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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Imagine, if you will, the Story Warehouse. This is where storytellers
collect the various bits and pieces which they then assemble into
stories. We go past the Romance and Horror sections and arrive at
Magic, where we find the shelves fairly empty. Some items are always in
stock - you can always pick up Orphaned Child Sent To Live In Run-Down
Old House Where Strange Things Happen With No Explanation, for
instance, and there's never any shortage of Slightly Sinister Patriarch
Figure Who Flies Into Rage For No Good Reason And Won't Answer
Questions, or Quirky Manservant With Fantastic Abilities (I'll take
two, please). The Magic Lions section was pretty much cleaned out by CS
Lewis for the Narnia stories, of course, although it appears that he
didn't have much call for Magic Lion (Black Fur) or Magic Lion
(Disguised As Big Dog).
And that is the problem with The Secret Of Moonacre - the story has a strong feeling of having been cobbled together from bits and pieces, and those bits and pieces are either overly familiar - Ioan Gruffud's mysterious bad-tempered uncle is no stranger - or else simply not very good (clearly a great deal was left on the Moon shelves - we have Moon Pearls, Moon Princesses, Moonacre itself, the Moon coming down to destroy everything). Much which needs explaining is never explained, and the bits of the story simply don't fit very well together. It's as if by combining the legs from a flat-pack table and the carcase from a flat-pack kitchen unit you can make a sideboard. Well, yes, but I don't think I'd want it in my living room.
And this is a shame, because the look of the film is fine, as is Dakota Blue Richards. Gruffud and Tim Curry both deliver their cliché characters perfectly adequately, Juliet Stephenson is given a comedy nanny to play with rather uncomfortably, and Natasha McElhone looks wonderful and acts, at times, embarrassingly badly (she delivers a curse with a complete absence of menace, for instance. Clearly, cheekbones on their own are not enough).
I sometimes wonder why film producers still don't seem to understand that a solid story and script is the starting point for a successful movie.
First of all, I am 17 and I absolutely love the book "The Little White
Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge, with its beautiful imagery, memorable
characters and above all its magical story, and I do agree the book is
better than the film in many ways. In fact, the Little White Horse is
probably my favourite book of all time. I think the film Secret of
Moonacre is a beautiful film, that unfortunately is undermined by one
or two problems with the story, and doesn't quite capture the magic of
The film looks absolutely exquisite, with those gorgeous costumes and the lovely sets with the huge menacing moon. The music by Christian Henson is gorgeous and very fitting with the scenery. Gabor Csupo, the director of Bridge of Tarabithia, which is admittedly better, obviously has an eye for art, as he used to be an animator. Other directors that have directed visually stunning fantasy films are Ridley Scott with Legend and Guillermo Del Torro with Pan's Labyrinth.(which is the best foreign language film I have ever seen) Whoever trained the animals, must be told he/she did a truly remarkable job.
The acting is very good, an obvious standout is Dakota Blue Richards of Golden Compass fame in a strong central performance as the protagonist Maria Merryweather. Juliet Stevenson and Andy Linden provide the comedy, with the jokes about indigestion, and whizzing quickly around the kitchen. Tim Curry brings a touch of melancholy to an otherwise menacing and complex character, and it made a difference after seeing Curry in over the top roles such as FrankNFurter and Wadsworth. Though, if anything, I wish Curry had more screen time. Natasha McElhone looked lovely as Loveday, with a lovely face that sometimes defies her when she is cursing for instance. Though I will confess I wasn't entirely convinced by Ioan Gruffodd as Sir Benjamin. In the book Sir Benjamin is fat with three chins, which is a far cry from the gorgeous Gruffodd. I am not saying he was bad, he wasn't. He was very brooding at times, but other times when he looked uncomfortable. That I can understand, because since I have participated in operas with similar costumes,(like the Magic Flute) I do know from experience they can be very uncomfortable to wear.
The story I do agree takes a while to get going, but the book takes one or two chapters to explain the story, which isn't a problem as it is called character development. The basics are all there, the Moon Princess, the pearls and the battle of good and evil, but a lot was changed from the book, and one or two of the characters were changed, and others like Old Parson were left out entirely. I was prepared for a lot of changes when I saw this film (they do it all the time), and although I was fine with most of them, I was annoyed that Maria and Robin's relationship from the book was virtually eliminated, as that was one of the book's main merits. The ending was a bit rushed, I am putting a huge emphasis on the bit, but I liked the underwater sequence very much.
All in all, a flawed but hugely enjoyable film (not the best fantasy I have ever seen but a solid attempt) that is well worth watching for the visuals. 8/10 Bethany Cox
Firstly, I haven't read the book. In a way it works for my advantage allowing me to criticize the movie solely based on what was presented there and not be distracted by what was left out compared to book etc. I can think of two kinds of fairy tales: one is the kind you love when you're 7 but think it utterly stupid and childish when you're 30; the other type is the kind you find magical no matter how old you are. This movie here could've easily belonged to the first group but turned out to be something more valuable. The bicycle has been invented and now it's all about how you do it, not what you do. The whole movie in its being is one big cliché, BUT they have successfully managed to turn that weakness into a strong point. This could've easily been a cheesy Raspberry candidate and I am very picky about my fairy tales and fantasy and I was not disappointed. Several aspects made the story believable, starting from the level of acting and ending with props. When it comes to acting, the weakest link in the bunch was Natascha McElhone, who didn't always seem to be in it as much as the others (e.g the cursing part, people seem to agree on that part mostly). I was thoroughly impressed by Ioan Gruffudd, going from cold to heartbroken definitely moved my cruel heart. The milieu and the special effects were outstanding. No Lord of the Rings, don't get me wrong, but there was no half-hearted effort in that area. The Moonacre Manor and the many other scenes were picturesque and the costumes far-enough-out-of-the-box creative, mixing the traditional with a modern touch in perfect balance. All in all, I was left feeling satisfied and enriched and I reckon this movie deserves a rating above 7 of 10 the least, for it certainly wasn't a mediocre experience.
I went to the European premiere on Sunday when the film was shown as
part of the London Film Festival. Some of the cast were there, also the
director and producers who spoke before the screening.
I have read the book, The Little White Horse, many times, but was prepared for a lot of changes from the book. I don't think it's really a spoiler to say that the character of Sir Benjamin is VERY different in the film! And there are many characters omitted, including Old Parson. I enjoyed the film - it is absolutely gorgeous to look at - the costumes, the sets, the cinematography - all beautiful and lush. Ioan Gruffedd a bit wooden but all he really has to do for most of the film is look brooding. Juliet Stevenson gets nearly all the comedy. Tim Curry only has to phone in a performance. Dakota thingummy is surprisingly good (I have a prejudice against child actors). She's fine. Most of the film works quite well but I would have liked more scope for some of the characters to develop. You barely see any relationship development between Maria and Robin - they only really meet about twice. The ending was a little abrupt - I would have liked just five minutes more to develop the happy ending a little further, perhaps back at Moonacre Manor. An enjoyable film but doesn't quite hit the mark. I would watch it again just for how lovely it is to look at, not for the plot or the characters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just saw the world premiere of Moonacre at the Toronto International
Film Festival. Gabor Czupo (the director) was there, as well as Dakota
Blue Richards and Augustus Prew.
The film was beautiful to watch--the sets were gorgeous and the scenery magical. The huge menacing moon bearing down on Moonacre was an amazing effect. Maria's outfits were worth watching just on their own!
There are many changes from the book (The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge). I thought the ending they invented was a lot more effective than the ending in the book. However, I was very disappointed with how they changed Robin's character, and cut way back on Maria and Robin's partnership and completed eliminated their romance. Many subsidiary characters were eliminated as well.
Miss Heliotrope provides most of the humour in the film--and Juliet Stevenson has great comedic timing. Tim Curry is just a caricature as Cocq de Noir. Dakota shows lots of spunk and determination and the final underwater scene is very powerful. In a couple of her outfits they let her show some cleavage, which surprised me a bit. But the director didn't allow any sparks to fly between her and Robin (Prew).
Children and young teens should enjoy the movie. There's no swearing and the violence is only mildly scary.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We'd read reviews on here and so thought that our six year olds demands
to see it were a good idea. Firstly, the film takes a long time to get
going. When it does there is some really wooden acting going on -
enough to make Roger Moore look deep and meaningful in comparison.
Teenager Dakota Blue Richards gives a great performance which is more than can be said for many of her adult colleagues. It feels that many of them give up before the film is half way through.
Every so often something happens that makes you feel that this could have been a good movie. But this is a long way from being Stardust and similar fantasy films. Very third rate special effects, a plot you just don't care about and it simply goes on for far too long.
