Jacqueline Wilson’s Four Children And It becomes Four Kids And It for its film adaptation – and here’s our review.

Family adventure films tend to need one strong message to really resonate with all its viewers. That it’s fine to provide a surface level narrative for children, but the great ones have something a little more under the surface. In the case of the new movie take on Four Kids And It, sadly, it’s pretty much surface you’re getting.

Based on Jacqueline Wilson’s novel Four Children And It (which is itself an adaptation and connected to E. Nesbit’s 1902 book Five Children And It), the film focuses on two different pairs of siblings. We’re first introduced to Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) who wanders around an ageing bookstore similar to 80s classic The NeverEnding Story. There, she pulls out Nesbit’s book to read for the journey that her and her younger brother Robbie (Billy Jenkins) are going on with their father David (Matthew Goode). It’s a British coast getaway with a surprise in store.

Ros is hoping that it’s her mother returning from university to get back with her father. Instead, she’s greeted by Alice (Paula Patton) and her two daughters Smash (Ashley Aufderheide) and Maudie (Ellie-Mae Slame), who all instantly take a dislike to each other.

David and Alice try their best to adjust the kids to this new family but it ends in scraps, tantrums and prized possessions being stolen. When Smash steals Robbie’s Nintendo Switch (aka his pride and joy) she ends up falling down a hole which leads to a secluded area of the beach. This is where they meet the magical creature, Psammead (voiced by Michael Caine). Ros recognises him from her book and states that this creature can grant one wish a day, with the consequences that it will be gone by sunset.

But at first, it’s a pretty selfish bunch. Wishes revolve around flying or being the biggest pop star in the world. Side comments are made by Psammead about granting these wishes, but they’re left aside, similar to the blurred key-frames around the CGI beast. There are some good lines here, though. “Long silences and emotional repression” is how younger brother Robbie describes to Ros his memories of better times between her father and now-distant mother. There are little details and spikes of interest.

Yet the movie itself falls a bit flat. It leans on a mix of toilet humour, uninspiring character motivations and a villainous cameo from an actor who seems bewildered in the role but still trying their utmost. Our antagonist comes in the form of Tristan (Russell Brand), a wildlife expert who lives in a mansion near the coast of the family’s getaway home. He’s trying to find the Psammead for his own personal gain as well as fulfilling his family’s legacy. Brand has the funniest moments of the film and reacts accordingly well to whoever is opposite him on screen. Yet we don’t get that much of him, and that’s to the film’s detriment.

The final act is better, with the group of children now bonding and working together to do things I won’t spoil here. There’s a strong sense of unity within the cast at the end and younger children with half or step siblings will hopefully learn something important watching this instead of rewatching Frozen II or The Lion King for the umpteenth time. But it’s a surprisingly flat film this, albeit it may be quite useful in the midst of the current lockdown…

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