The Secret Kingdom is an amalgamation of various classic fantasy stories that the whole family can watch together.
In particular, fans of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The NeverEnding Story, and even The Goonies, will all quickly be able to be see just how much these books and films inspired The Secret Kingdom’s writer and director, Matt Drummond.
Set in 1960s Australia, the film revolves around anxious 12-year-old Peter (Sam Everingham) and his fearless nine-year-old sister Verity (Alyla Browne). The pair have been forced by their parents to move to a creepy new house and, while Verity embraces her new surroundings with glee, Peter can’t help but be overwhelmed by them.
Peter has every right to be nervous. Their first night’s sleep in their new abode is rudely interrupted by the walls shaking and the floor collapsing. This takes Peter and Verity to an underground world deep beneath their home that’s populated by a horde of pangolins.
It turns out that this is exactly where Peter is supposed to be, though, because the leading pangolin declares that he is the king that they’ve all been waiting for.
More than that, Peter is told that he will save them from the evil Shroud (Gabrielle Chan), who has long been threatening to destroy their world.
Unfortunately, Peter isn’t brave enough to take on this challenge himself. But Verity more than makes up for his lack of courage, and the pair embark on an epic adventure to try to solve the puzzles and collect the magical treasures that are required to defeat the Shroud.
There are big parts of The Secret Kingdom that don’t work.
Drummond’s script is sub-par, especially when it comes to the film’s dialogue and its pacing. While Drummond wastes no time in getting Peter and Verity to the hidden world, the film quickly runs out of steam. After its fast-paced opening, The Secret Kingdom sags for an extended period in the middle as the pair meet various creatures and try to complete the riddles.
These moments of tedium are especially hard to watch because The Secret Kingdom is so heavily inspired by the aforementioned beloved fantasy adventures. Making the story and characters more unique and original would instantly have made the film itself more compelling. Instead it repeatedly returns to and relies on tropes and visuals from the genre that we’ve seen a myriad times before. All of which is accompanied by an annoying score that will instantly make you grimace when it comes to the fore.
It also doesn’t help that none of The Secret Kingdom’s attempts at humour land and that its villain is non-existent. While there are moments of peril for the kids, you never get the feeling that they’re actually in serious danger. At the same time, the leading performances are so wooden that, even if Drummond did manage to create some jeopardy, there’s a good chance that the actors would have been unable to convey it.
Those of you that persist with The Secret Kingdom, though, will soon start to be won over by its earnest storytelling and surprising twists. The longer the story goes on, the more resonant its simplistic themes of family and kindness become.
Having previously overseen Dinosaur Island and My Pet Dinosaur, both of which were family adventures that relied heavily on special effects, Drummond expertly stretches the budget to make the Australian production look like a Hollywood blockbuster. His direction ensures that The Secret Kingdom is always gorgeous to look at, while he builds the world in such a detailed and captivating fashion that you’re increasingly pulled into the story.
Ultimately, children will get much more entertainment out of The Secret Kingdom than adults. But when its credits start to roll, older viewers will just be grateful that it managed to emerge from its monotonous middle act to actually end in a relatively enjoyable, albeit instantly forgettable, manner.
The Secret Kingdom is out in cinemas now