Our two eager six year olds seemed to quite like it. Emphasis on the "quite" though. It had all the right ingredients - a princess, a unicorn, baddies etc. If we hadn't bought an insane amount of pop corn and sweets I think the reaction might have been very different though. We really thought this film would be something great. Instead it'll end up being a very cheap DVD by the end of the year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For me, it is very hard to pass up a fantasy film. And when I had the
chance to see this, I didn't think twice. I thought the movie would be
in the same league as Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia series, but
it falls short. The way the film is executed makes it seem quite silly.
Based on the novel 'The Little White Horse' (which I hear is good) by
Elizabeth Goudge, the film tells the tale of two ancient powerful
families who fall out with one other. The Moon Princess is believed to
bring them together, or else, predictably, the world will end. The
movie is partly adventurous and partly funny. The funny moments are
never funny for the adults, but the children will really enjoy the
movie. It has underlying themes like pride, the power of love and
honesty. Dakota Richards makes you like the movie because she seems so
immersed in her character. Natascha McElhone, Tim Curry and Ioan
Gruffudd never come off as authentic and it hurts the movie. They all
have a very short fuse and could blow off like a six year old kid if
they are pushed too much.
An orphan girl, thirteen year old Marla Merryweather (Dakota Blue Richards) inherits nothing but a book of family secrets, 'The Ancient Chronicles Of Moonacre Valley', from her dead father. Without a proper home, she has no choice, but to move in with her grumpy uncle, Sir Benjamin Merryweather (Ioan Gruffudd) at Moonacre Manor along with her nanny, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson). The book that her father left her tells her of an ancient curse placed upon her family. The daughter of Coeur De Noir (Tim Curry), Loveday (Natascha McElhone) is the Moon Princess and she has been gifted magical pearls which will give the power enormous power to control everything. Sir Merryweather and Loveday are in love and are about to be married. On the day of the marriage, the pearls have their effect on Sir Merryweather and Coeur De Noir and they show their true colours. Loveday runs away with the pearls and goes into hiding. But Coeur and Sir Merryweather think that the pearls are with the other one and they are bitter about it. Loveday has lost her powers and Maria is the apparent heir to the Moon Princess title and she has to save them all before the ascension of the moon for the 500th time.
While the story seems to be fascinating, director Gabor Csupo, who was also responsible for the wonderful 'The Bridge To Terabithia', cannot really get the magic working here. Dakota Richards as Maria comes across as a cross between shy and adamant, without being able to really establish her true nature. Tim Curry who is quite popular in these kinds of films doesn't really have much to do in this film. He is supposed to be sinister and menacing, instead he is an idiot. Ioan is a troubled man who doesn't stick to his decisions and keeps acting like a baby, as does Natascha's character. The costumes, sets are authentic and the special effects, which is the most important requirement in fantasy films are good enough not to appear fake or over the top. There are unicorns and black lions which will give you a sense of wonder. Not a bad watch as long as you don't think more than a 12 year old kid would.
In London, young, almost-a-teen Maria (Dakota Blue Richards) has just lost her father. Her nanny, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson) tries to comfort her. When the will is read, Maria is dumbfounded to find out that she must move to the countryside and live with an unknown uncle, Benjamin (Ioan Gruffudd) at a remote estate called Moonacre. With no other choice, Maria and Miss H make the journey. Immediately, her uncle's gruff manner upsets the young lady. Yet, over the course of the next few weeks, magical things begin to happen to Maria. Elves appear and tell her of Moonacre's curse, that is, a pearl necklace was stolen from the Moon Princess long ago, by Maria's relations. In order to break the spell, the gems must be returned and are said to be hidden somewhere on the premises. Can Maria find them? The young girl also has to deal with dangerous, evil neighbors who inhabit a dark castle beyond the woods that separate the two properties. This family, headed by a horrid man (Tim Curry) wants to capture the girl to prevent her from breaking the curse. Also, living in the woods, is a beautiful lady (Natascha McElhone) who was once in love with Benjamin. Unhappily, their engagement went awry and the two are mild enemies, at present. But, since this beautiful woman knows the woods, can she help Maria in her fight against the wicked castle? This is one very lovely film, as beautiful as the moon, as they say. The art direction and special effects are superb, making the movie enchanting to watch. Also fine is the cast, from the stars to the supporting members. With very fine sets, costumes, script and direction as well, why wait for the moon's next appearance? Get this one today!
