Four precocious kids and a furry monster voiced by Michael Caine? Sure, why the hell not?
Picking a movie for Little Box of Horrors can sometimes be a chore. So many bad/borderline movies plop onto Redbox every week, how do you even start? Well, this time around, it was a no-brainer. I knew as soon as I saw the cover to Four Kids and It that it was going to have to be a LBoH pick. And I was not not disappointed.
Four Kids and It (2020)
Four kids on holiday in Cornwall meet a magical creature on the beach with the power to grant wishes.
For What It Is
Four Kids and It works just fine as a fairly obtuse kid’s movie. You know the sort: the lessons are obvious and rarely bother to take apart the issue to show any gray areas. Being selfish is bad (never mind that the selfish child is acting out due to parental neglect). Being vain is bad (once again, looking for parental attention.) The real problem is that, with so few exceptions it’s glaring, all of the character faults are concentrated in one kid. The Black kid.
What It Is, Is Casually Bigoted.
Unlike the source material book, the family in this film are mixed race. David and his two kids, Ros and Robbie, are White and British. Alice and her two kids, Smash and Maudie, are Black and American. The film obliviously codes each, showing a stunning lack of self awareness.
The White family’s faults are humble-brag virtues: David is chastised for being too rational, Ros is needled for being too bookish and smart. Meanwhile, Alice is an over-emotional woman who can’t even cook properly (how does she ever hope to snag a husband without proper wife skills, sheesh!) and Smash is a jumble of terrible stereotypes.
She hangs out with a gang, she’s awful to everyone, she steals from and taunts young Robbie, and makes Ros’ life hell. When Ros gets a wish, she wants to visit the characters from her favorite book (the book this story is based on); when Smash gets a wish, she makes herself a pop idol. Cause you know Black kids and their music! Despite the fact that Smash’s driving motivation is to be with her estranged father, not be famous. So of course she breaks character to do the stereotypical Black thing!
Going Out of Your Way to be Ugly.
I was pretty gobsmacked by just how tone-deaf this film was. It does not notice at all how awful it is being. We first meet Ros as she’s being sweet as sunshine in a book shop. She’s so nice, she gets a free book! We then meet Smash as she’s vandalizing property, surrounded by a gang of clearly lower class boys. Even in the presentation of the gang, the film just reeks of upper class disdain: the kids look like extras from Oliver Twist, not teenagers from 2020.
There’s so much casual imperialism. The snooty villain (Russel Brand) thinks Alice has a speech impediment. Cause she’s American. He also tosses a ton of shade at Smash, pretty much shaming her for the trifecta of being Black, a girl, and American.
If the other-ing had only come from the villain, it’d be a plot point to make a moral lesson out of. That it comes after the film has aggressively other-ed the Black characters from the outset makes you think Brand’s character is the screenwriter saying the quiet parts out loud.
Yeah, Skip It.
I figured Four Kids and It was going to be bad. I just kinda assumed it was going to be bad for having lousy CG and perhaps the bonus of Michael Caine phoning in a sheepish performance. Actually, the film has nice CG (despite the character design being a little unsettling) and Michael Caine gives a really good performance. It’s like he’s reprising his role from The Cider House Rules, just coming out of a muppet’s mouth.
What the film really does is embed so much problematic, unaware bigotry into its text that the idea of showing this movie to kids is horrific. I’m not worried that they’ll fail to pick up on the gentle moral chiding to be kind, respectful, and diligent. What I’m terrified of, is that they’ll unknowingly swallow a ton of sexism, paternalism, and racism. That’s the real monster in this movie.