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When 13 year old Maria Merryweather's father dies, leaving her orphaned and homeless, she is forced to leave her luxurious London life to go and live with Sir Benjamin, an eccentric uncle she didn't know she had, at the mysterious Moonacre Manor. Soon Maria finds herself in a crumbling moonlit world torn apart by the hatred of an ancient feud with the dark and sinister De Noir family. Maria discovers that she is the last Moon Princess and, guided by an unlikely mix of allies, she must overcome her family's pride in order to unearth the secrets of the past before the 5000th moon rises and Moonacre disappears into the sea forever. Written by
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Very little is done beyond this to help Moonacre feel like a tale of its own.
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)
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