The Secret of Moonacre
dir Gabor Csupo
scr Graham Alborough, Lucy Shuttleworth
with Dakota Blue Richards, Ioan Gruffudd, Natascha McElhone, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Curry, Augustus Prew, Andy Linden, Michael Webber, Zoltán Barabás Kis, Sandor Istvan Nagy, George Mendel, Ferenc Vizes
release UK 6.Feb.09
08/Hungary 1h43
The Secret of Moonacre
The true moon princess? Richards

gruffudd mcelhone stevenson
London film fest
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The Secret of Moonacre Without a coherent central tone, this fantasy adventure feels like it drifts all over the place, from slapstick farce to earnest tragedy. And the out-of-kilter production design doesn't really help.

After her father dies, Maria (Richards) and her nanny (Stevenson) move in with Uncle Benjamin (Gruffudd) and his quirky staff (Webber and Linden) in Moonacre Valley. Her only inheritance is a book that explains the generations-old family feud with the DeNoirs for control of a string of pearls with the power of good and evil. While roaming in the forbidden woods, she meets a few DeNoirs: fiery patriarch Coeur (Curry), love-lorn Loveday (McElhone) and sparky Robin (Prew). She also discovers that she holds the key to peace in the valley.

The plot, based on Elizabeth Goudge's novel, feels even more random than a Cornelia Funke story, with a random selection of whimsical creatures and fantastical places. It certainly doesn't have the coherence of Tolkien, CS Lewis or even Philip Pullman. And the filmmakers never draw the elements together, going over the top with settings that look deeply fake. And the too-elaborate costumes look assembled moments ago out of whatever feathers or bits of metal were lying around.

There are some decent performances amid the smiley wistfulness. And some of the themes are strong, most notably the idea of seeking real peace rather than continuing traditional conflicts. But the story's mythology is just too corny to accept without laughing at it. At the centre is the search for the "true moon princess" who's the only person who can see a mysterious white horse--huh? Even within this fairy tale world, there's no internal logic at work. So the requisite effects-driven climax feels empty.

This combination of bizarre physical comedy with vacuous romance and limp action will appeal only to very young viewers who can tune out the convoluted plot as they squeal in delight at the cute kids and swirly unicorn. Frankly, it feels more like one of those cheap and goofy 1970s Saturday morning TV programmes by Sid and Marty Krofft. And when your terribly magical fantasy movie brings to mind HR Pufnstuf, you know something's gone horribly wrong.

cert u themes, suspense 25.Oct.08 lff

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall