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Five Children and It (2004)

Rating: 4/10

Running Time: 89 minutes

UK Certificate: U

I’ve never read E. Nesbit’s century-old kiddies’ book ‘Five Children and It’ but, as a massive fan of the TV series screened by the BBC in 1991, I went to see this big screen adaptation with a distinct sense of trepidation. Handled correctly, it’s the sort of tale that could make for terrific mid-term entertainment. On the other hand, it also has the potential to be very, very boring.

It’s about five meddlesome ankle-biters who, after being evacuated to the countryside to spend the duration of the First World War with their mad uncle Albert (Kenneth Branagh), make an unusual new friend. He sleeps on the beach, claims to grant “special wishes” and loves hanging around with children – but there’s no need to call the police, for he’s a Psammead (or sand fairy if you prefer) and he turns out to be quite a useful bloke to know.

Created by the Jim Henson Creature Shop and voiced with a bizarre faux-French accent by comic-turned-luvvy Eddie Izzard, Psammy (or “It” as he’s slightly rudely nicknamed by his ungrateful young finders) grants the kiddy-winks one wish a day. Sounds great, obviously, but the catch is that each wish expires at sun-set and – even worse – contains a sickening over-egged moral lesson for its user.

Sadly, this is a slow, ponderous film which feels much longer than its modest hour-and-a-half running time. It takes far too long to introduce us to the Psammead, and its attempts at building up an emotional hook (there’s a subplot about the kids’ dad going missing in enemy territory) are clumsily written and poorly performed. Freddie Highmore, who plays the lead kid, delivers an empty, going-through-the-motions display (we can only pray he’s saving himself for his title role in Tim Burton’s upcoming ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ remake), and even Branagh looks like he can’t be bothered. Izzard ends up working doubly-hard in an effort to carry the film, but unfortunately he’s just got too many passengers.

I’d have liked to have seen the story brought to the cinema in a quirkier style and with a greater emphasis on the sort of charming-but-anarchic comedy Danny DeVito managed to capture so delightfully in Matilda. There’s great potential here, but director John Stephenson and his cast (with the exception of Izzard) fail quite horribly in their attempts to take advantage of it. Unless you’re a curious fan of the book or TV series, give it a miss.

It's Got: A posh kid sporting one of the finest mullets in screen history.

It Needs: A live action cast willing to put as much into it as Eddie Izzard.


A spiritless and forgettable adaptation that could have been so much better.