Natasha McElhone and Dakota Blue Richards Image Credit: Supplied

Secret of Moonacre
Cast Dakota Blue Richards, Ioan Gruffudd, Natascha McElhone, Tim Curry, Juliet Stevenson
Director Gabor Csupo
Rating tba

A family fantasy, the Secret of Moonacre follows the adventures of 13-year-old Maria Merryweather played by Dakota Blue Richards.

Left penniless and orphaned by her father's death, Maria is forced to leave her luxurious London city life, along with her faithful governess Ms Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson) to live with her evil and disgruntled uncle Sir Benjamin Merryweather (Ioan Gruffudd), in the mysterious Moonacre Manor Valley.

In the stately but crumbling mansion, Maria is not entirely a welcome guest of her uncle, who warns her never to venture out in the neighbouring woods.

With just Ms Heliotrope for company and a magical book left by her father, Maria learns from its contents about the heated ancient rivalry between the Merryweather and De Noir (led by Tim Curry) families, over a set of magical pearls.

Torn apart by the hatred of the warring families and intrigued by mysterious happenings behind every door, Maria also learns about an ancient curse pronounced by a beautiful and powerful Moon Princess (Natascha McElhone) which has existed for centuries.

In order to undo the curse and save Moonacre Valley from disaster, Maria, who finds out that she is the last Moon Princess, must locate the magical moon pearls before the next 5,000th full moon rises.

Adapted from the 1946 children's novel The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, the Secret of Moonacre lacks originality and fails to generate much excitement, with a lot of similarities borrowed from earlier films such as The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Directed by Gabor Csupo, the man who also directed the Bridge to Terabithia, Secret of Moonacre only scores for its captivating design, costumes and its scenic Hungarian locations. The film also features plenty of action and scary chases, with a dash of comedy provided by the hilarious Ms Heliotrope.

As for the star cast, Tim Curry and Juliet Stevenson play their characters of villain and governess to perfection. Ioan Gruffudd and Natascha McElhone, as Loveday the moon princess, try to add a romantic angle to the film. Richards, on the other hand, still needs to brush up on her acting skills to play the lead.

With a run time of 103 minutes and its limited use of CGI effects, the mediocre script fails to replicate the magic created by the original novel, despite ample opportunities to do so.