FOUR KIDS AND IT movie poster | ©2020 Lionsgate

FOUR KIDS AND IT movie poster | ©2020 Lionsgate

Rating: PG
Stars: Teddie Malleson-Allen, Ashleigh Aufderheide, Matthew Goode, Paula Patton, Billy Jenkins, Ellie-Mae Siame, Russell Brand, Michael Caine
Writer: Simon Lewis, additional writing by Mark Oswin, based on the novel FOUR CHILDREN AND IT by Jacqueline Wilson, based on the novel FIVE CHILDREN AND IT by E. Nesbit
Director: Andy de Emmony
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: June 30, 2020

FOUR KIDS AND IT doesn’t hide its literary origins. Right up front, we see the E. Nesbit FIVE CHILDREN AND IT book as thirteen-year-old Ros (Teddie Malleson-Allen) obtains it at a bookstore. As this novel was originally published in 1902, it was subsequently updated as FOUR CHILDREN AND IT, which is the basis for FOUR KIDS AND IT.

Reasonably nice English children Ros and her little brother Robbie (Billy Jenkins) are heading for a seaside vacation with their loving dad David (Matthew Goode). He has promised them a “surprise” when they get there. The surprise is meeting his new American girlfriend Alice (Paula Patton), and her two daughters, perennially enraged thirteen-year-old Smash (Ashleigh Aufderheide) and much mellower little Maudie (Ellie-Mae Siame).

Doesn’t any single parent in contemporary films right now have a clue about how to introduce their offspring to potential new stepparents? While FOUR KIDS AND IT isn’t at the level of THE LODGE (and good thing, too, as this isn’t a horror movie), Alice and David nevertheless don’t do a great job of bringing their families together. Instead of a restaurant meal or a daytime outing, they think the best way of announcing that no, Mom and Dad aren’t getting back together, and a whole different family unit is likely, is to share a house on a vacation on the English coast. Smash and Ros are even directed to share a room. Predictably, all four kids are united in their disgust.

After about as much as we and the four kids can take of bickering and some outright physical conflict, they wander through a cave system that leads them to an isolated beach. There they encounter the Psammead, which Ros’s book over-conveniently but time-savingly explains is a wish-granting creature.

The Psammead, designed by fantasy art great Brian Froud, isn’t too thrilled about his lot in life, but begrudgingly obliges. He warns upfront that all wishes are likely to have bad consequences. Ros’s book adds that all wishes end at sundown. Nevertheless, wish the kids do.

There’s a reasonable amount of jeopardy here, thanks to a greedy neighbor (played by Russell Brand in full panto villain mode). However, it’s nothing more than we’d get in an average live-action children’s film from the ‘60s or ‘70s, which FOUR KIDS AND IT very much resembles. Take away the phones, Smash’s popstar dreams and the good CGI for the Psammead, and the film might be mistaken for one from an earlier era. The children want adventures, not material goods. David and Alice eventually find the neighbor weird and alarming, but never seem to suspect him of having designs on their daughters (which he doesn’t, but a movie aimed at slightly older audiences would at least address this as a concern).

It’s all a little old-fashioned, but it’s perfectly agreeable. Malleson-Allen and Aufderheide (the latter lately of the TV series EMERGENCE) are both strong performers, and Michael Caine is welcome as the apt voice of the Psammead. FOUR KIDS AND IT will remind adults who read fantasy growing up of the kinds of enjoyable books from back in the day, and the spirit of the piece may appeal to actual children.

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