Dir: Gabor Csupo. UK. 2008. 103mins.
Gabor Csupo’schildren’s fantasyabout a plucky and resourceful 13-year-old girl on a magical quest to thwart an encroaching disaster is undermined by a sluggish blend of humour, disengaged characters and a stagnant narrative line. The script - adapted from Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse - appears to change from moment to moment and the film never quite stakes out its own identity or establishes a dense and original milieu to foreground the action.
Hungarian-born Csupo (The Bridge to Terabithia) is a talented animator, but he still appears uncomfortable with actors - though the name talent here should ensure it will open theatrically. The presence of The Golden Compass star Dakota Blue Richards calls to mindthat film’s vastly superior commercial performance in international markets compared with the US and that seemsa likely scenario here too.
The story of The Secret Of Moonacre revolves around Maria Merryweather (Richards) who discovers upon his death that her father was a notorious debtor.
Sheis shuttled to the strange and mysterious Moonacre country estate presided over by her rigid uncle, Sir Benjamin (Gruffudd). Bequeathed a single possession, a leather-bound book, Maria learns that her family has been entangled in an ancient blood feud with the De Noir clan over possession of magical pearls.
The back story offers some early promise, employing Csupo’s strong animation techniques in an evocative visual illustration of the greed, tension and lust over the radiant objects of desire.
Yet Csupo is hampered by a dizzying narrative line that never settles on an idea or story long enough to give the necessary depth, insight or imagination.
He frequently breaks up the action to arbitrarily insert stabs of humour, mostly involving Maria’s over-protective governess (Stevenson) which too often detracts from the more resonant and interesting primary storyline. The film lurches, introducing the gallery of idiosyncratic figures, like the manor’s mercurial chef (Linden).
These parts fracture the dominant story and effectively deny it the beguiling wonder and sense of discovery upon which the material depends. The performances suffer from the lack of direction and absence of story discipline. Richards and McElhone are fine and expressive. Like Stevenson, Curry’s part is too broad and unfixed.
The performances, pace and rhythm are never synchronized. Individual moments are drained of a solidifying shape andThe Secret of Moonacre never soars or completely takes hold of the imagination. It wants to rise and take flight, but it remains resolutely earthbound.
UK Film Council
Spice Factory Production
Davis Films Production
Grand Allure Entertainment
International sales agent
Velvet Octopus Film Sales
Michael L. Cowan
Graham Alborough, from the novel by Elizabeth Goudge
Director of photography
Dakota Blue Edwards