This movie is an adaptation of the book with the same name extremely long name. I had never heard of the book when this came out a few years ago but with all the Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket and so on adaptations, weird orphan kids that suddenly find themselves in creepy but magical places is just dollar signs to any producer. Plus, this has Jack Black, Cate Blanchett and Kyle MacLachlan, so how could it go wrong?
It’s 1955 and our very special orphan boy is Lewis and he is on his way to go live with his Uncle Jonathan. Lewis has a love of learning new words and constantly wears goggles like his hero, Captain Midnight. This is how we know he is quirky enough to be the main character. It turns out that his uncle is a warlock, his neighbor is a witch, and the house that he lives in is magically alive. Also, there is a clock in its walls put there by the previous house’s owner, Isaac; a warlock that got back from World War 2 and decided humanity was terrible and built a doomsday clock. Lewis has to help his Uncle find the clock and stop the plot all while trying to make friends at a new school where he is very clearly the weirdest kid there.
True to what I expected, the back and forth between Blanchett and Black is wonderful. There is also a lot of heart and tragedy to the characters that the film doesn’t focus too much on but that they both manage to bring out in their performances. While certainly a magical romp about trying to stop a villain’s doomsday device, the film’s themes about loss, acceptance of oneself, and found family helps to bring a more mature feel to it that adults can appreciate. I also like that Lewis isn’t a “chosen one” and isn’t somehow naturally amazing at magic. He starts to learn some things but is still basically just a kid but he helps as he can and is still instrumental in saving the day.
The movie manages to pack a good amount of creepy and scary scenes throughout while still maintaining its PG rating. The fantastical elements are also used to enhance the tension and show that magic isn’t entirely safe. That said, kids will certainly enjoy the adventure aspects of this and the movie doesn’t talk to down to them. I have been harping about it all week for this theme and I am so happy that there was no incompetent, “comedy relief” character in this. While you get a couple of cheap poop jokes that show up here and there, they don’t rely on the standard kids entertainment trope of “idiot child breaks things and looks at camera” and, for that, I thank them.
Overall, a great movie for kids about 8-13. It has some great actors to keep the adults entertained and Eli Roth directed it, showing that he can do lighter fare than the standard bloodbath movies he is known for.
Score: 4 out of 5