“Reading is an invitation to dream”

posted in: Rebecca Dautremer | 52

**The giveaway is now closed**

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.

Eleanor's Secret - Aunt Eleanor's house

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.

Eleanor's Secret - Nat meeting the storybook characters

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.

I’m very pleased to be able to give away three DVDs of Eleanor’s Secret, thanks to Soda Pictures. To be in with a chance of winning, simply leave a comment on this post!

If you want extra chances to win a copy of Eleanor’s Secret set you can:

  • Tweet about this giveaway
  • Mention this giveaway on your blog
  • Link to this giveaway from your Facebook page

  • 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).

    This giveaway:

  • is open worldwide BUT PLEASE NOTE the DVDs I have to give away are Region 2 type, in English only so please be sure you’ll be able to play this DVD before entering the competition. For more information of DVD region types click here.
  • is open until 6am (UK time) 30th June 2011

  • The winners will be selected randomly with the help of random.org, and announced here on Playing by the book sometime during the day on 30th of June. Good Luck!

    **The giveaway is now closed**

    52 Responses

    1. Catherine

      We LOVED this trailer! Looks magical in a way most adults can no longer comprehend… Like Ponyo and Totoro. Can’t wait to see it!

    2. Tiffany W

      Thank you for the review. I had not heard of this film yet. It sounds like a movie my family will really enjoy.

    3. AA_Mom

      Awesome review. Made me want to show the movie to my kids right now!. I hope to win the DVD, if not will have to check how I can lay my hands on this, bcoz it will capture my kids imagination for sure! Thanks.

    4. Katherine

      Thanks for the recommendation, put it on my Lovefilm list (unfortunately no French version), my husband studied animation and we’re huge Ghibli and Shaun Tan fans in this house so it sounds right up our street.
      Katherine recently posted..Recent baking

    5. Tracy W

      This film looks excellent – sure it will be appeal to all esp. my 2 late readers (9 before they cracked it).

    6. sophie

      I would be happy to have a look at the english version of this film. hope it contains the french sound track….:-)

    7. Jayne

      I thank you for posting this (and for your contest). Always appreciate movies that uplift and make kids think. I shared on FB as well.

    8. smgrady

      ooh brilliant – so you found a film to suit your quest in the end? I’m dead keen on discovering this gem, so twitter-alert!

    9. marne

      oh my goodness, the beauty of this film slays me!!! what a thoughtful review! thanks for the giveaway!

    10. Franny

      Thank you! I enjoyed your article & the clips and you are right, it is a pleasure to watch, just beautiful.
      Other favs of mine are Coraline & Howls Moving Castle.
      I think I may have to buy this… but will wait till after the 30th! just in case.

    11. Katherine A

      This sounds fantastic. Bringing a love of books to film, our household of bookaholics would love to win a copy of this.

    12. Katherine A

      I shared the link on fb.
      Sorry the tweet above should only have 2 ‘f’ not 3 in it. (@mumoffunkids)

    13. Helena

      I’d love to win one of these! Sounds perfect for my little man and i.

    14. Sandy Brehl

      This is a great trailer and an exciting giveaway, Thanks for another great post! Fingers crossed.

    15. julie

      what a lovely looking film. i am tired of fighting robots, half clad superheroes and neck biting things! what a refreshing dvd to have 😉

    16. Matt

      Wow this looks ace! Good luck everybody tweeting about this now: )

    17. Karen Mwins

      We love the looks of this and we love giveaways! Fingers crossed that we’re the lucky pick!

    18. T Scheffler

      I’d love to win this movie – my daughter hasn’t seen any movies or even shows yet (she’s 3.5 and we don’t have a TV) but she loves to read!

    19. Tracy W

      Thanks for recommending this – we managed to pick a copy up from our local library today and all really enjoyed it – found it beautifully made, esp. enjoyed the imagery of Nat being unable to read, a really lovely film.

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