Four Kids and It (3 stars)

Four Kids and It

This lively and endearing Jacqueline Wilson adaptation delivers the feelgood factor for kids

'Magic isn't all twinkly lights and stardust,' warns Michael Caine's Psammead in Sky Cinema's Jacqueline Wilson adaptation. Twinkly sentiment is kept at bay in the first film take on a Wilson novel, which honours the balance of flighty fancy and unresolved feeling in the former children's laureate's modern reimagining of E Nesbit. Though his adult characters let him down, director Andy De Emmony's charming fantasy maintains Wilson's non-condescending approach to wayward childhood emotions, persuasively embodied here by a young quartet of unknowns.

Divided into two sibling pairings, the four kids (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen and Billy Jenkins, Ashley Aufderheide and Ellie-Mae Siame) are brought together when one family's father (Matthew Goode's David) and another's mother (Paula Patton's Alice) announce in a holiday surprise that they are seeing each other. 'Ugh' groan the kids collectively, stung by their respective family ruptures. These awkward feelings are thrown into sharp relief when the youngsters encounter Caine's sand fairy, who grants them a wish a day – albeit with learning-curve complications.

Russell Brand's local eccentric Tristan further complicates plot and tone: a few droll one-liners aside, his delivery wobbles between appealing gusto and 'tache-twirling self-indulgence. Similarly, Alice's failings at driving and cooking belong to broader, older strains of comedy.

The kids are more endearing, crucially so given the focus on their struggles to adapt to changes beyond their phones and Nintendos. Some of the life lessons prove pat, but De Emmony (best known for his work in TV) makes well-integrated work of those moments where the kids' realities and wishes meet – from the writing ambitions of Malleson-Allen's Ros, to an in-flight sequence in which cruel texts bring our kids down to earth hard. The plot kinks keep the route to the predictable climax lively, as does Caine's nicely crotchety voicework as the Psammead: a winningly wily (and explosively flatulent) creation in a children's film that manages to be feelgood but never too cutesy.

Available to watch on Sky Cinema from Fri 3 Apr.

Four Kids and It

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • 1h 50min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Andy De Emmony
  • Cast: Paula Patton, Matthew Goode, Michael Caine

Four kids (Malleson-Allen, Jenkins, Aufderheide and Siame) are brought together when one family’s father announces that they’re seeing the mother of another family; but then on holiday they meet the mysterious sand fairy, the Psammead (voiced by Caine). The plot is predictable, but the tone is charmingly…