- "Another story, Dad? But I want to play Guitar Hero ..."
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Yes, I stole that headline from Jasper Fforde's hilarious fantasy novel about literary detective Thursday Next, who lives in a parallel universe in which readers can walk into books, characters can walk out of them, and most fantastically books are popular like American Idol and football are popular.
Thankfully, Inkheart doesn't stretch phantasmagoria to that absurd level: It's content with its wonderful creation of "silvertongues," rare people who can read aloud from a book and make it come to life. Not like Daddy did, mind you, when he agreed to do all the voices of Where the Wild Things Are when you were six, but really.
Toto from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can appear in your bedroom, but the tornado can take out your house, too. It's a dangerous gift, and Mo Folchart, collector and repairer of antiquarian books, accidentally discovered he possessed this power when something Really Bad happened as he was reading the medieval fantasy Inkheart to his wife, Resa, and their toddler, Meggie.
But that was nine years ago, and now Mo and Meggie mysteriously sans Resa travel around Europe haunting old bookstores, looking for ... well, we don't know, at first. And neither does Meggie, because Dad (Brendan Fraser) won't tell her what's going on. It's all for her protection, he says, because that Bad Thing is ongoing. It seems the villains of the book (led by the wonderfully wicked Andy Serkis) have escaped from their pages and are wreaking havoc, and now it's time for Mo and Meggie to stop them ... if they can.
It's a charming and cheerfully creepy fantasy, one that harkens to pleasantly sinister children's flicks of a generation ago, such as Labyrinth and The Neverending Story. It's not for diehard Lord of the Rings fans who want to see bloody orc heads flying across battlefields, but rather for those youngsters who've devoured Harry Potter and need something new. (Indeed, it's based on a 2003 young adult novel first published in Germany, by author Cornelia Funke.) A story about the power of words, about books as overwhelming, about the idea that getting lost in a good book could be more than just a metaphor? I love it.
There are shivery moments early on that hint at the menace to come, as Mo and Meggie both hear books whispering their secrets to them as they wander in libraries and bookstores. Books as the harbingers and carriers of dangerous notions that's more than a little subversive, and it hovers under the surface of Inkheart throughout.
I don't want to oversell the movie: It is unquestionably for children. But unlike many children's movies, it does not assume kids are stupid or will respond only to toilet humor or slapstick. Director Iain Softley does not sugarcoat the darker aspects of the story, which tread on such tender topics as parental abandonment and familial love turned into a weapon. This is that rare family movie that is, in appropriate measures, dark but hopeful, grim but gentle, scary but comforting, and perfect for curling up with.
Oh, and the name of the lovely young actress who plays Meggie? Eliza Bennett. Maybe Meggie and Mo will jump into Pride & Prejudice in the sequel.