If like me you recall the book Five Children And It by E. Nesbit or its two adaptations (the ’90s TV version or the ’00s film) you may be surprised to hear that in 2012 there was a pointless literary remake, a book titled Four Children And It (oh how original) by Jacqueline Wilson. This book must have sold reasonably well because now there’s a film adaptation called… wait for it… Four Kids And It (my, what geniuses these movie makers are). As a “Sky Original”, this film was scheduled to be released simultaneously in cinemas and on the Sky Cinema channel on April 10th but this date has been brought forward because err… Four Kids And It is so brilliant that Sky can’t wait for their subscribers to watch it? Since many of us are trapped in our houses, I don’t know why Sky couldn’t hold onto their wad for another week, it’s not like kids are in a short supply of lacklustre entertainment what with Disney+ conveniently launching in the UK on the exact date of our Coronavirus lockdown commencement.
Back to the film, Four Kids And It is about err… four kids and “It”. “It” is a creature with magical powers, more specifically it’s a sand fairy named Psammead who can grant wishes. The children discover the sand creature whilst on holiday in Cornwall and their wishes of course, lead to adventures and trouble…
Correct me if I’m wrong but the original Five Children And It contained a message about the perils of wishing in the same way as W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw (which was also released in 1902). In every case the children’s wishes went wrong but it was up to the kids to learn this lesson. In this latest iteration however, the rules are spelled out a little too obviously. Psammead says: “You don’t want a wish; they never work out. There’s consequences; something unfortunate happens, you blame me, I get a bad name. Wishes are bad news”. Along with the sand fairy farting whilst granting its wishes, the whole movie feels too infantile (even by kid’s standards) to be an endearing fairy tale or even a slightly appealing fantasy.
In a semi-meta-way, one of the first scenes in the film includes the original book Five Children And It. It’s picked up by the character Ros in a book shop as she asks “what’s this one about?”. Offensively, the seller isn’t aware of this classic novel (hey, she’s probably more of a Tracy Beaker fan).
Directed by Andy De Emmony (nope, me neither) and written by Simon Lewis (nope again) the plot and visual aesthetic is not particularly distinctive or noteworthy, in fact it’s rather dull (not surprising for an adaptation of a remake I guess). The movie includes a Brady Bunch-style subplot about two step-families joining together but this adds nothing to the story and nor does the contrived interracial couple (which seems to be every played out movie’s way of pretending it’s current… Military ahem Wives). The fact that the kids anglicise “Psammead” into “Sammy”, we know that the writer/s are far from modern.
In terms of acting, the four kids are all played by relative newcomers but there’s the likes of Paula Patton, Matthew Goode, and Russell Brand for some “star quality” 🤭. The film also stars (in voice form at least) Michael Caine as Psammead but unfortunately, Caine doesn’t try in the slightest to change his extremely noticeable voice. Very much like the voice actors in Onward, this no-sweat voice-work reduces the central “magical” character to an obvious celeb; you picture Caine in your mind every time Psammead speaks. The cockney voice of Psammead is so “Michael Caine” that you half expect him to utter the line “you’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” half-way through.
Whilst on the topic of “stars” I have to mention Cheryl Tweedy aka Cheryl Cole aka Cheryl Fernandez-Versini aka Cheryl (although her music and celebrity persona is hardly worthy of a mononym) who plays Coco; a talent agent slash manager slash P.A. in one of the kid’s wishes. Casting Cheryl is probably one of the worst ideas in the history of bad movie ideas but strangely in and amongst the wall-to-wall shite, her woeful acting abilities don’t really show.
Speaking of lacking, all of the kids are irritating to watch, mainly because of their sub-par performances. Ashley Aufderheide as Smash (or Samantha) is the most annoying of the lot with her fake angst and what sounds like a pretend accent (although she’s an American actor so god knows why she sounds so false). Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen plays Ros and her one-note acting doesn’t particularly stand out although she’ll probably become famous due to the entertainment sector preferring nepotism over talent (she’s related to Keith and Lily Allen in case you didn’t know). Billy Jenkins plays Robbie but he also lacks in star quality. Maudie played by Ellie-Mae Siame is at least cute but make no mistake; there’s no Dakota Fanning or Haley Joel Osment here (talented child actors) instead we have lots of substandard, am-dram performances. Alongside Russell Brand‘s bearded-nonce-in-a-mansion character who shouts or over-exaggerates his mannerisms and overacts his lines, the entire film is heaving with poor acting and actors. Brand’s wavering posh accent adds (or should I say detracts) from his character Tristan; Russell not convincingly portraying a villain or a comic relief despite his day job of being a detestable comedian.
Four Kids And It feels more like a show on Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel; it’s not in any way cinematic to warrant a showing on the big screen (ignoring the current unforeseen situation of course). The film contains some terrible visual effects. There’s the Tremors-esque moving bump in the sand that sucks objects in, although the CGI’d lump looks faker than the ’90s creature-feature classic. There’s also a very badly put together flying scene featuring worse green screen than Christopher Reeves’ Superman. And while I’m at it, Psammead’s new design results in an odd-looking creature; his floppy ears making him resemble a rabbit or hare suffering from Diabetes and I.B.S. rather than a fairy with super-powers. This doesn’t exactly matter because amongst the bad acting, the amateur tone, and unoriginal yet predictable plot, the “look” of this imaginary character is hardly the biggest issue. This movie is brimming with problems and all of them are hard to overlook given there’s no redeeming quality anywhere to be seen.
Four Kids And It is not a great kid’s film, it’s not even an average kid’s film; it’s not charming, funny, or fun. Some might say that critiquing a kid’s movie is pointless since they’re supposed to be a bit of harmless and brainless entertainment. I contend that a children’s film can also be a memorable and flawless picture if done right. From Home Alone to Labyrinth, well-executed “children’s films” can be classics and they can appeal to a much wider audience than merely the youngest in our families. Four Kids And It is no Labyrinth however, it isn’t even a Mac And Me or a Good Burger. It’s just…
Four Kids And Shit.