The Secret KingdomPG
For many studios, the first thought when it comes to films aimed specifically at families is to make an animated feature; let’s face it, the likes of Pixar have built an empire on it.
Live action films then, especially with a leaning towards the fantastical, seem to be on the decline, and even when they’re entertaining, such as the recent The Portable Door, they get neither the recognition, or more importantly, the audience they deserve.
And although this film from Australian director Matt Drummond is a little rough around the edges, it still manages to impress.
Moving into a new home is the Drawmer family. It’s not quite the exciting new prospect it should have been, as it’s under somewhat inauspicious circumstances, with the bank taking away their last home.
Still, it doesn’t stop nine-year-old Verity (Alyla Browne) from being terribly excited by this move. The same can’t be said for her 12-year-old brother Peter (Sam Everingham), who suffers from anxiety, and who would clearly be spooked by his own shadow.
The two of them set off to a local shop, selling all kinds of things, where after seeing what he believed to be a creature, Peter drops an item and breaks it, with the owner forcing him to pay for it and take it home.
That night, the pair suddenly find themselves in peril, when they fall through their bedroom floor, tumbling into a new world, known as the below.
It’s there that they are greeted by a race of talking pangolins, where they are informed by their leader that Peter is actually their king.
Despite Peter heavily disputing this fact, he is told that they believe that he has been sent to fulfil the prophecy, in defeating the evil Shroud and setting their community free.
Still not convinced, Peter and Verity soon find themselves on a magical adventure through their land – a quest to find pieces of a puzzle that will save them all.
Drummond’s film, which he also wrote, is a clear nod to family friendly stories such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with a classic structure regarding good and evil in a fantasy world.
It has a pleasingly traditional feel to it, as adventures go, as our protagonists are led through a most curious land. It’s let down by a few issues however, with the main culprit his script.
Although he does well in fleshing out characters, the dialogue isn’t as entertaining as it could be. It lacks that little bit of sparkle and personality. Much of this is down to his questionable use of voice artists for his characters, which unfortunately includes himself in the mix. This is probably just down to his own lack of experience, with this only his third feature, but the film as a whole does suffer from it. In places it does sound as if some of the dialogue was used from whoever was around to help with the animation, and it just stayed there.
There are some curious casting decisions too, with a family with a French mother, an Australian father, and two English children – albeit played by Australians, with one handling the English accent well, and the other, not so much.
But where he shows promise however, is on the technical front, which is hardly surprising considering his background in visual effects. Some of the creature designs are truly impressive, as well as the world he has created. Some of it may be a little on the dark side tonally, especially for younger children, but the creature creations and the art direction overall are really quite something.
And although its finale may contain a story plot that may feel a little shoe-horned in, it may take you by surprise, as it did us, as the film reveals itself to be a film about grief all along, with an ending that’s genuinely touching.
Drummond shows real skill in bringing his story to life, technically at least, by creating a fascinating world and original characters. The secret to a good film however, is reaching that balance, which is where he lets himself down here on the performances and dialogue side.
The Secret Kingdom doesn’t get it all right, but it creates enough of a spectacle to make it a real treat for all the family.