The Australian fantasy-adventure film “The Secret Kingdom” tells the story of two siblings’ Verity (Alyla Browne) and Peter (Sam Everingham) as their courage is tested when they find themselves drawn into a magical realm beneath their new country house.
The magical journey takes them to a land of enchantment where they are met by a civilization of creatures. The two take on a task to help unite five mystical treasures and save the Kingdom from the tyranny of the evil Shroud.
Written and directed by Matt Drummond, the film feels like a nostalgic trip down memory lane paying tribute to classic kid adventure-fantasy films of the late 1980s like “The Neverending Story” and “The Goonies“.
One of the film’s strengths lies in its earnest attempt to recapture the nostalgic charm of similar films that came before it. It taps into the theme of blurring boundaries between fantasy and reality for children, reflecting the trials and tribulations of growing up.
Right from the start and through to the end, the story it tells resonates with all viewers but particularly the young. And it does so by exploring lessons of bravery, patience, kindness, and grief, imparting valuable messages within the fantastical narrative.
Despite its genuine intentions, “The Secret Kingdom” falls short in several areas. The visual style and effects, reminiscent of mid-2000s studio fantasy, fail to achieve the desired level of polish. The world-building, characters and animation are of basic but decent standards.
Regardless of the visual accomplishments, it is also quite apparent that the production was done on a lean budget and determined to succeed. It simply lacks the visual finesse that big-budget studio films typically have. The digital environments struggle to seamlessly interact with the human actors, creating a noticeable discrepancy. While children may be more forgiving of these visual shortcomings, some viewers might find themselves yearning for a more immersive experience.
The story itself follows a fairly predictable trajectory, paying homage to the classics it draws inspiration from. While tribute riffs can be enjoyable, “The Secret Kingdom” occasionally feels too derivative, lacking the originality and depth necessary to fully engage the audience. For some of its viewers, it might feel like something they have seen too many times already.
The film has a sluggish pacing that makes you feel like it is much longer than it is supposed to be. The narrative drags on with no urgency for a climax making you almost question Peter‘s motivation and desire to save the situation.
Nevertheless, the film manages to evoke a sense of wonder and adventure, particularly for younger viewers who are its main target audience. The overarching metaphor of navigating the challenges of life using a fantastical realm and as a metaphor resonates with its target audience. Lessons about loss, resilience, and the power of imagination are woven into the story, offering opportunities for both children and adults to reflect on deeper themes.
“The Secret Kingdom” ultimately walks a tightrope between its homage to the past and its creative aspirations. While constrained by its budget, the film’s heart and genuine effort shine through, inviting viewers to embark on a whimsical journey led by its interesting characters.
I would rate this film 7/10.
The film’s visual presentation may leave nothing to be desired especially for the critical eye. But its heartfelt message, endearing characters, and exploration of themes relevant to young audiences offer moments of enjoyment and reflection. “The Secret Kingdom” feels like a start of a franchise that might not take off. Nonetheless, it does enough to capture the attention of viewers both young and old.
Do check it out as it would be available in theatres, digitally and on-demand starting 9th June 2023.