Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Confusion is not the best ingredient for a children’s film and this is a children’s film, according to the paraphernalia accrued, such as magic, pantomime baddies, a unicorn and a 12-year-old heroine (Eliza Bennett). It begins when Meggie – not Maggie – is a baby and dad (Brendan Fraser) is reading Little Red Riding Hood to her, even though she is too young to understand, and Little Red's crimson cloak comes drifting down upon the evening breeze to rest on the washing line outside the window. Dad, otherwise known as Silvertongue, has the gift of bringing the written word to life.

Fast forward 12 years. A hell of a lot has happened, as if two reels of film have gone missing and the audience has to find its own way back into the plot. Meggie’s mum (Sienna Guillory) is missing and dad travels the world checking out old volumes in antiquarian book shops. It’s part of his job, you think, but Meggie knows better. He’s looking for a particular book, called Inkheart, because that’s where mum is, inside it – don’t ask how. A tall man (Paul Bettany), with long blond locks, a scummy overcoat and a pet ferret, who calls himself Dustfinger and was once a fire juggler in the story of Inkheart, is outside now in the real world – don’t ask how – and needs Meggie’s dad’s help to get back home.

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The film never finds its tone of voice. Is this comedy, fantasy adventure, or sentimental whimsy, with Dame Helen Mirren playing a horrible granny and Andy “Gollum” Serkis playing an even more horrible fictional villain, who lives in a fortress castle in the real world on top of a mountain in what appears to be Northern Italy, with a band of silly cutthroats and kitchen slaves, one of whom is Meggie’s mum?

Silvertongue, with Dustfinger’s help, accompanied by Meggie and a friendly Indian boy, called Farid (Rafi Gavron), who comes out of another book – don’t ask how – attempts a rescue bid. They invoke the assistance of Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent), the author of Inkheart, who bumbles absent-mindedly on the fringes of uselessness, and Toto, the Scottie dog from The Wizard Of Oz – don’t ask why.

Frankly, it’s a muddle. Fraser, the comic hero of The Mummy franchise, George Of The Jungle and Liz Hurley’s claim to fame, Bedazzled, is wasted. Despite looking like a posh dropout from the Sixties, who lives (some of the time) in a genuine gypsy caravan, bought with daddy’s money, Bettany makes the most sense in what is ultimately a senseless movie. Bennett is perfectly adequate in the lead role of the motherless almost-teenager and Gavron is charming. It must be director Iain Softly’s fault that Serkis and his gang are neither threatening, nor funny. Farce overplayed implodes. As for Dame Helen, the less remembered the better.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2008
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Children's fiction comes alive in a fantasy adventure story.
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Director: Iain Softley

Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the novel by Cornelia Funke

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Sienna Guillory, Rafi Gavron, Andy Serkis, Jim Broadbent, Jamie Foreman

Year: 2008

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Germany/UK/US


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