A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this family-friendly fantasy is based on author Cornelia Funke's best-selling young adult novel. As in the book, there's a dark tone to the story, and the threat of violence seems real (especially the death threats). The "inked" villains may disturb younger kids, although some of the fantastical elements are funny. Henchmen hold people hostage, threaten to kill people, and burn property, and characters are in serious danger through most of the film. There's mild flirting between two younger characters and a quick kiss and embrace between married couples.
What's the story?
Director Iain Softley's adaptation of Cornelia Funke's best-selling novel chronicles the adventures of 12-year-old bookworm Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) and her father, Mo (Brendan Fraser), a respected bookbinder. Mo is not only a rare-book specialist, he's a Silvertongue -- he has a secret magical ability to bring the written word to life when he reads aloud. Meggie doesn't know this, because her father hasn't read aloud since the day several characters from the fantasy book INKHEART leapt out of the book and his beloved wife Resa (Sienna Guillory) was sucked inside. After finally locating a copy of the out-of-print book, Mo, along with Meggie and her great aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren), are kidnapped by the villainous stranded character Capricorn (Andy Serkis), who burns the novel and exploits Mo's gift for his greedy needs. Meanwhile, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), another Inkheart character, is so desperate to return home that he helps Mo and company escape to search for the last person who might have the book -- Inkheart's author (Jim Broadbent).
Is it any good?
Condensing such a rich and vivid story into a 100-minute film is no easy task. Even with a remarkable cast (three Oscar winners!), cool special effects, Hollywood's go-to leading man for period family films (Fraser), and a built-in audience, an adaptation can fall flat. And this one, for all of its entertaining allusions and literary jokes, isn't awe-inspiring enough to please the series' many young fans. The film's more Lemony Snicket than Harry Potter. About halfway through, the story starts to feel bogged down -- and despite some effects-heavy action near the end, the promising premise just doesn't deliver. And the comic relief is limited to Farid (Rafi Gavron), a cute but horribly accented personification of one of the thieves from Arabian Nights, and a couple of the doltish bad guys.
Mature kids may appreciate the dark tone, and even younger children will pick up on at least a few of the many literary figures that appear in the story -- like Rapunzel or the flying monkeys from Oz. But it's easy to get lost with so many characters (some real, some fictional, some caught in between) clogging the screen. While the central figures are compelling (a father and daughter who can conjure up anything they read is pure genius) and the movie is certainly action packed, the mystery and magic are gone once the credits roll.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether scary characters and events based in fantasy are less frightening than those based in real life. Why or why not?
What does this story have in common with other movies based on popular young adult books? How is it different?
If you've read the original book, how does the movie compare? Is this a faithful adaptation?
Why do you think filmmakers sometimes change things from books? Families can also discuss secrets.
What's the difference between secrets and lies? Are lies used for good reasons OK?
- In theaters: January 23, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: June 23, 2009
- Cast: Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Helen Mirren
- Director: Iain Softley
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.