Frances Hodgson Burnett's 19th-century novel "The Secret Garden" seems nearly a foolproof screen property. Enchanted, innocent of heart, uplifting, yet morally and psychologically complex, the book inspired two memorable theatrical features, two memorable TV movies, and one memorable
Broadway musical and this cartoon dud, done for ABC-TV (released to home video in 1995), that dutifully dumbs the material down to banality.
Orphaned in India, spoiled English child Mary Lennox and her kitty Darjeeling are shipped to her surviving relative's forbidding estate on the Yorkshire moors. Shrouded by tragedy, echoing with the wails of Mary's self-centered hypochondriac little cousin, Colin, and dominated by the cruel
governess Mrs. Medlock, the manor is a cold and joyless place until Mary discovers a neglected, walled-in garden she secretly tends whilst berating Colin out of his sickbed with a Victorian version of tough love. Traditional versions of the story parallel the spring blossoming of the garden with
the gradual return of hope and light to the household, but Darjeeling doing a Lassie act and an animated robin joining in the syrupy, pseudo-Broadway musical numbers hardly rate as a healing process. Part of the original's enduring resonance is that very few characters are entirely good and none
is wholly evil; the real enemy is despair. Here, the unredeemed Medlock and a fiendish doctor scheme to poison Colin and inherit his wealth and are thwarted after the fashion of many a "Scooby Doo" villain by...those meddling kids. Animation technique is similarly TV quality, with a vocal lineup
of fine British thespian talent the only mark of distinction.
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