Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide To This Week’s Movies: The Neverending Story

In theory, we’re totally for the idea of kids’ movies working as propaganda for reading, as the thought of a generation of children getting really good at wrist-flipping their Wiis rather than discovering the joys of Little Women or The Hardy Boys makes us feel sad inside. But Inkheart, based on the best-selling 2003 novel by Cornelia Funke, is tricky business—perhaps not for the little ones, who, judging from the giggles of the tots in our screening, will enjoy it, but for any parent who tries to make sense of the plot.

Here’s our best shot: Brendan Fraser plays Mortimer “Mo” Folchart, who possesses an unusual gift: Anytime he reads aloud, the characters literally come to life. Like, boom! Falling-from-the-sky characters! The problem? Whenever this happens, someone from the “real” world disappears into the book. This is precisely what happened to Mo’s wife, Resa (Sienna Guillory), when their daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) was 3 years old. Since then Mo has been searching for the book so that he might be able to read his wife out of it, while Meggie mistakenly believes her mother abandoned them. Or something. The book is—surprise!—Inkheart, but it turns out that some of the characters that have been brought to life have other ideas.

Take, for instance, Paul Bettany, gamely trying to act the stuffing out of a part that requires him to brood and juggle fire (don’t blink and you’ll see his real-life mate, Jennifer Connelly, show up to deliver two lines), and Andy Serkis (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) as the nefarious Capricorn, who captures Meggie after it is revealed that she’s inherited her father’s “silver tongue” gift, in order to read back into life some scary-ass smoke monster (cough, Lost) called The Shadow. Still with us? The filmmakers have a bit of fun—we see unicorns and flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, and Meggie even reads herself a real Toto for companionship. Plus, it’s great to see supporting cast members Helen Mirren—clearly having a ball playing an eccentric book lover with streaming gray hair and tightly pursed lips—and the always-fantastic Jim Broadbent as the kooky author of Inkheart. But still, the movie left us with a lot of questions. Like, what the heck happened to Brendan Fraser? Seriously, since School Ties and Gods and Monsters, he’s been emoting with the intensity of a popsicle stick. According to Inkheart’s press notes, author Ms. Funke wrote the part with Mr. Fraser in mind, a fact that, in turn, totally blew ours. Let’s say you are writing a book and you have all of the freedom of imagination and living and dead actors upon which you could base your hero on … and you come up with Brendan Fraser? Did she never see Bedazzled? Anyway, we could dive into the logistical weirdness of reading characters into life (how can you choose who comes back? How can you choose who gets snatched?), or why Meggie has an English accent when she’s been raised by her American father, but it’s not really important. Little kids will love the visual wonder of it all, and that is exactly who this movie is for.

Inkheart opens Friday at Regal Battery Park and UA 64th and 2nd. Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide To This Week’s Movies: The Neverending Story