Despite the promise of a few review-free weeks, such is my addiction that we managed to sneak in a quick movie between holidays. Daughter had announced that her art project required her to see a film with elaborate costumes, so we plumped for Inkheart.

There has been a mixed reception to this latest offering from British Director Iain Softley, who has directed films such as Backbeat, Hackers (Angelina Jolie’s first starring role), Wings of a Dove, Kapax and Skeleton Key. Adapted from Cornelia Funke’s German novel of the same name, the story centres around Mo (Brendan Fraser), who as a Silvertongue, has the power to bring characters in books to life when he reads aloud.

Mo is travelling around the world with his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) in his quest for a rare book, the  Inkheart of the title, when he is suddenly confronted by Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) a character he has landed in the present, and who is seeking to return to the book. Dustfinger warns him that Capricorn (a wonderfully evil Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis) is on his trail. He is determined to be permanently transported into the present and the only way he can do this is to have Mo read Inkheart.

Off they flee to the sanctuary of Aunt Eleanor (played by Helen Mirren looking positively old, wrinkled and mad – not sure the character actor is career enhancing for such a grande dame of the theatre. More characters out of the pages of Inkheart appear and kidnap Mo to take him to their evil master Capricorn. Meggie, Auntie Eleanor, Dustfinger, Inkheart author Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent) and Farid (Rafi Gavron), conjured up from the Arabian Nights, all come to Mo’s rescue and join in the quest to liberate Meggie’s mother Rese (Sienna Guillory) who has got caught between the real and fictional worlds.

So what to make of all of this? Cards on the table, I have never read a Harry Potter book and only seen the first film, which I enjoyed, so I am not a fantasy fan, and I loathe science fiction. This is much more ambitious is many ways as the concept of characters popping in and out of book pages is potentially confusing (if one comes to life, then one has to go back to the book as in Meggie’s mother case), so I wondered as I watched if kids – the target audience – would get it. Easily on the evidence of the howls of laughter and squeals of delight filling the theatre; daughter’s withering comment that perhaps I am too old and too literal in my thought processes says it all. On the other hand, the slapstick humour, the weird and wonderful mythical beasts – unicorns, Peter Pan’s crocodile, a Minotaur and monkeys with wings – would delight any young child, as would the ugliness of the thugs.

My other thought is that perhaps the film villainises books and could scare children off reading. Again, daughter did not agree – she felt the opposite is true. But when a host of evil characters come to life through readingand wreak a trail of havoc and destruction, surely this can only serve as a negative image. Conversely, redemption and a happy ending as in all good fairy tales is also achieved through reading.

On the visual front, Iain Softley’s film is a treat. Glorious Italian vistas with pretty hillside villages and winding roads; a fantastical medieval castle and some great special effects and computer generated imaging; and one or two great snapshots such as Helen  Mirren charging to the rescue on the unicorn. There is also a great cameo performance from Jim Broadbent as Inkheart’s creator who is thrilled to discover his characters are ‘just like I imagined’. Often children are too cutesy but Eliza Bennett was excellent as Meggie; and although I read that Cornelia Funke had insisted on Brendan Fraser for Mo, I couldn’t help being reminded of him as George of the Jungle.

So dear readers, two holiday films for the family in a row. Of the two, Inkheart is a better bet – less silly than Madagascar 2 and has a wider appeal. Did I tell you daughter is 19? She loved it. When the film ended the kids all broke out into spontaneous applause – something I haven’t seen in age – so QED. And even I, despite my customary Christmas cantankerousness, sat back and enjoyed the journey.

Happy New Year!

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