In a little departure from the norm, today I’m not reviewing a book, but rather a film, Eleanor’s Secret, directed by Dominique Monfery.
The reason why I’ve wanted to share Eleanor’s Secret with you is because it is a celebration of the joy of reading and a tribute to the power and magic of stories.
Seven year old Nat cannot yet read and is terribly disappointed when he discovers he has inherited his Aunt’s library. Although he adored having stories read to him by his Aunt, when Nat himself opens a book he almost drowns in a jumble of letters. Understandably Nat wants nothing to do with what makes him feel so uncomfortable.
Only after his parents sell the collection to a dealer who has realised the library is packed with first editions does Nat learn that he has an important responsibility. He must save all the characters in the stories read to him by Aunt Eleanor from disappearing forever by reading aloud a magic inscription. If the spell is not read by midday, all his storybook favourites will be lost for eternity, and children the world over will only ever be read true tales.
Alice in Wonderland, the Match Girl, Peter Pan, Rapunzel, Mowgli and many other colourful characters climb out of their books and beg Nat to help them before it is too late. Only the wicked fairy, Carabosse from Sleeping Beauty, throws a spanner in the works. She refuses to believe that Nat is the true inheritor of the library – after all he cannot read. In a puff of magic she shrinks him and in doing so makes his race against time to return the books to the library, and to learn to read, even more difficult.
I was instantly entranced by the story in this film – swept up in its passion for developing a love of reading, for wearing its heart on its sleeve. “Mankind can never live without dreams” says Aunt Eleanor, whilst the inscription Nat must read before the clock strikes 12 is “Just because it’s a story doesn’t mean it’s not real“.
The look of the film is utterly gorgeous. The colours and textures at times reminded me of Shaun Tan’s illustrations whilst the library and magical characters made me happily remember How to Live Forever by Colin Thompson. It was only after I’d seen the film did I discover that its art work is based on drawings by French illustrator Rebecca Dautremer whose The Secret Lives of Princesses has been well received in the English speaking world.
As well as being a pleasure to look at, the characterization is great. I think the animation of what Nat feels when he’s presented with a text he can’t read is acutely, brilliantly imaginatively observed. The tricky, teasing but ultimately supportive and loving relationship between Nat and his older sister is also very believable.
The wistful, haunting soundtrack only enhances the magical, fairytale quality of the film. And like the script and illustrations, the music is full of space and time to imagine for yourself; a world away from a modern Disney interpretation of a fairy story.
Some reviews of this film have been somewhat less enthusiastic than mine. I can only imagine that those reviewers are ones who have grown up on a diet of all-singing, all-dancing animated films, where every line is an in-joke and every image is worked to make the most of the latest technology. Whilst I too have enjoyed Shrek, How to Train your Dragon and Wall-E, Eleanor’s Secret is something far more subtle and delicate. It is not packed with a second layer of knowing nods to the adults, and this is perhaps the reason several (adult) reviewers haven’t seen that the film’s brilliance is partly due to it being un-adult-erated.
If I had to find something which was a tiny bit less than perfect about this film I’d have to comment on the English language dubbing (this film was originally released in French, under the title Kerity La Maison des Contes). Some characters have US accents, others Irish accents, and one a sort of non-native English accent. Although this was slightly unsettling for me, when I ask my kids and husband about it they hadn’t even noticed!
If you want an enjoyable film with a great story line, with echoes of Seven for a Secret, that’s utterly beautiful to watch, that’s thought-provoking yet gentle I can’t recommend this film enough. If you love books, you love supporting children learning to read, this is a must-see. Anik le Ray, co-screenplay writer for Eleanor’s Secret said the film’s core concept is simple: “Reading is an invitation to dream”. Oh so true, but this wonderful film will also foster magical dreams!
Here’s an English language trailer:
Here’s a French language trailer – with a selection of scenes different to many of those shown in the English language trailer.
Animation Inside has an interesting article with lots more of the film’s background.
If you liked the sound of Eleanor’s Secret, do take a peek at the selection of animations from the 1930s and 1940s I’ve gathered together which all feature storybook characters coming to life.
If you want extra chances to win a copy of Eleanor’s Secret set you can:
For any of the extra entries to count you must leave a separate comment here on this post saying what extra chance you’ve gone for (eg tweeted about the giveaway etc).