Novelist Cornelia Funke’s popular children’s story about the love of literature is not well served by this confusing fantasy adventure revolving around people called Silvertongues who, when they read aloud from a book, magically bring its characters to life. But then a person from the real world is sucked into the realm of fiction.
Twelve year-old Maggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) lives with her book-collecting father, Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser). In a flashback, it’s revealed that Maggie’s mother, Resa (Sienna Guillory), mysteriously vanished years earlier. Then on a visit to the Swiss Alps, where Mo, who is a Silvertongue, comes across a rare volume of a mystical medieval tale called “Inkheart,” what happened to Resa quickly becomes clear – but bringing her home presents daunting and dangerous challenges when they land at the mansion of Maggie’s eccentric Great-Aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren), who has her own impressive library.
There’s Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), the mysterious fire juggler, and malevolent Capricorn (Andy Serkis) with his knife-flashing sidekick, Basta (Jamie Foreman), who capture Maggie and demand that Mo bring other evil fictional characters to life. As the convoluted plot unfolds in a tiny Italian village, its creator, Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent), oddly enough, seems totally unaware of what is happening.
Although adapted for the screen by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist David Lindsay-Abaire (“Robots,” the upcoming “Spider Man 4”) and directed by Iain Softley (“The Skeleton Key,” “The Wings of the Dove”), the essential theme is overwhelmed by the eye-catching special effects and flashy production design which, rather than enhancing the supernatural narrative, create an emotional distance from the characters, who are never properly developed. That’s not to say it isn’t fun glimpsing the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” and the ticking crocodile from “Peter Pan” in Capricorn’s castle. But the concept that someone can simply change the endings of classics on a whim is a bit unsettling.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10 “Inkheart” is a folklore-filled 4, disappointing because of its poor execution.