I figured for sure my children would love it. Surprisingly, though, my own two pre-teens (both of whom enjoy the Harry Potter movies) showed absolutely no interest in watching it. Perhaps it was the gaudy 3D lenticular artwork that held the Blu-ray within that put them off. Why, not even the name “Tim Curry” provided any leverage with them (they also enjoy The Rocky Horror Picture Show, if that tells you anything). So, I settled in late one evening to watch the family-friendly fantasy flick, The Secret Of Moonacre, all by my lonesome. And, after beholding an extended promo for the Girl Scouts at the start-up of the disc, I was convinced that I was most certainly not of the intended target audience.
“But that’s OK,” I though. “I made it through the first Twilight film, so I can endure this one. I know I can.”
Directed by Gabor Csupo, one of the three creative minds behind the long-running Nickelodeon hit, Rugrats, The Secret Of Moonacre is another entry in the recent “Let’s adapt another children’s fantasy book” genre (which pretty much started due to the tremendous success of Harry Potter). Based on Elizabeth Goudge’s novel, The Little White Horse (you have to admit, the decision to change the title definitely made it sound more appealing!), The Secret Of Moonacre tells the tale of Maria Merryweather (no relation to Nicholas or Lee), a young lady of the mid-19th Century who finds herself orphaned when her father is murdered by some ruffians, and without any sort of inheritance when she learns her dear old dad died in debt.
But Maria (Dakota Blue Richards) hasn’t been left with entirely nothing. Her father did leave her with an old book entitled The Ancient Chronicles Of Moonacre Valley. Normally, one might say “Gee, thanks, dad: you died and left me with nothing but a fantasy book,” in such circumstances. Having an obnoxious governess such as Maria’s educator, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson), probably wouldn’t encourage a young lass to go on living, either. Nevertheless, our Little Maria is a trooper — and after being sent away to live with her easily-irritated uncle, Sir Benjamin (Ioan Gruffudd, thanking his lucky stars that he’s not starring in another godawful Fantastic Four film) in the dilapidated ancestral home of Moonacre Manor, she discovers both the house and surrounding area are alive with many fantastic and magical powers. Food appears out of nowhere (that’s a keeper in my book), a piano plays mysteriously by itself, and stars descends from the ceiling each night to leave portraits on the wall.
As you may have figured out, there is more non-fiction at play in Maria’s book than one might think.
In fact, the book is actually very true. And, after Maria encounters the Manor’s peculiar chef (Andy Linden), she discovers that the book depicts the sad events of the Merryweather family some thousand years ago (or so). Once upon a time, the beautiful daughter of the De Noir family (Natascha McElhone) — who happens to also be the “Moon Princess” (look, just smile and nod, OK?) married the elder Merryweather son (also played by Gruffudd). But the marriage was neither a long or happy one, and some good old-fashioned greed on behalf of both families resulted in several hundred years of rivalry between the two clans. Why? Well, it all had to do with some magical pearls of some nature (again, folks, just smile and nod), which have not only been missing ever since, but also brought about a curse upon both families.
As it turns out, if the pearls aren’t found and returned to the sea from whence they came, the moon will crash down into Moonacre Valley and kill everyone. Naturally, young Maria is the key to putting a big-ass band-aid on the hurt here. Between the whole Moon Princess thingy, a “demon dog,” and a magical white unicorn (yes, you read it right: a magical white unicorn), Maria has the power to (cue the Eric Clapton) “Change the World.”
OK, so that was a bad joke. But it’s not much worse than The Secret Of Moonacre.
While the production values seem sincere enough here for a UK Lottery-financed film, The Secret Of Moonacre appears to suffer more from some weak writing more than anything else. Having not read the original novel (which was, apparently, one of Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s favorites in school), I can’t say if the weak writing started with the original source material or not. Although, with character names such as Miss Heliotrope, Digweed (Crow T. Robot is chuckling away somewhere), and Marmaduke Scarlet, I really have to stop and wonder (at least JK Rowling’s character names were more subtle!). Several unnecessary moments of crude humor (Miss Heliotrope has a nasty habit of belching, not to mention stepping in horseshit) really distract from any truly magical moments the film may have.
Seeing as how our feature is British-made, you’d at least expect some decent acting if nothing else. Yes, The Secret Of Moonacre does contain a few honest performances (Miss Richards and Mr. Gruffudd receive those honors here). But the rest of the cast either hams it up mercilessly or ignore the fact that they are in a motion picture altogether. Surprisingly, Tim Curry — who co-stars as the head of the villainous De Noir household — doesn’t overdo his performance here as he occasionally tends to do in some films. No, instead, Tim finds himself surrounded by derby-clad emo punks in eyeliner (seriously, they look like they just popped out of Enzo G. Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors!), whilst he struts about in a costume leftover from a rendition of Richard III.
And there’s even a cheesy theme song played over the end credits. Granted, it’s a lot better than the end themes to most James Cameron films, but that’s besides the point. Honestly, The Secret Of Moonacre is not the best family-friendly fantasy film I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s downright mediocre — and I definitely give my children props for being able to detect such by just glancing at the cover of the Blu-ray.
Were I to use a five star rating system, The Secret Of Moonacre wouldn’t be deserving of much more than two stars as far as I’m concerned.
The Secret Of Moonacre hits Blu-ray via the folks at the relatively indie-label, E1 Entertainment. The 25GB disc contains a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer of the film, which is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. The movie’s color palette varies here, with some scenes boasting rich hues, while others are (intentionally) on the pale side. But that doesn’t stop the colors from shining through, though: E1’s High Def release presents its feature film quite well. The detail is quite good here, as is the contrast (although the black levels look a little dull in some places. The only big drawback here in terms of visual quality is that the movie’s oft-bad CGI really stands out in some places.
Audio-wise, E1 Entertainment’s Blu-ray offers up a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio lossless track, which comes through adequately. Being a fantasy film of epic proportions (although the word “epic” is questionable, here, really), the soundtrack has a lot of sound effects, sweltering music, and robust dialogue to make use of — and the mix succeeds in giving your stereo system a good workout throughout. An additional 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is also included, as are English subtitles. In terms of special features, The Secret Of Moonacre features a handful of Standard Definition extras. First off is a behind-the-scenes featurette (giving viewers a peek at the filming of this lukewarm feature), a couple of interviews with select cast members, a making-of featurette, several deleted scenes, and some trailers for other E1 releases.
All in all, The Secret Of Moonacre is nothing to write home about. Younger viewers (read: 10 and under) will probably appreciate it more than anyone else, and there’s really nothing objectionable for parents to worry about here. As far as the rest of the family goes, however, they might find themselves wishing they were watching a Harry Potter flick instead.