Directed by: #Andy De Emmony
Film Review by: #Andrew Stooke
For some reason, teen dramas entice writers to conceive of plots slopping over with extraneous details. In this updating of Edith Nesbit's perennial tale '5 Children and It' (1902), the backstory of, now four kids, thrown together on a dysfunctional holiday, under the sweeping cerulean skies of the Cornish coast, is wildly convoluted.
The vacation itself is contrived. It has been organised in secret by two separated parents to introduce their new relationship to their children. Stressed out by her teenage daughter, Alice, played by American Paula Patton, is testy. David, Matthew Goode, brings a British reticence to his parenthood. Both give the impression that they had not previously met their children. Perhaps this is intended to justify the implausible premise. Who would imagine that failing to mention that the family holiday will include your new lover was a good idea? Parents know that you cannot rely on magic to emolliate a disastrous situation, but not director Andy De Emmony; enter 'It' to rescue the children's break. 'It' is a creature who lives on the beach, the last of his species, infinitely old, naïve, able to grant wishes, a hybrid between a marsupial and a teddy bear. Michael Cain provides the voice with a roguish warmth, warning of the 'consequences.' of wishes. He is right. The wishes become a constricting plot device, dividing the narrative into discontinuous episodes that impede character development. Without going into detail, the wishes are all predictable—and, predictably, a greedy bad-guy appears, hankering for wealth, power, and control. He is Russel Brand, a baronial eccentric. He looks like his wish would be to play a pirate, like Johnny Depp, and he sounds like he wants to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible. Chuck in a bit of time travel, superpowers, steampunk, a final demolition scene, with a happy-families ending, and you have got the gist of 'It.'
The Kids are three girls, and, with a unisex name, Robbie, the Boy, played by Billy Jenkins. He is passive, game obsessed, unadventurous, emotional, vulnerable, and compassionate. It is he who, at several crucial moments, institutes reconciliation and bonding. His empathy points to '4 Kids's' atypical take on representations of gender. Movies with women playing traditionally masculine stereotypes, Luc Besson style fighters, or Little Woman style sorter-outers, are plenty. '4 kids' is radical, portraying men and boys in clichéd feminized roles. The males articulate their feelings and care for others. In the end, the progressive vision of gender falters, with a wimp scrunches up his fists and lands-one on the bad-guy scene, initiating the celebratory union of a nuclear family. Overall it is heartening to sense, in female roles, strength, and intellect, in tandem with brooding domesticity, depicted in a series of cooking disasters and a bake-off style triumph. The impact of emancipated balance is strengthened by Brand's depiction of a buffoon, mired in tradition and atavism. The hunger for power and control is relegated to the loony fringes and, necessarily, ends in a fiasco.
It is still sadly rare to watch a movie that rejects chauvinism. It is often now masked by a female role. However, tragic that ‘4 Kids' is clumsy, making its magic so thoroughly unbelievable. It will need to become a cult classic, acknowledged as so bad it's good, for its progressive rendition of gender to be seen and taken seriously.