Most movies rooted in Native American folklore tend to be overly earnest affairs, given to patronising anyone outside the Indian nation with solemn eco-messages broadcast from the spiritual high ground.
But while there’s no shortage of mystical mumbo-jumbo in this tale based on the myth of the shape-shifting Thunderbirds, it’s a refreshingly lively and contemporary affair. Even the chief villain wears jeans.
Manu (Muniz) is a headstrong teen who spends most of his time racing his truck around the roads and canyons surrounding the desert home he shares with his grandfather (Graham Greene, whose participation in any film involving American Indians is apparently mandatory), his distractingly foxy aunt (Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Hines) and his sparky cousin Nica.
What Manu doesn’t know is that he is the latest in a line of ‘guardians’ who maintain the relationship between humankind and Mother Nature.
Naturally, with great responsibility comes a smattering of power. Manu discovers that not only can he talk to the animals, but he can influence the elements and transform himself into a bird.
Yet while Manu’s parents died for the cause, his evil uncle Calabar (Michael Chiklis) has returned from exile and intends to use his power to rule over the natural world.
Granpa has no choice but to reveal the boy’s legacy. And as the next guardian, only he has the power to stop Calabar.
Of course, no animated quest is complete without a little non-human assistance, and Manu is duly accompanied by a brash lizard (Joe Pantoliano), a giddy lamb, a wise old turtle, a fat pigeon and a hapless chameleon clearly descended from the same evolutionary tree as the acorn-chasing Scrat from Ice Age.
On the side of darkness we have Ron ‘Hellboy’ Perlman as Parker, one of Calabar’s hench-warthogs.
Despite various plot points being as clear as smoke signals on a windy day, director Steve Trenbirth strikes a nice balance between subtlety, slapstick and swoop.
It doesn’t completely let him off the hook for The Jungle Book 2, but if you like your stories told with colour and energy, The Legend Of Secret Pass is an opportunity not to be mythed.