Dir: John Stephenson. UK. 2004. 89mins.
A well-produced children's film based on the novel by Railway Childrenwriter E Nesbit, Five Children And It feels out of sync with theentertainment tastes of today's family audiences. Relentlessly pleasant anddevoid of any tension in the plot, it deliberately flies in the face ofcontemporary culture - a choice that could work in its favour with some parentsbut one which will please only very young children.
The film tells the story of five siblings sent to theiruncle's dilapidated seaside mansion during World War I while their father(Jennings) flies a plane in the Royal Air Force and their mother (Fitzgerald)nurses the wounded.
When they reach the house, they meet their eccentric uncleAlbert (Branagh), his crazy housekeeper Martha (Wanamaker) and unsociable sonHorace (Pownall) who all warn them to stay out of the greenhouse.
Of course the most adventurous of the kids Robert (Highmore)heads straight for the greenhouse and discovers a secret passageway that leadsto a private beach. There he and his older brother Cyril (Bailey), sistersAnthea (Claridge) and Jane (Rogers) and baby brother The Lamb (Muggletonbrothers Alec and Zak) discover an 8,000 year-old Sand Fairy (amusingly voicedby Izzard) who can grant their every wish.
After an amusing wish or two goes awry, the children realisethat "It" could help their father who has gone missing over enemy territory inGermany.
Jim Henson's Creature Shop fashions an endearing "It"combining animatronics, live action and CGI, but the independently financedfilm lacks the slick narrative pacing and smart dialogue kids (and theirparents) are used to from Hollywood family product whether it be Babe, Shrekor any number of Disney pictures.
As directed by the long-time head of Jim Henson's CreatureShop, John Stephenson, Five Children also fails to locate the emotionaldepths of period family fare like The Secret Garden and A LittlePrincess.
Fast-rising child star Highmore stands out in the cast. Hismarquee value could be high next year after starring roles in FindingNeverland and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory are released, afactor which could assist this film in its marketing efforts.
Prod cos: Jim Henson Company, CapitolFilms, Davis Films in association with UK Film Council, Endgame Entertainmentand Isle Of Man Film Commission
Int'l sales: Capitol Films
Exec prods: Hannah Leader, Jane Barclay, Sharon Harel,Endgame Ent
Prods: Lisa Henson, Nick Hirschkorn, Samuel Hadida
Scr: David Solomons, from the novel by E Nesbit
Cine: Mike Brewster
Prod des: Roger Hall
Ed: Colin Green
Main cast: Freddie Highmore, Jonathan Bailey, Jessica Claridge, PoppyRogers, Alec & Zak Muggleton, Alexander Pownall, Eddie Izzard, KennethBranagh, Zoe Wanamaker, Tara Fitzgerald, Alex Jennings, John Sessions, NormanWisdom