Although it would be more suitable on the small screen than the large, Return to the Secret Garden is hardly the worst 90 minutes you or your kids could spend in a movie theater.
The film, directed by Scott Featherstone, is "inspired" by Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's novel, which was the basis for a number of screen adaptations, including a much-praised 1993 Warner Bros. version. The new film, written by Steven Thompson - with contributions by Featherstone and executive producer Forrest Baker III - is set in the present day, perhaps in an effort to keep the budget under control. It's not strictly a sequel to the earlier film.
Mercedes Kastner stars as Katherine Carter, a young American girl who has yet to learn the meaning of friendship and cooperation, which tends to isolate her from her soccer teammates when she hogs all the glory for herself.
Given the advice "If you really want a friend, be a friend," Katherine jets off to England to visit her second cousin and frequent pen pal, Margaret Craven (Michelle Horn). If Margaret's English manor home looks familiar, it's because much of the film was shot in and around the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.
Joined by Timothy (Joshua Zuckerman), a young boy about the same age as they are, Katherine and Margaret uncover the "Secret Garden" written about in an old family diary they come across and become fascinated by. Margaret's tight-lipped grandfather (Guy Siner) is leaning toward selling the house and its gardens ... so it should be pretty obvious where Return of the Secret Garden is headed, even for the most inattentive viewers.
It will fall to our three young heroes to solve a family mystery and preserve the family history - and no points for guessing the outcome.
Return to the Secret Garden is being released by the tell-tale company, Feature Films for Families, which earlier released the snoozy period piece The Ghost of Dickens' Past (1999). This is a far superior, and far more assured, endeavor - even if the story tends to adorn its message, rather than the other way around.
When it's not spelling out its themes of friendship and cooperation in no uncertain terms, the film is not without its incidental charms, among them the sincere performances of the three leads. Kastner's prepossessing turn as Katherine recalls a prepubescent Thora Birch, and although Horn has been dressed to look like a female Harry Potter, she and Kastner have an easy rapport.
Return to the Secret Garden doesn't exactly blossom into a family classic, nor does it die on the vine - but its heart is in the right place.
** [2 stars out of 4]
Stars: Mercedes Kastner, Michelle Horn, Joshua Zuckerman, Booth Colman
Director: Scott Featherstone
Rating: G, nothing objectionable
Burger's Opinion: Mild family film loosely based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel, although agreeable performances by its young players are an asset.
Frances Hodgson Burnett (characters from The Secret Garden)
Written by Joe Wiesenfeld
|Mercedes Kastner||Katherine Carter|
|Michelle Horn||Margaret Craven|
|Booth Colman||Old Man|
|Guy Siner||Lord Craven|
|Laurence Lau||Tom Carter|
|Max Robinson||Dr. Dixon|
|Joel Swetow||Mr. Prigmore|
|Shanna Igoe||Jill Carter|
|Jill Alder||Soccer Coach|
|Sarah Baker||Asst. Coach #1|
|Karily Baker||Asst. Coach #2|
Don A. Judd
Jeff T. Miller
Original music by
Film Editing by
Stephen L. Johnson
Production Design by
Set Decoration by
key makeup artist
second assistant director
lead scenic artist
Steve C. Aaron
|assistant production coordinator||Kipling Hicks|
|film loader||Andrew Novetzke|
|location manager||Alan Oakes|
|production coordinator||Patty Smales|
|production secretary||Anja Wedell|
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Web page created 3 April 2002.