The Book Thief is an overly polished Hollywood portrayal of hardship would be a gross understatement. Percival's period piece is all too pristine at points, meaning that when we're confronted with the often highly sanitised horrors of Hitler's rule, it jars.
This is partly due to Michael Petroni's dawdling script, that consistently fails to capture the emotional pangs of shifting between childhood and adolescence within a wider, darker social context that was so adeptly captured in Zusak's original source text. The concept of showing the worsening situation in Nazi Germany through a child's eyes has historically proven fruitful but is poorly handled here by the adapting Petroni. Tackling home truths dealt with far more intelligently in 2008's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief lacks much-needed dramatic tension and instead feels perfectly happy to skip along trapped in its own mindless sense of fantastical whimsy.
Percival is also found guilty of constantly attempting to illicit tears from his captive audience, but his film never quite manages to convince you to give in to the drama. Perhaps this is because it's too wrapped up in its own aesthetic and plays things safe in terms of portraying the true horrors of what was happening in Germany at the time. It might seem excessively cruel to say such things about a film that has so much heart, but Percival's The Book Thief is more than a little patronising towards its clearly intended teen audience, inordinately concerned as it is with shielding them from the realities of conflict, oppression and human suffering.