The fantasy genre is certainly one of the most difficult to translate from the page to the screen. Why? Because unlike a normal action film, or a modern drama, the filmmakers need to create an entirely new world, design it, test it, and see if it works on screen. All of these steps also cost a lot of time and money, and this last parameter has killed tons of fantasy adaptations in the past and will continue to do it in the future. The Secret Kingdom is a new fantasy film that wants to transport kids and parents to a new realm filled with magic and adventure, and it does it at least partially.
The Secret Kingdom is a film written and directed by Matt Drummond. The film stars Sam Everingham and Alyla Browne and tells the story of a young kid named Peter, and his younger sister Verity as they go on a trip to an ancient family mansion. While exploring the mansion, the two kids will discover an ancient magical kingdom underneath it and a prophecy that foretold Peter, the new leader of the magical kingdom and the only one who can save it. Can these two kids, who know nothing about this realm, be its saviors?
The Secret Kingdom is a fantasy film trying to be a new kid’s classic. The tale of Peter and Verity draws heavily from one of the most important pieces of children’s literature, The Narnia Chronicles. The first half hour of The Secret Kingdom is equally compelling as C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece, but in fact, it is not long after that time frame when the movie begins to feel a bit too familiar and thus becomes boring because, for a movie that is trying to be an adventure, it feels anything but an adventure and more like the retreat of old material.
It is hard to create something on our own, a new story that can excite and entertain as much as the classics of old, but sadly, at least on this front, Drummond could not come up with such a story. The result is that the movie is a better visual experience than an actual narrative.
This is not the first time Drummond has made a movie with visual effects at the forefront, and you can see that he and his team are capable of solid work. This is not to say that the visual effects here are some of the best you will ever see, but they are solid enough to make you believe in the magical creatures, buildings, and artifacts that are presented on screen.
Even when the CGI is quite solid in some moments, it lacks consistency, and there are times when the movie definitely looks cheap. It is clear from the get-go that this movie was made with a low budget. There are just not enough resources for the movie to actually look like the Narnia movies did when they were released. This is much humbler; it is doing what they can with what they have. Sadly, the biggest hindrance to the visual look of the film are the kids themselves. Whenever the movie has to place the kids with CGI imagery, the composition doesn’t hold to scrutiny. Everything is fake around the young actors.
The feeling that the actors are just acting in front of a green screen persists throughout the movie. The lighting is just too different. The actors are lit one way and the CGI in another, which is a big tell that they are not in the same realm of existence. It might not take a kid out of the movie, but parents or older kids will definitely catch it. Especially when nowadays there are just so many movies and shows that achieve this composition between elements in an almost flawless way.
But hey! This happens even to Marvel films, and those guys have basically endless budgets to work with but not enough time.
So, yeah, visually, the movie can feel quite competent, but then the camera movement, the editing, and the acting end up making the experience feel like a film coming from an amateur team.
The movie just doesn’t flow very well, and everything feels static. The two main kid actors are also doing their best, but that best is not very good. On top of that, the writing is lackluster, and the kids don’t have enough acting ability to elevate material that is so weak from its inception. It might sound like I am being too harsh with the movie, which might be the case.
However, it is only because I can see the potential in Drummond and his team of filmmakers. Maybe, this story was just too ambitious for the resources they had to work with, and from that moment on, the movie was already doomed to fail. If they had chosen to go into a more grounded setting and make the magic contrast a bit more with the real world, these visual hiccups wouldn’t exist. And maybe, the story would feel a bit more original. Many maybes exist, but I truly feel that the team can achieve them with better planning and execution.
Ultimately, The Secret Kingdom ends up being as generic as its title. You can definitely see some potential here, especially regarding the visual effects team. However, the shoddy filmmaking and a story that feels too predictable and boring bring the film down in terms of the entertainment factor. Maybe little kids will find some fun in this, but as an overall film, it needed more time and money to actually realize its vision.