Four Kids and It: Perfect marriage of social awareness and magical fantasy

Review: Jacqueline Wilson’s novel survives the transition to the big screen with charm

Russell Brand, Ellie-Mae Siame, Ashley Aufderheide and Billy Jenkins in Four Kids and It. Photograph: 13 Films

Film Title: Four Kids and It

Director: Andy De Emmony

Starring: Paula Patton, Russell Brand, Michael Caine, Matthew Goode, Billy Jenkins, Ashley Aufderheide, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, Ellie-Mae Siame

Genre: Family

Running Time: 110 min

Fri, Apr 3, 2020, 05:00

   

Here comes the meta-textual bit. This pleasing, old-fashioned adaptation of Four Children and It – a 2012 novel by author Jacqueline Wilson based on the 1902 book Five Children and It by E Nesbit – is a perfect marriage of Wilson’s keen social awareness and turn-of-the-century magical fantasy.

Working from a screenplay by Simon Lewis and Mark Oswin, Andy De Emmony’s film opens with a knowing nod to Nesbit. “What’s this about?” 13-year-old Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, young sister of Lily and Alfie) asks a bookseller as she thumbs a copy of The Five Children.

“Kids, magic, wishes that cause trouble,” comes a reply that doubles as an elevator pitch. Ros remains sceptical but soon enough the book she dismissed as sounding “a bit young” becomes a users’ guide.

The children meet on a family holiday to Cornwall. (Wicklow stars as the ancient English coastline.) Ros and her eight-year-old brother (Billy Jenkins) join their divorced father (Matthew Goode), his American girlfriend (Paula Patton), and her two kids Smash (Infinitely Polar Bear’s Ashley Aufderheide) and Maudie (Ellie-Mae Siame).

None of the youngsters is happy about the arrangements, but they do, at least, find a diversion in the Psammead, a wish-granting, sand-dwelling hairy fairy voiced with an agreeable degree of cantankerousness by Michael Caine.

In common with the 1902 E Nesbitt classic, the Psammead’s wishes only last for a day, so they must choose carefully. Spoiler alert: they don’t always choose carefully. Unhappily, a creepy neighbouring landowner (Russell Brand, actually twirling a moustache) is on to the kids’ magical discovery and wants to steal the creature for himself.

The CG flying sequences aren’t exactly Marvelverse quality, but the retro tech specs turn out to be as charming as the cast, and Wilson’s understanding of blended family dynamics survive the transition to the screen.