There seems to be a clear and predictable trajectory now for ‘network original’ productions, pioneered by Netflix, of course, and followed by Amazon Prime and, at some distance, Sky. That trajectory is: scooping up bargain rejects from other production companies, buying slightly better/ more viable productions of modest quality, co-financing ambitious productions and then, finally, self-financing prestige or blockbuster productions and eyeing potential Oscar glory. Netflix is nearing the apogee of this ascent now, but based on the evidence of “Four Kids And It”, Sky movies are still languishing in the depths of their parabolic potential.
While on holiday in Cornwall, a ‘blended’ family of four children discover a mysterious creature in the sand who can grant magical wishes.
Based on Jaqueline Wilson’s novel which in turn is based on “Five Children and It” by E Nesbit, this movie adaptation falters thanks to some bafflingly obtuse character decisions and some near-misses in the casting department. In terms of story, it doesn’t stray too far from Nesbit’s original – understandable as it’s explicitly a sequel to the adventures enjoyed by Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and the Lamb at the turn of the 20th century. Kids find magical sand fairy The Psammead, makes wishes which are granted in mischievous or ironic ways and learn lessons.
The problem – with this film adaptation at least – is that none of the lessons learned feel earned and the initial set-up bring the characters together is preposterously unbelievable. The whole thing kicks off with what must be a contender for the worst parenting decision ever made on film as David (Matthew Goode) decides to introduce his two children to his new girlfriend Alice (Paula Patton) who has two children of her own. The only problem is neither has told their children about the other, despite the apparent seriousness of the relationship and they’ve decided to make it a ‘surprise’ when they arrive at their holiday cottage. It’s a parenting decision so bone-headed and unlikely that it casts a shadow over everything which follows it.
Neither David nor Alice are developed much beyond superficial traits and even those traits are underwritten to an aggravating degree. Alice is always searching for a mobile signal, so we presume she is some kind of hotshot businesswoman, yet she doesn’t seem like it in any of her other moments. But in this kind of movie, you can forgive the adults being underdeveloped in order to give room for the kids to shine. So it’s unfortunate that the children here are so badly written that their brattishness – especially the absurdly named Smash – is so offputting that you’re never rooting for her eventual, and dispiritingly abrupt, redemption. I’m not sure what direction Ashley Aufderheide, the young actress playing her, was given but she seems to have settled on a performance in the style of Sandra Bernhard in “Hudson Hawk”.
There’s a kind of tired quirky charm to Russell Brand’s bonkers local landowner and, of course, Michael Caine is terrific as the voice of the Psammead, but this is low wattage kiddie fodder that probably fails to do the source novel justice as much as it fails to justify a Sky Movies subscription.