REVIEW

Four Kids and It is a spin-off from E. Nesbit's 1902 tale Five Children and It

Four Kids and It (PG, 110 minutes)

3 stars

It is hard to convey the shock and dismay you feel when your child tells you, as mine did, that at the sleepover they've just come home from, the kids stayed up after the parents went to bed and watched Stephen King's It on Netflix.

This film isn't that same 'it,' I can promise.

Ashley Aufderheide and Psammead (Michael Caine) in Four Kids & It. Picture: Rialto

Ashley Aufderheide and Psammead (Michael Caine) in Four Kids & It. Picture: Rialto

This 'it' is a loveable, wish-granting, farting, ancient fairy-tale character from a handful of novels across British children's fiction, commencing with E Nesbit's 1902 tale Five Children and It.

In Nesbit's novel, the Psammead is sand fairy, hundreds of thousands of years old who can still remember pterodactyls in the skies and can grant one wish per day.

Nesbit made two more books in this series, and the Psammead would be revisited by other authors across the years, particularly noted author Jacqueline Lee.

In Lee's 2012 novel Four Kids and It, and in this film adaptation, the sloth-like Psammead (voiced by Michael Caine) is still living on a remote English beach, having lived through two ice ages.

Stumbling into the Psammead's life are two young families.

Teen Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) and younger brother Robbie (BillyJenkins) are being encouraged into a Summer holiday trip by dad David (Matthew Goode), though when they get to the seaside cottage, they find they're sharing it with another family - the angry young Smash (Ashley Aufderheide), little sister Maudie (Ellie-May Siame) and mum Alice (Paula Patton).

David and Alice are a fairly new couple and they've sneakily used this holiday to introduce their respective children to each other.

Not surprisingly, the children all find ways to act out.

Coming across an ancient wish-fairy adds unexpected ammunition to their anger, and although the Psammead warns them that every wish has a negative side, each child in turns falls foul of their own wish fulfilment.

Psammead (Michael Caine) in Four Kids & It Four Kids & It. Picture: Rialto

Psammead (Michael Caine) in Four Kids & It Four Kids & It. Picture: Rialto

For Smash, it's pop super-stardom, for Robbie and Maudie the wishes are more befitting their childish natures, and for Ros, the wishing involves some time-travelling, which has the kids crossing paths with the five turn-of-the-century children from E Nesbit's original novel.

The unfortunate consequence of Ros's wish is that it exposes the secret of the Psammead to the aristocratic Trent family (Russell Brand, playing two generations of Trents), who make it their generations-long goal to hunt the creature down.

Perhaps the best thing about this film is Russell Brand's psychotic aristocrat bad guy Tristan.

The school holidays are upon us, and I think this is probably the family film most likely to appeal to the whole family, and to find itself rewatched in years to come on the streaming services.

Brand hams it up like a League of Gentlemen character and delivers his lines like they're improv and he is thoroughly enjoying himself, giving a couple of genuine laughs.

Paula Patton and Matthew Goode are terrific actors, and while the parents in any children's film rarely come off well, I have to say that David and Alice are just awful characters, starting with springing their relationship on their kids after they've moved them into the same house, to a series of scenes where they snog each other oblivious that their kids are in mortal danger.

The child performers are for the most part good, though Ashley Aufderheide has the unfortunate job of playing the constantly angry teen, the kind of unlikeable character that actual parents can barely tolerate, much less paying cinemagoers who probably get enough whinging from their kids at home.

Director Andy De Emmony has worked on practically every funny British television show for two decades, and so matches an ear for funny delivery of dialogue with an eye for a decent framing of scenes.

The CGI for the Psammead plays well, and his look feels familiar, like ET.

The school holidays are upon us, and I think this is probably the family film most likely to appeal to the whole family, and to find itself rewatched in years to come on the streaming services.

I also just have to say what a gift an actress like Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen is to a freelance writer getting paid by the word.

I think Malleson-Allen has a bright future and I can just see that name up in lights in year to come. Say it with me - Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen.

This story A gentle, loveable beachside fable first appeared on The Canberra Times.