Bedtime Stories

Today I found myself wondering “am I right to criticise these godawful children’s movies, given that I’m not in the demographic, and the children seem to enjoy them?” Then I realised that the children of this world deserve better, and I am within my rights to a tear a new one for whatever property I see fit.

Bedtime Stories is one such property: with improbably dull eyed kids who teeter between brilliance and mental incompetence, drama so manufactured that no level of suspension can contain the disbelief, a cast slumming it to the extent that they may as well have gone to work in a city of mole people, and comedy such that, were it not for the inclusion of Russell Brand, Rob Schneider would be the funniest thing in the movie, it’s simply unacceptable.

Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler! Yes, certainly, that’s all you need to know: this is an Adam Sandler kids’ movie) works as a handy-man at the hotel that he is supposed to run. Through the horrors of the march of capitalism, his sister (Courteney Cox) is about to have her school demolished and abandons his children with him for a week of evenings. Through telling bedtime stories to the kids, he realises that the parts they insert come coincidentally true – and tries to get them to manipulate the situation so that he gets the girl, gets the hotel, and puts hotel rival Guy Pearce (Guy Pearce!) in his place. Naturally, the course of woefully inconsistently written children does not always run true…

You know how the best thing about Happy Gilmore was its use of “Magic” by Pilot in the end credits? So, too, is the case with Bedtime Stories (although Happy Gilmore was a passably amusing movie in its own right, I suppose) – although here we have Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. That’s not to say Bedtime Stories is without its charms: Russell Brand is uniformly great and gets all of the best lines, but is woefully underutilised; Keri Russell is attractive as a sort of space-age Deborah Harry, and simply confusing as a mermaid.

Seriously, though, this movie is a waste of everyone’s time, and sense. What, for instance, is Guy Pearce doing here? He follows up a sensitive portrayal of Islamic/American politics in Traitor with a lousy childrens’ movie (had it been a good childrens’ movie, this would have been okay). Why did Richard Griffiths take time out of his busy schedule of Harry Potter cameos, History Boys and Equus to grace our presence as a the germ phobic hotel baron Nottingham? (He is vaguely amusing, I’ll give him that). And, in 2008, there is really no excuse for entirely unsubtle parodies of Paris Hilton. That Disney already beat themselves to this punch with London Tipton is a further insult (and the fact that I know who London Tipton is offhand is a bit worrying).

I know that a lot of actors and actresses have children of their own and “go soft”, but this is seriously a weak excuse to make a movie of this calibre. Keri Russell is letting herself go to rack and ruin (seriously, Keri Russell? August Rush? August Rush?!), despite that she’s above all of this. It’s only very occasionally that I find myself wondering how the people who make a movie can possibly feel anywhere near satisfied with themselves for producing or taking part in what is being shown to me, but I felt it here. When a group of women start involuntarily dancing the hokey-pokey (moral being: children are stupid), one has to ponder how anyone could have signed onto an idea so bad. At the very best, this whole thing is embarrassing. I haven’t even mentioned the freaking CG hamster/guinea pig yet. This is pandering! In future, on principle I will boycott all movies that feature animal reaction shots. If you think that a dog looking embarrassed is the height of comedy, though, it’s a good indication that this sort of movie is the movie for you.

The children have no sense of reality – they’re sheltered, they’ve never been allowed to watch TV or eat proper food and all of their books are “communist” (“Suzie Squirrel gets a bike helmet”), so how is it that they know about all of this stuff that they furnish Skeeter’s stories with? How the hell does Bobby know who Princess Leia is? – and are reduced to the mush that so many child actors get given: shouting idiot suggestions to Adam Sandler (or a similar adult) and then multiple reaction shots of them gleefully laughing at the “havoc” they have wrought. I was heard to laugh when they tearily asked if their father was ever going to come back, and Anna swore under her breath several times at their tweeness.

But the kids aren’t the biggest problem: in the scheme of the movie, they’re just so much white noise. The fact of the matter is that Bedtime Stories‘ drama sucks. In our modern, internet and mobile phone world, none of the content of this movie can be gotten away with. Everything is manufactured, the hand of director Adam Shankman (what a follow up to Hairspray and Proposition 8: The Musical!) clearly visible at every turn. If Guy Pearce is qualified to demolish a building, then I will accept the travesty of the film’s climactic battle sequence and totally artificial “idiot children in peril” tack-on. You stop knowing who the hell this movie was written for, but I suspect it was created by people who understand neither adults nor children and is incapable of writing for either – but the kids in the audience seemed to enjoy it, so what would I know of that? Every time I voluntarily see a movie like Bedtime Stories, I feel bad about the agonies that I subjected my father to in my callow youth. I’m sorry for The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, dad, I really am.

I know everything about this project is the “best” thing about it, but Jonathan Pryce’s ending narration says “and they got into many further adventures, but that’s another story.” Hell yeah! Roll on Bedtime Stories II! Everyone wants a sequel to an entirely self-contained film that has no loose ends save “Uncle Skeeter, is our father ever going to come back?” (“I don’t know, kids, but he’s a grade A moron to want to spend a single second away from a great pair such as yourselves!”), that already indicates the admittedly flimsy rules are on their way to being broken!

This reminds me of the time when I stopped writing about Kung Fu Panda, which I enjoyed, because I read that Jeffrey Katzenberg was planning a further five entries. I died of cynicism on the spot. They say that franchising is killing video games, but I posit that movies aren’t safe either. We’re getting not particularly original, well made or interesting material in the first place, and they want to compound this issue by spitting out more and more of the same. It’s a sad, sorry state of affairs and I’d like to say I won’t stand for it, but what the hell can I do? At the very least, I can feel relieved that, through a series of (legal) underworld connections, no money changed hands in my “observation” of this film.

Seriously, Bedtime Stories is probably not worse than High School Musical 3, but it certainly made me nostalgic for that fine piece of film. For one thing, it didn’t sign on any actors who are well above their station (save Lucas Grabeel, but that’s another story. God, I hate myself). Fortunately, I’m seeing Frost/Nixon tomorrow, so at least my final film of 2008 won’t be this shameful piece of cinema.

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