Some of the greatest ever films made for kids, are all about kids, placing them at the heart of their own story, to let them be the hero. From The Goonies (we like that movie here), to Home Alone to E.T. – children can identify with these roles, and invest in them, playing up to the imbecilic nature of adults, where really, it’s the kids who know the score. This works as the most promising ingredient in Christopher N. Rowley’s Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism, but that’s not the only thing a younger demographic need to find themselves compelled by a movie – they also require a strong, well-crafted narrative, and that’s exactly where this production falls short.
Another regular plot device is to have an orphan in the leading role, an underdog with nothing to lose, alone in the world – and that’s the case here, as Molly Moon (Raffey Cassidy) wants desperately to leave behind the orphanage, and its callous owner Miss Adderstone (Lesley Manville) to follow her best friend, the recently adopted Rocky (Jadon Carnelly) to London. Given her age it’s not easy convincing people to get what she wants – which is where her ability to hypnotise people comes in rather handy, as she vies to become an international pop-star using this technique. Though while she is all but set to have her wish granted, the nefarious, clumsy Nockman (Dominic Monaghan) is desperate to steal the book that teaches her everything she knows about magic – though without it, Molly may well be found out as the chancer she is.
It’s fun to have a film of this nature, without a care for realism, not be supernatural, and use a magic trick as the lead character’s superpower – and there is humour that derives from the fact Molly is a terrible singer and dancer, but manages to make a name for herself regardless, which is a rather unique approach given you’d expect her to actually be rather good. But this strand of the narrative is lost within everything else the film is trying to run through, and tonally, Rowley misses the mark at almost every turn. There is no denying that Cassidy is an accomplished performer for a girl of her age, but it’s not her to take issue with, but the supporting cast that features a myriad of talented British performers who you struggle to understand quite why they decided to get involved in this underwhelming endeavour. From Emily Watson, to Joan Collins, or Celia Imrie to Anne-Marie Duff – not to mention Sadie Frost, Ben Miller, Omid Djalili and Gary Kemp. They might wanna have a word with their agents.
Molly Moon follows all of the beats of the genre in an unapologetic manner, but what transpires is a film that feels more like an elongated episode of a programme on CBBC, which really, is where this project is more likely to have found its home. It’s just attempting to fit too much in across the narrative, and it’s all so inane and overstated too, and kids aren’t stupid. Pixar and Spielberg prove that young audiences can engage with more complex material, and deserve to be treated with respect as audience members. The narrative here is so outlandish and absurd that even kids will surely be apprehensive. But hey, on a more positive note, everything does come together at the end, which is contrived and rushed – but there’s closure to a point where you would imagine we may not have to sit through any sequels.