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Return to the Secret Garden (2000)

Return to the Secret Garden
Friends in Deed: film is a bit obvious, but a pleasant family diversion

By: Mark Burger
Date: 11 January 2000
Source: The Winston Salem Journal

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.

Return to the Secret Garden:
Cast and Crew (as listed in IMDb)

Directed by
Scott Featherstone

Writing credits
Frances Hodgson Burnett (characters from The Secret Garden)
Written by Joe Wiesenfeld


Mercedes Kastner Katherine Carter
Michelle Horn Margaret Craven
Josh Zuckerman Timothy
Booth Colman Old Man
Guy Siner Lord Craven
Barta Heiner Iris
Laurence Lau Tom Carter
Alexandra Boyd Sarah
Max Robinson Dr. Dixon
Bob Fimiani Weatherstaff
Joel Swetow Mr. Prigmore
Rick Macy Perkins
Steve Valentine Ellington
Lyndee Probst Sydney
Shanna Igoe Jill Carter
Jill Alder Soccer Coach
Lincoln Hoppe Wallace
Sarah Baker Asst. Coach #1
Karily Baker Asst. Coach #2

Executive Producer
Forrest S. Baker III

Don A. Judd
Jeff T. Miller
Steve Thompson

Original music by
Sam Cardon

Cinematography by
Art Wilder

Film Editing by
Stephen L. Johnson

Production Design by
Mark Hofeling

Set Decoration by
Ivan Saunders

key makeup artist
Rebecca George

second assistant director
Jason Rodgers

property master
Scott Arneman

lead scenic artist
Melanie Borgenicht

lead man
Konnor Jenson

swing gang
Gabriel Jessop

on-set dresser
Lu Prickett

sound mixer
Steve C. Aaron

assistant production coordinator Kipling Hicks
film loader Andrew Novetzke
location manager Alan Oakes
production coordinator Patty Smales
production secretary Anja Wedell

Produced and Distributed by: Feature Films for Families

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Web page created 3 April 2002.