Kid-friendly movies can get away with a lot and still be entertaining. Children aren’t sophisticated enough to know when the hero undeservedly wins. Kids don’t care if the day is saved by a deus ex machina. It’s enough to know that the bad guy is kind of a jerk and that the plucky hero rides off into the sunset with the beautiful girl. Storytelling gripes aside, Bedtime Stories is an excellent family film that offers something for all ages, but more for the younger ones.
Bedtime Stories is a fresh take on a traditional conceit: What happens when the storyteller’s fiction becomes reality? In this case, the storytellers are small children who are the niece and nephew of Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler). Skeeter is not a very complex person. He’s a career maintenance man at the hotel his father once owned when Skeeter was a child. The current owner, Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), bought the hotel with the loose proviso that Skeeter would manage the building when he was ready. Now, some 20-years later, Skeeter is being passed over for all-around jerk Kendall (Guy Pearce). Meanwhile, Skeeter shares babysitting responsibilities of his niece and nephew with Jill (Keri Russell), a family friend. When Skeeter puts the kids to bed and is forced to tell them bedtime stories using himself as the hero, the wild additions the kids add to the story have a way of affecting Skeeter’s real life in extraordinary – and not always positive – ways.
There are probably some concerns with Bedtime Stories being a Happy Madison production despite it being a Walt Disney Pictures release. Adam Sandler’s production company isn’t well-known for making family-friendly films, yet kids end up seeing them anyway for some reason. Well, rest assured that Bedtime Stories barely even hints at anything parents might have to explain to their kids later. Kissing is kept to a minimum. Fights are handled without any real violence. There’s also no swearing. That’s not to say that Sandler’s signature comedy isn’t there. He’s just not punching people in the face or cursing at them. In that sense, some Sandler fans may be disappointed, but concessions have to be made.
This is definitely not the most challenging role for Sandler, acting-wise. In fact, most of the cast, which is made up of well-known journeyman actors like Courtney Cox, Lucy Lawless and Jonathan Pryce, don’t get to do much with their characters. Even Russell Brand, who delivers the funniest performance in the film, appears to be playing himself more than his character. Guy Pearce, however, does turn in a notable performance as the delicious – if a little clichéd – bad guy, with his pompous arrogance and devil-made coif.
Lastly, congratulations are due director Adam Shankman and his team who have managed to create very believable set pieces for the short times they’re on screen. Bedtime Stories meanders from medieval times to the Old West and even to the future in outer space. Shankman also includes a beautifully choreographed musical number, which echoes of The Pacifier, a previous film by the same director. If he ever gets bored of directing films, I’m sure Adam Shankman will have a bright career on Broadway.
It’s difficult to tell if Bedtime Stories will become a new Walt Disney classic, but it’s definitely a film that parents will enjoy watching with their kids. It has all of the exciting settings that capture a child’s imagination and enough reaction shots of the cutest and creepiest hamster you’ve ever seen to keep small kids entertained time and time again.