Four Kids and It (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 110 Minutes
Director: Andy De Emmony
Cast: Paula Patton, Matthew Goode, Michael Caine, Russell Brand
Jacqueline Wilson, being one of Britain’s most prolific children/teen authors around, has always found creative and ingenious ways through both the fantastical and real world to tell creative stories that should give the young readers a solid lesson that they can take on in their strange and confusing lives. Because of this and how she is able to tackle pretty serious subject matter, it makes sense how after so long, a film adaptation of one of her books should finally come to the forefront. Four Kids and It, based on her 2012 book which in turn was based on E. Nesbitt’s, Five Children and It, takes Wilson’s whimsical vision and puts it into the new Sky Cinema original film, which despite a solid heart and occasional fun moments, is unfortunately undermined by a confused tone that makes this feel much more like a kid distractor than a genuine piece of family cinema.
Four Kids and It follows two broken families who come together during a holiday in the Cornish countryside as a way of two parents who are both dating to introduce their children to the possibility of them maybe moving in together. Understandably, none of the kids initially get along, but when they come across a peculiar Sand Fairy named Psammead that gives them the opportunity to ask for one wish a day, they all learn together through some disastrous consequences how they can learn to work together and form a genuine familial bond.
Unlike Nesbitt’s Five Children and It which is very much set in the early 20th century, Four Kids and It is put into a modern day setting where technology has taken over and the storyline is updated to meet the desires of what modern children would want to wish for. To give the film some positive credit, one of the best aspects to it is how it decidedly tackles the subject of divorce and broken families. Jacqueline Wilson has always touched on harsh subject matters in her work, and in this case it feels right to tell in this film. Divorce is something that a lot of children go through, and being able to tell a heartfelt story about two broken families growing to love each other through an easy-going fantasy setup feels just right. Though the film seems to struggle in finding the right balance of likability in these kids (the girl, Smash, is unfortunately too thoroughly unlikeable to root for), it’s all looked at in a very tasteful but not overbearing manner. It’s just a bit of a mild shame that underneath all of the great subject matter, when all of the fantastical elements are thrown into the mix with the sarcastic, wish granting Sand Fairy, it’s there where it becomes evident that Four Kids and It finds the uphill struggle of figuring out how to tell it’s story in a tonally consistent way. Michael Caine brings a huge likability to the hugely sarcastic and passive aggressive Sand Fairy, and when the film brings in the idea of the kids being able to grant wishes beyond their wildest dreams, but only for a day when the wish goes away after sunset, it brings in the idea of how kids should always be careful about what they wish for, and through this, the kids learn to become more mature and work together as Russell Brand’s aristocratic Tristan Trent desires to take this Sand Fairy for his own selfish misdeeds. While all of this works in it’s own unique way, the fact that the film can’t seem to relate much of it back to its themes of divorce, especially with how cartoonish all of these elements are in contrast to it, it unfortunately makes the film feel overly childish. Adults and teens will likely feel left out of the adventure, not because both groups won’t be able to take something out of the whimsy of the story, but because the film can get so flamboyantly goofy, especially with how silly Russell Brand is compared to the rest of the cast, that most of the comedy feels more cringeworthy than actually funny. It doesn’t help when the addition of some out of place innuendos and adult humour sort of makes the film out to be even more childish.
Also on a technical level, the film simply doesn’t look that great. The Sand Fairy is impressively animated and suitably expressive without feeling too off putting, but aside from him most of the effects, especially with some of the particle visuals can look very rubbery and fake. It’s very obvious when the use of green-screen is implemented if the film wants to get visually ambitious and it’s so evident that the budget just wasn’t quite there being an independently produced Sky Cinema production, along with how most of the costs were likely to bring some bigger talents like Russell Brand and Michael Caine into the cast. To an extent, it’s fairly admirable that the film tries to look as ambitious as it is and it’s almost guaranteed that small children will be swept in the escapism of it all, but the fake visuals make it hard to get sucked into the world it’s set in; which in turn is already a bit difficult considering some of the weird “meta” elements it decides to throw in. The film takes place in a universe where Nesbitt’s Five Children and It book exists, and even then the film for some reason plays with some fantasy elements that indicates that the film is set in the same universe as the book like it was based on historic events. It’s such a weird sense of logic that doesn’t quite make sense in the rules of confines of the world being crafted here and it all the more raises more questions than answers. Aside from that, the cinematography work is serviceable but that’s all there is to it, and the editing feels jarringly clumsy at times with the pacing feeling so wonky that it feels as though multiple endings were stitched together with no sense of structure to it. It’s not offensively bad, but for a professionally made kids movie, it doesn’t feel too right.
Four Kids and It has some solid enough whimsy and maturely handled take on divorce and broken families to have some redeemable merit as a family film, but when everything else around it from the tonal inconsistencies, cartoonish villain and poor effects come into play, there is very little to truly recommend here. The film can get so flimsy with it’s tone that instead of being an entertaining family movie that all ages would enjoy, it feels like only kids under the age of 12 will be able to get something out of the strange and kooky nature of Jacqueline Wilson’s updated take on Nesbitt’s classic. Given that it is quarantine time in the UK, Four Kids and IT might work as a fine enough distraction for children in the household, but there are better options for families out there during this difficult time. As it stands, the film isn’t at all terrible, but it definitely has a sense of lost potential underneath it’s unfortunate shortcomings.
FINAL RATING: 4/10 (POOR)
Michael Caine’s wonderfully dry voice performance.
The mature and tasteful take on Divorce.
A nice sense of childlike whimsy.
The major tonal inconsistencies.
Russell Brand feels out of place for the story being told.
The logically confused inclusion of meta storytelling
It feels “exclusively” for children instead of for everyone.