office gross, to see to it that the film would be made. He also routinely said no to producers who wanted him to make the film in English as he feared it would compromise his artistic vision for the film. Some of his ideas for the film del Toro got from experiences lucid dreaming as a child. In an interview with The Guardian, del Toro told Xan Brooks that Pan's Labyrinth is "a truly profane film, a layman's riff on Catholic dogma."
Upon the film's release, del Toro's directorial gifts were widely praised. Roger Ebert wrote of the film, "What makes Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth so powerful, I think, is that it brings together two kinds of material, obviously not compatible, and insists on playing true to both, right to the end. Because there is no compromise there is no escape route, and the dangers in each world are always present in the other. Del Toro talks of the "rule of three" in fables (three doors, three rules, three fairies, three thrones). I am not sure three viewings of this film would be enough, however."