This Easter, Sky customers and cinema goers will be treated to the latest reincarnation of E. Nesbit’s 1902 novel Five Children and IT. While most people will remember the 1990s BBC version, the story was also made into a film back in 2004 with Eddie Izzard voicing the Psammead. However here, the story is again adapted from kids author Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 best-selling book “Four Children and IT”.
This family adventure centres around a newly blended family. An American mother Alice (Paula Patton- Hitch, Mission Impossible) with her two daughters, angry-at-life Smash and sweet Maudie, and a father, David (Matthew Goode- The Crown, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) with his son and daughter, gaming-mad Robbie and reserved Ros.
The parents set out on a rather disastrous plan to bring the children together for the first time by taking them all away to Cornwall on holiday. Needless to say, the children are not best-pleased by this ambush and immediately take a dislike to each other, especially the two older girls, Smash and Ros, who are very different in character.
It is during an argument over a snatched games console that the four children come across a hidden tunnel that leads them to an idyllic sandy cove where they discover the Psammead, (pronounced Sam-me-ad). For those who unfamiliar with either the new or old books, The Psammead is an ancient magical Sand Fairy that grants the children wishes. In this case “IT” is the stupendous voice talent of Michael Caine.
The creators of the creature are the married team of Brian and Wendy Froud. Brian’s work on Dark Crystal and Labyrinth lead the producers to approach him to create this new Psammead. Wendy made the original puppet from her husband’s design and this was used during filming for the child actors to interact with.
As Director Andy De Emmony notes, “It’s all about creating a character that we love, a character that looks like he could have been there for a million years, but is still quite agile, with an elegance to his movement… And using a real puppet on set together with Michael Caine’s voice helped keep the kids engaged – it would have been very hard to do that…with a ball on a stick.” The visual effects were produced by British VFX company MILK who have done an amazing job bringing this slightly grouchy but much-loved character to life, if anything we wish that the Psammead was in more of the film.
The child actors are in almost every scene, from family dinners to starring in rock concerts at London’s 02, and do manage to portray a very believable performance of the modern day complexities of blended families and the heart ache of going through a change in your family circumstance.
Jacqueline Wilson is a master of capturing the rough and tough phases of childhood and De Emmony has translated this to the big screen admirably. “Wish scenes” where the children can fly or climb extremely well in one case were not as well polished as one would expect from a big Hollywood blockbuster – which is fine as this film is far from that, in fact what makes this film quite endearing is its grass-roots nature. The audience will still more than enjoy the spectacle of the children flying at speed through woodland or hovering over the sea.
For me the stand out child performance belonged to Teddie Malleson-Allen (Swallows and Amazons) as Ros. She acts well beyond her years without a trace of over-acting or hesitation. Her characters storyline is at the forefront of the film. Ros must come to terms with the fact her life has changed and her parents do not want to be together anymore, much to her disappointment and heart-ache. Malleson-Allen plays the part sensibly and sensitively.
Another actor who brings a lot of joy to this film is the outrageously erudite Russel Brand in his role as the villainous, Tristan Trent III, a local aristocrat who has followed his ancestor’s quest to hunt the allusive Psammead and add him to his colossal collection of taxidermy. Brand admits the chance to star with Michael Caine was an “irresistible opportunity”. Brand’s own particular style of speech is extremely well suited to this role, albeit an exaggerated version. In fact the loudest laughs did come from Brands delivery of monologue.
This film will be enjoyable for all family adventure fans, especially fans of Jaqueline Wilson’s books. The mix of the magical with everyday angst makes it into a captivating story for younger audiences. With beautiful scenery and the brilliant CGI of the Psammead, this film will hold all the family’s attention this Easter.