Five Children and It (2004)
The story begins when a group of children move from London to the countryside of Kent. While playing in a gravel pit, the five children – Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane, and their baby brother, the Lamb – uncover a rather grumpy, ugly and occasionally malevolent sand-fairy known as the Psammead who is compelled to grant one wish of theirs per day. The effects of each wish lasts until sundown.
Genre: Family Fantasy, Adventure
Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.
In Theaters: Oct 15, 2004 Wide
On DVD: Jul 5, 2005
Directed By: John Stephenson
Theological Review by Kelly Hames
Story elements (characters/actors/atmosphere/ storytelling point of view / plot / pacing / themes): ’It’ is a Psammead, an ancient, ugly and irritable sand fairy the five siblings find one day on a secret beach at their uncle’s mansion. ‘It’ grants them one wish per day, lasting until sunset. But they soon learn it is very hard to think of really sensible wishes, and each one gets them into unexpected difficulties. The sand fairy explains to the children that they get a wish, things go horribly wrong, and they’re supposed to learn something. That’s the rule.
There are some really good performances here. Freddie Highmore (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland) as Robert is as lovable as ever, even when he’s breaking the rules. Kenneth Branagh is nearly unrecognizable as the eccentric uncle who writes children’s books about the joys of arithmetic, Zoe Wanamaker is a Mary Poppins-like housekeeper/assistant, but Eddie Izzard as the voice of ‘It’ steals the show.
Here’s one small example of It:
Psammead: I am a Sand Fairy!
Jane: A Sand Fairy? I thought fairies had little ballet dresses and wings and wands.
Psammead: What on earth have you been reading?
Jane: I’ll call you Sandy.
Jane: Because we found you in the sand.
Psammead: You’re so funny. Have your parents tried boiling you?
The story moves quickly from castle to seashore and back again as the children encounter one problem after another with their wishes, including earning the enmity of their already distrustful cousin, Horace. Horace manages to kidnap the sand fairy in order to dissect him then add the Psammead to his pickled monster collection. Eventually the children begin to see that wish fulfillment isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and that magic isn’t real.
Film Language (setting/color/special effects/props/lighting/framing/space/camera shots & angles/costume/editing/music): The setting of this movie is World War I England where the children are sent off to live with an eccentric uncle in an isolated castle then finding a “special entrance” to a fantasy world is so reminiscent of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But the similarities end there. The “fantasy” beach (filmed in Kirk Michael, Isle of Man) was visually more “real” than the castle (obviously a sound stage). The special effects employed in creating the sand fairy were excellent – a cross between E.T. and Yoda. And like E.T. and Star Wars, much of the comedic elements came from the “creature.” This isn’t surprising since this was a film made in conjunction with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop where the director has worked as a creative supervisor for many years.
Audience/Cultural Context elements: This is a cute, sweet, sometimes funny family movie that all ages should be able to enjoy. However, I would specifically like to use this movie with children in helping them to understand that in this world of Harry Potter, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, magic isn’t real and God isn’t in the wish fulfillment business nor is God a lucky rabbit’s foot.
Theology is found: Outside of the movie. The sand fairy makes a very good point when he tells the children that it’s the “rule” for wishes to go awry; the point is that they should LEARN something.
Theological themes for conversation:
Two possibilities that I can see:
• Hope is better than wishes.
• Secondarily, and on a smaller scale, this film could be used to emphasize the importance of treating others as we would like to be treated.
Suggested type of conversation:
• The movie could be used to contrast the idea of magic – which here disappeared at sundown – with the reality of God’s grace. The fact that wishes had a very short life would show that magic isn’t real and the sand fairy itself points out that the “purpose” of wishes granted was to help people learn something. God’s grace is endless. I think I’d like to use this opportunity to try to express to children that God’s love and care can’t be manipulated like a sand fairy and is not at the beck and call of humans. God doesn’t grant wishes, God gives us the longings of our heart (to quote the Psalm), the depth of which we are not often aware. Also, the fact that the children’s wishes usually ended in disaster until the last one when they used the wish unselfishly could make a point for intercessory prayer.
• Another point for conversation could be the unfolding of events between the five guests and their cousin. They tricked Horace several times and when they finally decided to “make friends” with him, he wasn’t willing. It wasn’t until Horace discovered that he had a secret to share for the first time in his life (about the Psammead) that a friendship was finally forged between all of the children.
Recommended ways to view and engage the film:
It would be best to view the movie up to a point…have dialogue along the line of your intended theme, then watch the unfolding of events together. This movie is just a little over and hour and a half so could fit into some discussion group settings, even with children.
Concluding or summary remarks:
This was a wholesome, endearing movie that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch with children. Horace’s laboratory was a little scary but I’ve found that many children LIKE scary. It’s worth watching just for the sand fairy, if nothing else.