A wicked Count will stop at nothing, including murder, to swindle three tragically orphaned children out of their inheritance. Does this sound like the sort of family entertainment you should take your children to?
Well, it might if you know that the evil Count Olaf is played by Jim Carrey as a phenomenally bad actor and master of disguise who’s diabolical plans always go awry due to the ingenious efforts of the resourceful Baudelaire children. And that the movie is based on the first three books in the best-selling, 11-volume “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by the mysterious writer Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). But don’t take my word for it; here’s what Lemony Snicket himself has to say about the movie: “The movie is a dreadful spectacle, a phrase, which here means: It will stir the imagination of the entire family as is shatters the mold of adventure stories and evokes the magic of truly classic entertainment.”
To gain further insight into this “dreadful spectacle,” we turned to director Brad Silberling (
“I have a 3-1/2-year-old daughter now, but I was blissfully unaware of the property when I was contacted about it in the winter of ’02,” Silberling admits. “So I grabbed the first three books and loved them, and said, ‘Yes, I’d love to do it, but we need to sew together all three books.’”
Since Book One, The Bad Beginning, starts out with the precocious Baudelaire brood – Violet, a brilliant 14-year-old inventor; Klaus, a voracious 12-year-old bookworm with a photographic memory; and Sunny, a toddler with a penchant for biting things – already bereft of their home and parents (who were lost in a fire), Silberling felt it was essential that Book Two, The Reptile Room, be included (as well as eventually Book Three, The Wide Window), so that the audience could get an idea of what a happy home life might have been like for these kids before the arrival of the evil Count Olaf.
“In the spirit of the book series, you need to love something and lose it, and love again, and Uncle Monty (the relative who provides a home for the children in Book Two, played by Billy Connolly) is a representation of all that. He recognizes the kids’ skills and spirit, and his house is a kind of heaven for them,” Silberling explains.
Silberling secured a dream cast with the rubber-faced Carrey playing the not quite chameleon-like Olaf, who appears in multiple disguises, and Meryl Streep playing against type as the children’s nervous Aunt Josephine, who’s terrified of everything but bad grammar. Plus Jude Law supplies the voice of the Narrator, Lemony Snicket. But the real casting coup, was the young actors who play the Baudelaire children. Emily Browning (Violet) and Liam Aiken, (Klaus) have the just the right mixture of pluck, gravitas and intelligence to make you root for them and believe they can handle almost any calamity. And the Hoffman twins, who play toddler Sunny, convey both the innocence and ferocity that make Sunny such a potent ally.
“The children are really the adults in this series,” Silberling notes, “because they are the ones who always recognize Olaf as soon as he appears in a disguise. The adults never do.”
The film is rated PG for “thematic elements, scary situations and brief language.” It may be too dark for younger children, but should work for most 7-year-olds on up.
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Philip Murphy covers family-oriented films for United Parenting Publications.