The Secret of Moonacre (PG)
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Well... I think I first learned of this movie's existence when I was looking through Amazon's upcoming DVD releases for anything to add to my site's monthly calendar, sometime in 2009. The main reason it was of any interest to me was that it starred Dakota Blue Richards, who I had liked in The Golden Compass. Though it's possible I thought the story description sounded like it might be interesting. Anyway, one day months later, I happened to see the DVD while browsing in Best Buy, and it was relatively cheap, so I decided to pick it up. And I have to say... Dakota is pretty much the only thing that makes the movie worthwhile. Well, it did have a few mildly amusing bits, but the story itself (based on a book called "The Little White Horse," which I haven't read) wasn't that great. In fact the movie barely qualifies as "fantasy."
Anyway... it starts with a funeral. The father of Dakota's character, Maria Merryweather, has just died. He was in debt, so all he could leave to her was a book, "The Ancient Chronicles of Moonacre Valley." She begins reading the story, which is set in the valley she and her governess, Miss Heliotrope, are moving to, to live with Maria's uncle, Sir Benjamin Merryweather. The story told of a "Moon Princess" who had some sort of vague powers bestowed on her by Nature itself, I guess. Um... well, her family's name was De Noir, and her fiance's family were the Merryweathers. And wedding gifts included a black lion and a unicorn. Also, this princess had some pearls which had some vague powers, and it turns out that both her father and her fiance covet the pearls, and... basically, this leads to the valley being cursed, and a divide between the families which lasts for centuries.
But Maria didn't get very far into the story (actually some of what I said, she didn't read til later). She and Miss Heliotrope arrive at Sir Benjamin's, though shortly before they enter the outer gates of his estate, they're accosted by bandits, who turn out to be from the De Noir family, who live in the woods. Sir Benjamin himself is very cold and distant, wanting nothing to do with Maria and Heliotrope, though he feels a sense of obligation to his niece, since she's a Merryweather. But he takes her father's book away from her, saying it hadn't been his to give her. And... well, we meet a couple of Sir Benjamin's servants, I guess. There's a cook named Marmaduke Scarlet, who... is kind, but strange. I don't think he could be human, because he was always zipping around much too fast and sometimes even seemed to teleport short distances. Though apparently he could only do this in the kitchen. This is never explained, and I have no idea what he was supposed to be. Another servant was human enough, a man called Digweed. Both these servants seemed to me to be fairly minor characters of little importance to the story, though I did find Digweed amusing, the way he was always saying "That'll be the (insert random noun), then, Sir". Oh, and I guess Marmaduke did tell Maria a bit more about what was actually going on, and gave her a tip that let her recover the book so she could finish reading the story.
Anyway. I guess there had been generations of Moon Princesses since the curse began, and Maria is the latest... and the last. The Curse could only be broken by the rising of the 5000th moon (that is, full moon), which was coming up soon. Maria seemed to not want to believe in any of this, but she also grew sick of the way her uncle acted, so she eventually ran away, into the woods (in spite of his frequent warnings that it was unsafe because of the bandits). She met a woman named Loveday (Natascha McElhone), the previous Moon Princess, who 13 years earlier had been engaged to Sir Benjamin, but when he learned she was a De Noir, well... that ended that. So she missed her chance to reunite the families and break the curse. (There's a whole thing about how the real curse of Moonacre Valley is the stubborn pride that everyone has.) Meanwhile, Loveday's father, Coeur (Tim Curry), wants to catch Maria so she can't break the curse, which he believes will mean the end of the Merryweathers, which would let his family triumph. But Maria ends up working with Coeur's son, Robin (one of the bandits), to try to find the pearls, which apparently each family had believed for centuries had been taken by the other.
Well, I'm probably saying things out of order, and leaving lots out. I should mention that Maria gets occasional glimpses of the unicorn. And Sir Benjamin has a big black dog with red eyes, named Wrolf, which the bandits call a "demon dog." It protects Maria, and... well, there's something about Wrolf which I thought was rather predictable, but I won't spoil that, even though I don't really feel it was that important. Um... naturally, the ending is happy. *shrug* I dunno what else to say. I'm trying to leave out some details. But the movie... it was okay, I just wasn't that impressed with the writing. Maybe the book was better, but I don't know that I'll ever read it, so I can't really say.