‘Four Kids and It’ makes the most of a goofy premise by taking children’s feelings seriously.
Kernel Rating: 3 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 110 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This film follows four children, unexpectedly vacationing together when they learn their parents are dating, who find a magical creature who grants them wishes. Some of the wishes result in exciting sequences, like the children flying through the air, climbing up cliffs, and being given superpowers like laser eyes and super-strength; there is some danger here, including the climber nearly falling, someone whose flying almost ends in disaster, and some violence, including adults threatening children and someone’s butt being set on fire. Some bathroom humor, including jokes about farting and some vomit. The magical creature is also threatened; a scary moment when someone nearly drowns and a house collapses; and some bullying, insults, and rudeness between children. Adult characters kiss, and sexual activity is very lightly implied.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Four Kids and It” is the sort of very goofy family film that feels like it is from a different time. The parents are a little bit hapless and disinterested in their children. The villain is an aristocratic heir who looks to James Bond villains for inspiration. The magical creature, despite clearly being crafted from modern-day CGI, lacks specific detail; it looks mostly like a shaggy mess of stringy hair and lanky limbs. But what “Four Kids and It” gets right, and what feels nicely modern about the film, is how much attention it pays to children’s feelings. The story here, about children struggling with their parents’ divorces, isn’t particularly unique, but the movie benefits from how seriously it takes the desires and despairs of its youngsters.
“Four Kids and It” focuses on two families living in the UK. First are the proper Brits, with dad David (Matthew Goode), 13-year-old Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen), and 9-year-old Robbie (Billy Jenkins). Their mother left the family to go back to school, and the bookish Ros desperately wants her parents to get back together, while Robbie insists that Ros should stop pining—their mother left them, and that’s that. Next are the expat Americans, with mom Alice (Paula Patton), 13-year-old Smash (Ashley Aufderheide), and 5-year-old Maudie (Ellie-Mae Siame); Smash is a hellraiser who gives her mother an exceptionally hard time, and is convinced that her father will extend an invitation for her to move to the Seychelles with him. Meanwhile, the soft-spoken Maudie just wishes that her mother, who is constantly working, could spend more time with them.
When the families end up at a coastside cottage together, it’s a surprise to Ros and Robbie and to Smash and Maudie that their parents were dating—and Ros and Smash, immediate opposites, can’t stand each other. The loud, boisterous, cellphone-obsessed Smash gets on Ros’s nerves; Ros’s bookishness is easy for Smash to mock. But with David and Alice hoping for some rest and relaxation, the foursome are left to their own devices, which is how they discover a magical creature living in the sand off the beach. The hairy, floppy-eared, surprisingly agile creature calls himself the Psammead (voiced by Michael Caine), and for centuries he’s granted wishes to people who bring him offerings—all he does is concentrate, blow up his body, fart, and then grant the wish. The magic is tied to the flatulence: “Some of us have to work with enchanted stomach gases!” the Psammead explains.
The catches are that the wish only lasts until sunset, and when time runs out, the kids might be in dangerous situations they didn’t expect, and that the Psammead can only grant one wish a day without putting himself in serious physical danger. So while David and Alice rejoice in their alone time, the children go on haphazard adventures together that are tinged by their emotions at the time. Smash, furious at her father’s disinterest in her life, acts dangerously when the kids are able to fly. Ros, dejected that her mother seems to be having a good time at university without her family, schemes of a way to get her family back together. The teens’ wishes are mostly inspired by their feelings about themselves or their parents, and the film takes those emotions seriously.
That’s not to say there’s no space in “Four Kids and It” for humor: Rob and Maudie are good foils for their older siblings; Caine brings some liveliness to his voice performance as the disgruntled Psammead, at first annoyed with these demanding children and then eventually befriended by them; and Russell Brand does his recognizably wacky thing as Tristan Trent III. As Trent, who lives in a mansion near the cottage, is obsessed with finding the Psammead, and seems to recognize Ros somehow, Brand is smug, pompous, and self-absorbed, and his immaturity works well as a contrast to the children.
That’s not to say everything about “Four Kids and It” is great; Goode and Patton are barely used here, and there is some familiarity to the children’s divorce-inspired frustrations (these plot elements are different from the 2012 novel by Jacqueline Wilson upon which the film is based). But for young viewers, the wish-fulfillment fantasy is a fun one, and balanced well by the lessons the children learn about themselves, their friendships, and their parents. There’s a certain level of absurdity you have to accept with “Four Kids and It,” but once you do that, it’s a pleasant-enough diversion.
‘Four Kids and It’ will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and available for VOD and digital rental through iTunes, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and others, beginning June 30, 2020.