Release Date:  March 14, 2006
Rating:  PG (language, thematic elements)
Genre:  Adventure/Fantasy/Mystery/Thriller
Run Time:  99 min.
Director:  Richard Claus
Actors:  Vanessa Redgrave, Jim Carter, Caroline Goodall, Aaron Johnson, Jasper Harris, Rollo Weeks

“The Thief Lord” exudes a charming sort of magic in the tradition of the "Harry Potter" series as it follows the suspenseful adventures of two orphaned brothers in the fabled city of Venice.

After their mother dies, Prosper (Aaron Johnson) finds himself in an orphanage and Boniface (Bo [Jasper Harris]) is separated from his older brother while in the care of a cruel aunt and uncle. The boys flee Hamburg for Venice so they can stay together and explore the city their mother had described as a magical place. Soon, Prosper and Bo encounter the “Thief Lord,” a youth named Scipio (Rollo Weeks) who steals from the rich to support a ragtag band of orphaned and fugitive children living with him in an abandoned movie theater. When the boys’ aunt and uncle hire a detective to track them down, the children set off on a series of thrilling chases through the canals and alleys of Venice.

The film, which is aimed at kids ages 9 to 14, is full of colorful characters to capture their imagination. It emphasizes the children’s point of view, depicting kids as sincere and down-to-earth, while presenting most of the adults as preposterous caricatures. Only Victor (Jim Carter), the kindhearted detective, and Ida (Caroline Goodall), who grew up in an orphanage, are portrayed as real and reasonable adults, since they eventually work to help the children. Still, the cartoonish expressions on some of the mean adults’ faces are plenty entertaining. Most of the characters speak in British accents, despite the fact that none are from Great Britain, so it would have been more credible to hear them speaking English with Italian or German accents. But that doesn’t stop them from stealing viewers’ hearts.

An element of mysticism pops up early in the kids’ adventures when Bo sees statues throughout the city (gargoyles, fountains and the like) come to life. It turns out that these statues represent animals on a magical merry-go-round that has the power to spin its riders forward and backward in time, turning kids into adults and vice versa. The old merry-go-round disappeared a long time ago from an orphanage, a nun there informs the children, but a fragment was left behind – a carved wooden wing from one of its magical creatures. The kids discover that the wing is the object a shifty pawnshop client has hired them to steal, in exchange for a hefty amount of cash. It’s appropriate that the children meet the client in a confessional inside ancient San Marco cathedral to plan the robbery, as the setting illustrates the paradox between good intentions (to acquire the money they need to support themselves) and their sin of stealing.

Soon, the kids discover that they’ve delivered the wing into dangerous hands:  an elderly pair of siblings determined to relive their childhood uses the wing to complete reconstruction of the merry-go-round on a nearby island. But the film doesn’t present a clear moral message against trying to manipulate time; for some who take the magical ride, the results are negative, but for others, they’re positive. Prosper declines to ride so he can stay young enough to relate to Bo as a brother rather than a father. But Scipio takes a spin amid glorious special effects and emerges as a young adult – just old enough to leave home to be free of his cruel father’s control.

As “The Thief Lord” weaves a complicated web of subplots, it doesn’t draw them together into a cohesive message. Instead, it delivers a charming, tongue-in-cheek tale that can get kids thinking about what it means to grow up, who to trust, and why love is better than money. And, just like the magical merry-go-round, the film is a thrilling ride.


"The Thief Lord" premieres on DVD on Tuesday, March 14, 2006, from Fox Home Entertainment.   Click here for more information.