Before I go into details, let me say that you should go and see Stardust tomorrow. Take friends and loved ones; you'll thank me for it later.
We watched Edward Scissorhands in San Jose's St James Park on Friday night, which has a magic realism of it's own, what with the light rail passing either side of the park, the planes and nightclub searchlights in the sky, and the audience mixing the homeless who sleep in the park with a throng of our friends picnicking. I called Edward Scissorhands a geek parable before, but its screenwriter Caroline Thompson describes it as a fable - a story you know isn't true but care about anyway. It takes a fantastic character and brings him into the mundane world to try to cope.
Stardust is in some ways the opposite of this - Tristan escapes from his conforming world to a fantastic one, a world of danger that tests him. That he can't resist returning to show himself off is a pivotal moment in the plot; the world of Stronghold has a very sharply drawn medieval conflict over succession, that echoes and parodies many we have seen. Tristan's lovestruck quest is pithily skewered by Yvaine, the star who is its object. It is a picaresque story, but Vaughn brings some of the English subcultural texture from Snatch and Layer Cake to it too, with archetypically English small time crooks and fences represented.
What is different from those works, and which owes more to Gaiman than Vaughn, is the underlying morality of the story. I have been strongly impressed by this current within British fantasy work recently - the revived Doctor Who is exemplary this way, as is the Dangerous Book for Boys, and even Christopher Hitchens can see it in Harry Potter.
In each case there is an acknowledgment that there is evil in the world, but a consistent message that it is best fought through love, through integrity and through striving to transcend our recognised flaws. Though secular in tone and style they echo for me the sublimated Anglicanism of Lewis and Tolkein; doing the right thing for the sake of this world, not the next.