A young boy has to save fairy tale characters from oblivion in the charmingly drawn toon.

A young boy has to save the world’s fairy tale characters from oblivion in the charmingly drawn but otherwise scrappy toon “Eleanor’s Secret.” While the script is geared to the lollipop crowd, nicely animated sequences, particularly an impressive nightmare segment in black-and-white, will appeal to all ages; even better, parents will appreciate the pro-literacy message at the pic’s heart. Despite a derivative adventure scenario stuck in the middle that generates little excitement, helmer Dominique Monfery’s film should be warmly received in France on mid-December release; versions in other languages are likely to score big in ancillary.

Eccentric Aunt Eleanor dies, leaving her ramshackle house to her family. She has willed two items to her favorite niece and nephew: Bratty Angelica gets a porcelain doll, while younger Nat is given the key to a secret room in the house. In the room, Nat discovers an enormous library but — and here’s the rub — he can’t yet read, even though he’s old enough to know how. Angelica teases him mercilessly, and he considers auntie’s gift a severe letdown.

With Nat’s consent, Mom and Dad decide to sell the library to unscrupulous antiquarian Mr. Pickall so they can afford the house repairs. But when Nat’s alone in the room, all the characters from the books come out of their volumes and start talking. Aunt Eleanor’s library consists of first editions of the world’s fairy tales, and unless Nat can read a magic spell, the characters and the books themselves will disappear, leaving the world without stories.

Angered by both Nat and her fellow characters, the Wicked Fairy shrinks Nat to their size, by which point the library has been carted off to Mr. Pickall’s shop. With the help of Alice in Wonderland and the White Rabbit, Nat has to get back to the house and read the magic spell before the witching hour, when all the stories will disappear.

Dialogue contains little out of the ordinary beyond the clever central idea. A standard-issue adventure seg, in which Nat and his friends race back to the house, is underwhelming and lacking in originality.

Still, the look of the film is imaginative, especially for Nat’s nightmare in which he’s bombarded by cascading, anarchic letters and folded into the pages of books as he struggles to get free. Orchestral score, complete with choir, is suitably uplifting.

Italian version was reviewed at the Rome fest.

Eleanor's Secret

Animated - France-Italy

Production

An Haut & Court (in France) release of a Gaumont-Alphanim, La Fabrique (France)/Lanterna Magica (Italy) production, with participation of Canal Plus, TF1, TPS Star. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Clement Calvet. Executive producers, Calvet, Christian Davin, Maria Fares, Roberto Baratta, Xavier Julliot. Directed by Dominique Monfery, based on a development directed by Henri Heidsick. Screenplay, Anik Le Ray, Alexandre Reverend. Artistic direction, Allan Wenger. Artistic direction, Patrizia Sorini.

Crew

(Color/B&W); editor, Cedric Chauveau; music, Christophe Heral; art directors, Rebecca Dautremer, Richard Despres, Marco Martis; sound (Dolby SRD), Mauro Lopez, Adrien Martre, Fabien Crousillac; storyboards, Monfery, Remi Chaye. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (Alice in the City), Oct. 22, 2009. Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Voices: Eliott Berger, Cressida Bandey, Mirabelle Kirkland, Paul Bandey, Jodi Forrest, David Gasman, Sharon Mann, Hester Wilcox, Doug Rand, Matthew Geczy, Christine Flowers. French Version Artistic direction, Lionel Bourguet. Voices: Jeanne Moreau, Pierre Richard, Lorant Deutsch, Liliane Rovere, Julie Gayet, Jason Beck, Denis Podalydes, Arthur Dubois, Stephane Flamant, Nathalie Hugo, Gauthier de Fauconval, Mathieu Moreau, Prunelle Rulens. Voices: Federico Bebi, Emanuela Ionica, Gaetano Varcasia, Rachele Paolelli, Sonia Scotti, Mino Caprio, Lorenza Biella, Germana Dominici, Francesco de Francesco, Clara Ruberti, Joy Saltarelli, George Castiglia, Dante Biagioni.
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