AKA: Kérity, la maison des contes, Kerity, The Storytelling House
Year Released: 2009
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: G
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Pagemaster, Rise of the Guardians, Alice in Wonderland (1951), George Shrinks, Little Nemo, Happily Ever After (HBO animated series) , The Tale of Desperaux
-The English dub was used for the review.
-This is the first original screenplay by French director Dominique Monfrey.
-Speaking of Monfrey, did you know he’s an ex-Disney animator from 1990 to 2006? He was one of the main animators of Frollo from Hunchback of Notre Dame and Sabor from Tarzan. He also was an animation supervisor for A Goofy Movie and The Emperor’s New Groove. Interestingly enough, I’m sure half of the fairy tale characters that show up were animated at some point by Disney…
-Eleanor’s Secret was animated by Gaumont which is the oldest film company in the world and it was founded in 1895. Keep in mind, this company predates the first American movie studios (that’s Universal and Paramount for those scoring at home) by 17 years.
Leave it to starting a film review blog where I would eventually watch Western animated movies that I probably wouldn’t have seen or heard of at any other times. To be honest, I had to get out of my comfort zone since most animated things that I like were made in Japan being a recovering anime fan and all. I couldn’t be close minded in that way. At the same time, I wanted to find Western animated films that weren’t affiliated with big studios.
Alright, GKIDS. What do you have in store for me this time as I search your distributed filmography?
Eleanor’s Secret is a French/Italian animated film that deals with a family of four visiting this large seaside house. It was formally owned by this bibliophile named Eleanor who died prior to the events in the film at age ninety-nine and they get there on what would’ve been her hundredth birthday. Despite her name being in the title, Eleanor isn’t the main character. That would be Nathaniel AKA Nat. He’s a boy who’s head is in the clouds, but the problem is that he has trouble reading. His inherited gift from his late great aunt is a key to a secret room upstairs which contains several first edition books. This intimidates him despite enjoying being read to. Nat later finds out that these first edition books contain all these various fairy tale characters and ones from other older children’s books (hooray for public domain character cameos!). They tell him that he’s supposed to be his great aunt’s successor to be “the Great Reader”. Except there are a few problems. First-of-all, to accept this role, he has to read a magic spell which he has trouble doing. Second-of-all, the house gets severely damaged after a thunderstorm and the family has to sell whatever to do maintenance. Thirdly, Nat eventually gets shrunk by the Wicked Fairy (or Carabosse in the French version [also the fairy’s actual name in her respective book]) from Sleeping Beauty. He’s told to protect the stories by reading the spell unless all the characters and all of their stories fade into oblivion.
Much like the other GKIDS movies I’ve seen so far that didn’t involve Studio Ghibli, the animation is quite impressive. It is so quirky despite the basic character designs. There are so many usages of coloration and textures involved. If I were to compare it to another movie, I’d say that the style reminds me of a G-rated European version of Tekkonkinkreet. Eleanor’s Secret also has visuals that look straight out of a well-illustrated children’s book. The scenery is quite lush and it would make Makoto Shinkai envious. The nightmare scene of Nat being drowned in letters and pages is something to behold in it’s pure innovative animation.
Nat himself is an alright protagonist, but nothing too special. He’s very imaginative and eventually becomes brave after he’s shrunk which is good. I’ve seen better lead heroes in animated movies, but they could certainly do much worse. It was also very interesting how he’s able to imagine various stories and also able to create elaborate sandcastles that people much older than him would have trouble making. I did have some issue with his reading weakness. After finding out that the character is supposed to be seven years old, I found it to be a bit unbelievable for him to struggle with literacy unless he was either dyslexic or had some kind of learning disability which was never mentioned or even implied. If he were two or three years younger, I would have found that flaw to be more believable. Also, why didn’t the parents teach reading to Nat more often? Did they just let Eleanor do all of that for them? As you might be able to surmise, yes, he does eventually read, but he’s able to be extremely proficient in way too fast of a time. I get that this isn’t supposed to be a realistic movie given all the living fairy tale characters around, but they could have improved that aspect of Nat.
The other characters were hit or miss with me. Eleanor is only seen through flashbacks and other than the fact that she likes books and read to the kids, I don’t know what else there is about the character. Mr. Pickall (sounds sort of like “pickle”) is a typical estate salesman who’s supposed to be the lead bad guy, but I never had the feeling he was that evil. Sure, he can be a jerk and cares about money, but he’s just doing his job. He also didn’t know that the books he tried to sell were magical or had sentient characters that could enter and exit their respective books. There’s also Angelica who’s the cynical older sister of Nat. She comes off as a typical insufferable genius who hates fairy tales, but she eventually comes around to help out even though her character development was predictable. I think the only other character who gets legit character development would be the Ogre. He follows Nat, Alice, and the White Rabbit to go retrieve the books, but he’s distracted since he wants to eat Nat. Alice convinces him not to do that by saying “That kind of love [to eat humans] only lasts once.” He stops and gets rescued by the much smaller Nat which allows him to be a devoted bodyguard to protect him no matter what. Most of the other fairy tale characters that have some kind of a role were lacking in the personality department. They were all lighter and softer compared to other adaptations and especially their original source material.
I knew next to nothing about Eleanor’s Secret before watching it, but while I watched it, I knew a movie like this wasn’t made for someone like me. The gentle and light nature is much better for the younger crowds. If you’re a parent of young kids, then you’d be fine watching this with them. It’s fairly innocent. If you’re an adult fan of animation, you’ll definitely dig the production quality, but the story will make you feel too old to watch this. Although I do applaud them for making an innocent movie. With so many movies relying too much on double entendres and adult jokes only parents would get (save for one unintentionally inappropriate piece of dialog that I’ll mention in the Content Warning section) to get credibility from adults, this was a breath of fresh air. I do like the pro-literacy message which isn’t as preachy as one would expect despite Nat’s lack of confidence reading. Okay, I did think the “believe in yourself” aspect during the final act was incredibly cheesy and cliche, but the message as a whole is a decent one in this world where everybody’s glued to TVs or smartphone apps.
Eleanor’s Secret is an innocuous film that would be great for families, but it could’ve been so much better as an all-around film. The production is creative and gorgeous thanks to Gaumont’s animation department. The score is very pleasant and fits all the parts of the film. The characters are a mixed bag. While they aren’t awful per se, a good deal of them don’t have enough personality to make this movie shine. The concept of having fairy tales characters appear from the books with them being connected to every adaptation ever was an interesting take on these old stories, but I wish they could have played it up by showing more of the characters or giving them some kind of edge without sacrificing the film’s innocence. The pro-literacy bent was better than expected without being too cringe-worthy. There are certainly better kid-friendly movies out there, but there’s enough heart in Eleanor’s Secret to make it a decent watch.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1 point if you really care about animation quality
Add 2 points if you’re a parent of young children
Subtract 3 points if you want more depth to your animated movies
-Incredible visuals and animation quality
-Great musical score
-An honest presentation of an innocent story (without ulterior motives, no less!)
-The villains weren’t all that evil to begin with
-Flawed presentation of Nat’s reading issues
-The plot is more childish for older crowds
Final Score: 6/10 points
Content Warning: I’ve seen G-rated movies with more questionable things than Eleanor’s Secret. The peril is very tame with the crab scene that could frighten very small children. The Ogre has been open about his man-eating habits in his story and at one point, he makes obvious nonverbal cues to the Wicked Fairy to make Nat go back to his original size lest he eat her. Despite being a very innocuous film, one little piece of dialog made me cringe was a scene where Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf are hugging and the former says “We make a great couple.” WOW…JUST WOW! [facepalm]
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