x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Secret of Moonacre: Predictable

With a predictable story and clunky dialogue, this film is nothing more than a bargain-basement fantasy.

An attempt to mine magical film worlds such as Harry Potter or The Golden Compass falls mostly flat in this anodyne adaptation of Elizabeth Goudge's children's classic The Little White Horse. Blame the relatively minuscule production budget of $27 million (Dh9m) - good enough for an American indie, but paltry for a family blockbuster - or the anonymous forestry locations of central Hungary or the undernourished and unfinished-looking art design, but everything in Moonacre has a ramshackle double-sided sticky-tape feel - and not in a good way.

It would help, of course, if the plot was original and inspired, but Goudge's tale, adapted by the novice movie writers Graham Alborough and Lucy Shuttleworth, is a wearily familiar "chosen one" standard. The idealistic and pure-hearted 13-year-old Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue Richards) is orphaned and sent to live with her grumpy uncle Benjamin (Ioan Gruffudd) in Moonacre Valley. There she learns that the area is cursed by a local family feud that will ultimately bring the Moon crashing down upon the Earth unless a young, idealistic and pure-hearted Moon Princess (yes, really) can be found to reverse the spell.

And so, in the patchy 100 minutes it takes for Maria to discover that she is indeed the Moon Princess (this is not a spoiler; only family pets and chronically distracted children will miss this from the very first frame), the movie lurches from scene to scene, setting up a broken romance between Benjamin and his ex-fiance Loveday (Natascha McElhone), and introducing Maria to some zany cameo players such as the tiny chef Marmaduke (Andy Linden).

The actors struggle with arch dialogue and rubbish costumes (McElhone, in particular, seems to be wearing a dressing gown with pigeon feathers attached) while a vaguely spectacular but utterly meaningless final act tidal wave comes far too late to convince us that we've been watching anything other than bargain-basement fantasy.