Paula Patton, Matthew Goode, Russell Brand and Michael Caine’s voice star in the family film, directed by Andy De Emmony.
Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) loves books. Smash (Ahsley Aufderheide) throws rocks. They are both 13 years of age. Otherwise, they don’t appear to have much in common, except that they are both children of divorce.
Introduced in their own private worlds, Ros and Smash meet at a lovely, remote, seaside house in the UK, along with their younger siblings, Ros’ 9-year-old brother Robbie (Billy Jenkins) and Smash’s 5-year-old sister Maudie (Ellie-Mae Siame), whereupon they are informed by their respective parents, Ros’ British father David (Matthew Goode) and Smash’s American mother Alice (Paula Patton), that they have been ‘seeing’ one another and want the children to get to know each other over a week-long vacation.
Naturally, none of the children are happy about the situation, least of all Ros and Smash, who immediately take to bickering and complaining. Both yearn to be reunited with their other parents — Ros’ mother and Smash’s father — and act out according to their developing, early-adolescent natures.
Smash takes the lead in music-fueled, pouty rebellion, as she endeavors to make contact with her absent father. Ros tries to be more responsible, before retreating to losing herself in books she picked up at a shop in the film’s opening moments, including a copy of Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, first published in 1902 and constantly in circulation since then.
Their parents work diligently at giving their children freedom with a ‘hands-off’ approach, nuzzling each other as frequently as possible and seeking to assume greater responsibility for their other actions, as Alice learns how to cook and David … er, it’s not clear what, exactly, his goals are for the week, except to act ‘fatherly’ as the occasion calls for it in a repressed British manner (?!). Everyone also meets Tristan Trent (Russell Brand), the owner of a huge estate that includes the rental house where they are staying. Trent exhibits a curious interest in Ros, for reasons that are soon made apparent.
The following day, the unhappy children encounter a small, ancient creature (voiced by Michael Caine) called The Psammead (the “P” is silent) who lives under the sand on the beach and can grant wishes. Ros recognizes the creature from the book she’s been reading, who confirms its accuracy by telling the children that, at his age, he can really only grant one wish per day, each ending at sunset, thus setting off a series of robust adventures as the children take turns realizing their wildest, most fervent dreams.
Originally published as a series of stories that were then expanded into a novel, Five Children and It was followed by sequels in 1904 and 1906. Inspiring an anime series in the 1980s, the original has also been adapted into a BBC series in the 1990s, a feature-film version in 2004, a stage version in 2016, another animated series in 2018, and a comic strip.
First published in 2012, Jacqueline Wilson’s novel for children Four Children and It is a contemporary re-telling of the story. The film version, scripted by Simon Lewis, changes things around considerably from Wilson’s novel. As directed by Andy De Emmony, though, it plays quite well for those of us not previously familiar with the books.
As a director, De Emmony’s experience dates back to Red Dwarf in the early 1990s, and so he is quite familiar with how to present the many lightly comic moments in Four Kids and It. Paula Patton, Matthew Goode, Russell Brand, and Michael Caine are more than able to provide sturdy pillars for the frequent flights of fancy.
Patton and Goode are endearing figures as loving parents who want to be as reasonable and supportive as possible. Brand brings good life to a rascal of a character without becoming nasty. And it’s marvelous to listen to Caine’s voice for any period of time, especially when his little character takes umbrage.
Recently featured on the terrific sci-fi series Emergence in a supporting role, Ashley Aufderheide is showcased in a more complex performance, displaying a wider range of emotions in convincing and winning manner, while Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen may have less experience, but fully nails the nuances of her character.
It’s natural to expect a book aimed at younger people to contain a multitude of messages, and so that same expectation comes along with a screen adaptation. The lessons here are clear, but they are overruled by the entertainment value, which makes Four Kids and It a smart and engaging ride.
The film will be available June 30, 2020 on Digital, Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand, including major digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and others.
For more information about the film, visit the official site.