In the wake of the popularity of the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we’ve been treated to a number of (mostly) family-friendly adaptations of popular fantasy works.
While the budgets vary, most of these films have run a steady range of mediocrity, from the Chronicles of Narnia movies and The Golden Compass to The Spiderwick Chronicles and Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia. Csupo’s latest, The Secret of Moonacre, skews towards the bottom of this range.
Moonacre, based on the acclaimed novel The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, doesn’t have much going for it: meandering and dull, it’s half a rich fantasy along the lines of Stardust, while the other half is afraid to fully dive in. The result is a film that never really creates the vibrant fantasy world intended in the source, and fails to draw us in.
19th Century England: Dakota Blue Richards stars as Maria, a young girl who’s just been orphaned after the death of her father, left in the care of her nurse, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson). The two travel to live with Maria’s uncle, Sir Benjamin (Ioan Gruffudd), at Moonacre, a remote country estate.
En route, Maria begins to read a book that her father left her: the story of Moonacre, involving two families, magical pearls, a black lion and a unicorn. Or some such nonsense that’s given so little screen time that we fail to get a grasp on it, let alone get involved in it.
Richards is actually pretty good in the lead, though she’s almost as stiff as the adult cast. Gruffudd and Natasha McElhorne and Tim Curry are strangely restrained and colorless, even when the script seems to call for humor from them.
I haven’t read the novel by Goudge, but I have to doubt it contained antagonists in bowler hats and mascara, rejects from Alex’s crew in A Clockwork Orange.
And characters named Digweed and Miss Heliotrope, and references to “arsenuggets”, may have read differently on the page (if present at all), but feel hopelessly out-of-place when spoken by this humorless cast.