"Sunny, would you bite the head off of that elf,
please?" -- Violet Baudelaire
As a kid, I never really got into that
genre of children's books aimed mainly at
little girls. The ones where some poor girl (usually),
who most times was British, had misfortune and
cruelty heaped upon her through the whole book until
the end, when something would happen (a
revelation of restored gardens, perhaps) to make everything OK.
were usually adapted into Shirley Temple films.
I just didn't enjoy reading about these poor, helpless
protagonists and their torments or
watching their movie versions. I also thought the
villains never really got what they truly deserved or
that the payoff was worth everything the poor girls
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
is in that style of
story. Heaps of, well, unfortunate events are
perpetrated upon the poor Baudelaire children. Not
having read the wildly popular books, I can't say if
a genuine entry into that subgenre or a parody of
it; but the horrible, sad, and terrible things that
happen to the unlucky Baudelaire children
make for a really good movie.
Likewise I can't say how faithful the film is in
first three Unfortunate novels (A Bad
Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide
Window), although the decision to adapt three books
at once seems to be one of the weaknesses of the movie.
But I'll get to that in a bit.
is the story of Violet Baudelaire (Emily "Don't hold
Darkness Falls against me" Browning) and her
siblings Klaus (Liam "Road to Perdition" Aiken),
Sunny (Kara & Shelby "We're the baby, gotta love us!"
Hoffman), and all the rotten things that happen to
them, starting with a horrible fire that renders them
homeless (but wealthy) orphans.
Violet is an inventor, Klaus is a vivid reader who
remembers everything he reads, and Sunny apparently
has adamantium teeth and can bite through anything.
Each of these skills cleverly gets them out of sticky
situations, the main one
being the pursuit of their fortune by their closest
relative, Count Olaf (Jim "Rubber Face"
Usually I dislike Carrey in films, because
without a strong director reining him in he's
a hammy over-actor. But since Count Olaf is a
hammy over-actor, it's perfect casting here.
Olaf does his best to steal the fortune of the poor
Baudelaire children with various schemes, supported by
his eclectic group of dramatists. When each one fails
and the children are sent to another guardian, Olaf
pops up again in disguise, with another plan to take
possession of the children and their money. Olaf is
one of those recurring villains that you
enjoy seeing return and wondering what his new plan
The tone of the film is similar to the works of Ed
and Tim Burton, dark but with underpinnings of
humor and the fantastic. I give the director and set
designers a lot of credit for working in that
territory without aping Burton's style, but
having their own take on the genre. I also give them a
lot of credit for the level of darkness in
the movie. There are deaths, some scares and some very
intense scenes (for the younger set; we older kids
should have no problems). They don't kiddy it up
much at all.
In the World
Another plus for the film are the performances.
are particularly good. I applaud
the baby wranglers: I really bought into Sunny
being a fully aware little person who just happened to be
The film has one of the best end-titles sequences
that I've seen in a while, and some other cute bits where
it plays with the medium of film. Combined with narration
by Mr. Snicket
(Jude "Devilishly Handsome" Law), these tricks really
made it feel
like you were being immersed in the world of the
Series isn't perfect. It feels a bit rushed
in places, as the children are bustled from guardian to
guardian. I don't know if
it's because the books are thin, or that they cut a
lot of each book out to get to the next one. But it
makes for thin characterization in some places.
Of course, it may just be a
flaw in the genre; in many kids' books the characters
aren't much more than archetypes.
Overall, Series is a fun movie that, like the
Harry Potter series, seems to work well both in
film and in novel form at separate levels that kids
and adults will enjoy. In fact, I think I'll
track down the books to see how they match up. The movie
is certainly a success on that front.
still won't read A Little Princess. You can't