Fairy tales are movies that either sink or swim when it comes to the
silver screen, based upon the merits of their story and the characters
that exist to propel the fantasy past the absurd and into the tangibly
real. The Secret of Moonacre is unfortunately an example of absurdist
fairytale done with little restraint or tact; the story is robust with
cliché devices, the characters flat and cursed with banal dialogue, and
the backstory, costume designs, productioneverything just falls far
short of what you may come to expect fro productions of this nature. To
be fair, there are certain elements inherent to Csupo's outing here
that borders on mildly entertaining if only for the references that
they make to other works, yet such moments are far and few between and
never truly dispel the sour taste of hackneyed amateurism that
permeates the majority of Moonacre's ridiculously generic universe.
At its core, The Secret of Moonacre strives to be part adventure fairytale and part whimsy comedy stitched together with undercooked themes of pride, corruption and the power of love to overcome all shadows of the human heart. Ostensibly, this mix has all the elements to make for an enjoyable family feature, yet burdened with a plodding pace and characters that never come off the screen in any manner, the Secret of Moonacre is a dull one. Centring around young teenage girl Maria (Dakota Blue Richards) as she moves into her extravagant and eccentric uncle's mansion in the Middle of Nowhere Forest under the protection of nanny Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson who serves as a trite source of comic relief every now and then with her biggest character trait being an impromptu belch), Goudge's story is one built upon established ground-works for any old fantasy tale. Sure, fair enoughthere's nothing wrong with building upon already tried and tested methodsyet very little is done beyond this to help Moonacre feel like a tale of its own.
Perhaps the greatest and most obvious detractive trait inherent to Alborough's adaptation however is simply through its writing which seems to go through the motions at each and every turn. The result is a feature that plods along through countless cliché and predictable contrivances to the point where all fantastical elements are lost within the generic gloop that is the whole backstory and focus point of Moonacre's world. About half way into the movie, it should be no surprise then that the production boils down to one of absurd ridiculewithout the feeling of otherworldly mysticism to back up all the theatrical dialogue, sets and costumes, Csupo neglects his feature to being bland and utterly forgettable in spite of its striking visuals and over-the-top performances. In fact, with the exception of perhaps Ioan Gruffudd , the majority of the acting ensemble here feel just as disconnected to the story's fantasy as everything else does. It's not just badit's distracting and downright laughable when any sort of tension or conflict is pushed down the throat with little to no tangible reason to believe in it.
Yet this neglect to raising the suspension of disbelief is what ultimately stops The Secret of Moonacre from ever truly coming off the screen. Perhaps with a greater budget, some bigger stars and a re-write or two, Csupo could have made something more than a sporadically pretty treat for the senses, yet as it stands nothing of the sort of achieved throughout its bumbling and overly melodramatic runtime. This in turn makes recommending Moonacre a lost cause; young females may be able to enjoy all the unicorns, pretty dresses and coy humour to the extent that everything else is ignored, yet even this assertion serves as a broad test of the imaginationwhich is ironically more than Csupo manages here through his excruciatingly mundane two hour exercise in creating yet another Pedestrian Fantasy By Numbers.
- A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
Having seen Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass which I loved immensely, I was excited to see her again in another fantasy movie. And while this is a fantasy movie of a different type, I must say I enjoyed this just as much. This movie has a really simple plot which develops slowly but I do think most things are explained in one way or another. However I would have loved a bit more background story about some of the characters such as Robin and his father Coeur De Noir. I have not read the book so I am sure the director left some things out that weren't developed in the movie. There is obviously a suggestion there could be a relationship between Robin and Maria. The ending seemed a bit rushed and I had loved they gave that some more attention, some more screening time. I must say that this movie was maybe not so good if Dakota didn't give such a strong performance as Maria Merryweather. The others really couldn't have carried this movie but play their role well. There is some humor in it in the characters of Miss Heliotrope (she is a little burpy) and the chef (French accent so cliché) which the children will love. I didn't find that funny but wasn't bothered with it either. The story in itself was serious and good and that was what mattered to me. And there are fantasy elements like unicorn, black lion which are mostly symbolic. It's no Chronicles of Narnia, not as overwhelming as Golden Compass or Stardust but a sweet little movie that has its place in the fantasy genre. I had no regrets seeing it.
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