A makeover of a classic children’s story that doesn’t suck
Four Kids and It (PG, 110 mins) Directed by Andy De Emmony Reviewed by James Croot ★★★ 1⁄ 2
Parents, fear not. Despite the title, this has nothing to do with killer clowns or scary spiders. Kids, don’t panic, this isn’t a dusting off of the near 120-year-old tale of a group of Victorian children’s encounter with a sandfairy.
Instead, it’s an adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 update of E Nesbit’s novel, so characters are called Smash instead of Pussy, and want to be rock stars rather than meet ‘‘Red Indians’’.
The basic premise though is technically still the same. A quartet, instead of the original quintet, of city kids relocate to the countryside (here just temporarily so each duo of siblings’ courting single parents can introduce them to each other with a potential view to eventual blending), where their boring holiday is enlivened by a chance meeting with a Psammead.
A kind of furry cross between Harry Potter’s Dobby the House Elf and Neverending Story’s Falkor the Luck Dragon, he reveals he can make the children’s wildest dreams come true.
‘‘But only one wish a day and nothing longer than a sentence,’’ he chides. ‘‘Wishes are bad news.’’
The granting process isn’t exactly pleasant to watch either. ‘‘Magic isn’t all twinkly lights and
stardust, some of us have to deal with enchanted stomach gases,’’ the Psammead intones, as he endures some kind of severe flatulence.
‘‘Come back tomorrow, if you
survive this one,’’ he mocks, having failed to mention that each one ends at sunset.
Of course, none of that puts our foursome off wishing for superhuman abilities, fame and fortune, providing them with opportunities to bicker and potentially bond.
What they don’t know though is that watching everything closely is local landowner Tristan Trent III (Russell Brand), a man who has spent his whole life trying to track down the seemingly elusive Psammead.
Veteran British TV director Andy De Emmony (Father Ted, At Home With the Braithwaites, The Bletchley Circle) deserves plenty of credit for turning what could have been a mawkish diatribe against modern technology into a knockabout comedy the whole family can enjoy.
Much of that success comes down to the casting.
Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen (Swallows and Amazons) and Ashley Aufderheide (Going in Style) make for a likeable pair of disparate teens, Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey) and Paula Patton (Deja Vu) are a believable couple struggling in the face of youth opposition to their trans-Atlantic match, but Brand steals the show as the eccentric, scheming Tristan, a man who comes from a long line of landed gentry who ‘‘discover new civilisations and liberate their knick-knacks’’.
‘‘Oh, you’re American, I thought you had a speech impediment,’’ he says upon meeting Aufderheide’s Smash.
Then there’s Michael Caine, delivering his liveliest performance in years as the voice of the irascible Psammead.
While some tweens and young teens may still find the storyline a touch too twee, Four Kids and It is still a lot more fun (and coherent) than that other recent, bigbudgeted fairy story Artemis Fowl.
‘‘Magic isn’t all twinkly lights and stardust, some of us have to deal with enchanted stomach gases.’’
Some tweens and young teens may find the storyline a touch too twee, but Four Kids and It is a lot of fun.