Saturday, June 1, 2013

Saving a House of Secrets

I don't think I've ever watched any of the the animated films at the annual European Film Festival here, so when I read the description for "Eleanor's Secret" and saw that it went on at a convenient time, I was happy to go see it. I've often heard that non-American animated films can be very unusual experiences, and those can be hard to come by. (Before anyone mentions it, I've been exposed to quite a lot of anime, but with some exceptions, I don't care for the genre....I know....I know....)

"Eleanor's Secret" or "Kérity, la maison des contes" (Love the English name, but the French one sounds so lovely) begins as a little boy named Nathaniel and his sister Angelica arrive with their parents at the seaside home of their Aunt Eleanor who has died. Nathaniel has fond memories of his aunt and all the stories she would read to him. The little cottage is clearly a much loved place with a friendly neighbour to visit, a quiet beach for flying kites and Eleanor's secret room upstairs, but Nathaniel has his own troubles. As his rather obnoxious sister keeps pointing out, he can't read - not out loud anyway. When confronted with the words, he is filled with a crippling anxiety. In addition, his family is in danger of losing the house which needs very expensive repairs which they cannot afford. Lastly Nathaniel finds himself entrusted to keep his Aunt Eleanor's secret well hidden, and this becomes one of his greatest challenges of all. What follows is a very exciting, magical adventure.

The animation looks lovely with a soft vintage feel to it. The characters have sweet often friendly faces. If you're used to the bolder vibrant look of American animation, you might be lulled into thinking that this will be a slower kind of story. What actually happens however is suspenseful and emotional as Nathaniel struggles against physical and emotional obstacles as he goes on a quest he must finish before it is too late. It doesn't have the darkness and heart tugging pain of "The Last Unicorn" or "Watership Down", but it definitely has feeling to it. It's a film a child could enjoy and relate to, and it was an interesting change from the typical animation which are easily accessible.

If you've seen the movie or don't mind being spoiled for key plot points, read on:
"SPOILERY"                  THOUGHTS!!!!!!

I think the only plot point of the movie that bothered me a bit was that a movie about a love of books should have utilized the attributes of the well known characters more. If you've read "Alice in Wonderland", you know Alice had experience with getting bigger and smaller from drinking and eating magical things during her travels. I really expected her to retrieve one of her bottles and help Nathaniel grow when they needed it.  How about this: on such a dangerous trip, it might have been useful to bring along someone who could fly not so? Someone like maybe.....Peter Pan who we often saw floating about among the anxious book characters. I guess since there were endless characters, you could end up with endless solutions to Nathaniel's problems, but I don't think the story would have been hurt at all by adding some of those elements.

One of the most captivating parts of the film for me was centred on the secret itself. How amazing that Eleanor was entrusted with this amazing library. Did anyone else think that her own story would have made a fascinating movie as well? You can clearly see why she is loved so much in the flashbacks of the film. She was obviously very intelligent and resourceful - a guardian of such precious treasure would have to be both, and she proves it in the gifts she gives to the two children and how they are revealed to them. It makes sense that Nathaniel would have to start developing some of the requisite skills for the job. Just as he had to learn to be a hero, Eleanor was one as well, ensuring that readers and future readers will always have their worlds to escape to and guarding the truth all readers know deep down: 

"Just because they are stories, does not mean they are not real."

(The final movie I will discuss from the film festival is the widely different "2 Days in Paris, so don't forget to come back and join the discussion)