I was worried to say the least about using this to kickstart what will hopefully be a movie-watching habit as frequent as I used to have… though I’ve loved Adam Sandler on and off in the past, it’s a very up and down affair, and when it comes to this kind of Adam Sandler movie, at least how it looked from the trailer, I was pretty sure it’d be far too samey, toned down (it’s a Disney “family movie“…) and forgettable. On top of this, I didn’t quite see how the story was supposed to work. Being from Disney, too, and following so soon after Enchanted as it does, I feared that however they dealt with the nature of kids’ bedtime stories, they’d somehow manage to sully basic tenets of innocence as they did in that 2007 movie.
For at least the movie’s entire first act, I remained horribly skeptical. This movie takes a bizarre amount of time to set itself up, and even once the strange/not-so-strange-afterall things start happening to Sandler in the real world, it takes a long time for the movie to really explain itself. Example: the gumball rain you see in the trailer. It’s a great moment that seems to be the first absolute reveal that “omg what happens in the bedtime stories happens in real life” … and all the choices made in this scene, the camera, editing, music, make it feel like a big moment – they practically do the Shawshank thing, for heaven’s sake – but then we see that it’s merely a gumball truck crashed on an overpass above Sandler’s car. The movie is kind of filled with such semi-anti-climaxes. I guess this is simply my fault for expecting something more magical from the trailer etc. Make no mistake, there’s no magic in this story, just coincidence that may or may not occur as a result of belief in magic. I can’t argue that this, however, is in its way almost more fulfilling.
What I eventually remembered here, too, was that I’ve actually really loved some of those samey old Adam Sandler movies more than I expected, and though this movie is certainly kid-_safe_ (whether they’re kid-_friendly_ I’ll say something about in a moment…) it is really in the end absolutely a member of that sub-genre Sandler has become known for. There’s a scene at the end here when his character has to deliver a presentation to his boss following a spectacular song-and-dance number by Guy Pearce, the villain, and his team. It’s to be the big summing up of the story, Sandler’s big moment, but just prior to the scene he has his tongue stung by a bee, so he’s talking gibberish (like the alien in the kids’ story that was told just the night before). His friend, played by Russell Brand, translates. It’s one of those classic Sandler scenes, like the final speech in Mr. Deeds or Billy Madison, as silly and hilarious as it is, if it catches you in the right mood, actually also just a little touching.
If there’s something wrong with the movie, it could be just that. For sure, you can feel safe enough showing your kids this movie or even letting them watch it alone, there’s nothing per se that’s inappropriate for the under 12s… but it is very much the kind of “family movie” where the “bits for kids” and “bits for adults” are well delineated and this could alienate younger viewers. This is perfectly illustrated early on when Sandler’s character tells the kids the first bedtime story, and he gives the character in the story that represents him the name “Mr. Underappreciated”, until one of the kids says, “what’s underdemeciated?” forcing him to rename the character, “Sir Fix-a-lot”. (Oh-ho-ho. Kids are dumb, right?)
I don’t like such condescending attitudes to children at all, even in small and subtle doses, especially in a movie with Walt Disney’s name on it, a man who always said you should speak to children no differently than you speak to adults* – and it doesn’t end there with this movie. Just in case they get bored at any point (like during the aforementioned quite excruciating set-up act), there’s always the enormous-eyed guinea pig, at complete odds with the otherwise “the magic’s all in your head” stance of the story, on hand to entertain. I think the movie could’ve been that bit better if they had just run with the idea that Sandler’s belief that the stories really affect reality is just a misunderstanding – like the felix felicis that helps Ron succeed at Quidditch in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, for example, even though he never took it… it’s the belief that these things are possible that makes them happen, not any real supernatural force. In short, a little confidence.
That small issue aside, it’s still not enough to ruin the overall joy I got from this movie. Once it got going I barely stopped laughing, often very out loud. It’s a typical Disney good-triumphs-over-evil story and, despite the “family-friendly” moniker, an Adam Sandler movie all the way (just in case that’s important to you). I frankly adored it in the end, and will watch it again for sure.
* “I don’t believe in talking down to children. I don’t believe in talking down to any certain segment. I like to kind of just talk in a general way to the audience.” – Walt Disney