Emily’s mother is sad. To maker her mom happy again, Emily is trying her hardest to be the perfect child. When Emily finds a mysterious chest, she’s transported to a magical world, where she meets the most fantastic creatures. But after scratching the surface, she finds out the horrible truth—the land is dying and the only one who can save it is Emily. But to do that she has to face her worst fear.
Ten-year-old Emily Adams (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) has tried everything she can imagine to bring her mother, Chelsea (Jenny Lampa), happiness, but the debilitating pain from the death of her husband has left her scarred and aloof. Emily walks home alone from her basketball games, eats dinners with her nanny, and talks to her father’s photo next to the bed, wishing her mom, a famous children’s books author, didn’t have to work so late. Then one night, guided by brilliant “Phelecan” butterflies, Emily is transported to the forests of a secret, magical place called Faunutland, where she is astonished to meet Nightinglar (Jenny Lampa), a perky, quirky, wingless fairy. Nightinglar spritely leads Emily to her cozy, root-ridden, underground home where she introduces her baffled new friend to Belorac (Robert Tygner, Niklas Hermannson), a wise and loving monster.
They are thrilled to have Emily as a new friend since she is a child, a small human, not yet corrupted by fears that plague grown humans. And since Emily still has the courage to dream, to overcome fear, she may even be able to save Faunutland from an ominous witch (Chelsea Edge) who thrives on fear, and who darkened the happy castle of Faunutland, turning children into humans. Interestingly, we meet these humans in their fearful form as oddly behaving gray-haired men who are unable to breach the walls of Faunutland because of their fear. Weirdly humorous, they seem to bumble in circles, seeking to fight the monster darkness by pollenating flowers of the field.
In a clever “paper doll” scene, Nightinglar sadly reveals Faunutland’s history, explaining that the cause of its darkening was the loss of a magical, governing crystal which emanated a guiding light onto the land that she called home. Emily realizes only she can restore Faunutland by retrieving the priceless crystal. However, she must courageously traverse a path through a dark field of monsters to get to it. With the help of Belorac, who reminds her the magic and power is inside her, she marches on.
In a parallel world, Chelsea reads an essay Emily wrote about her, saddened that she hasn’t shown Emily love. Simultaneously, Emily has made it to the dreaded Well of Echos, where the crystal lies, and suffers an experience that illuminates her understanding of her mother’s inability to scale the painful wall of grief.
Emily and the Magical Journey is filled with color and imagination- a Narnia meets The Hobbit meets Raggedy Ann– in a good way! The sets and locations serve to create two unique places, although there’s a bit of disconnect that the characters are American, living in a European town. (It’s actually filmed in Sweden with dialect-proficient Swedish actors, among others.) Cinematography and directing are wonderfully convincing, creating and using detail that brings life to the story’s milieus. Most impressive is the fantastic work of Jenny Lampa, portraying two diverse characters, mastering both comedy and serious drama. Her created character, Nightinglar, is delightfully unpredictable and fun. Tipper Seifert-Cleveland is a pleasure to watch, as she delivers a developed, thoughtful performance, ahead of her age.
From a Christian perspective, there are a couple of concerns that discerning Dove families should bear in mind. Christians hold to the message that God is our strength. This film, like many secular stories about inner fortitude, communicates the belief that the power is within self. The Christian belief is what God tells us in Isaiah: 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you.” The popular culture belief is “Do not fear, for you are with you.” (How’s that working?) And there is reliance on magic to accomplish goals, as well as pointing out the bad news that humans teach children to be like … humans. This could go either way, of course. However, one particular moral of the story encourages having love in one’s heart. All of these are potential teaching points and could lend themselves to helping kids of all ages learn to discern. With this in mind, Dove awards Emily and the Magical Journey the All-Ages Seal of Approval.
The Dove Take:
Although Emily and the Magical Journey professes secular philosophy, this clever family fantasy film travels between two worlds, ultimately offering hope for restoring relationships.