A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie may be upsetting to some kids. The children in the movie are orphans who are continuously mistreated. There are constant scenes of peril and tension; though most of the violence is offscreen, we see the aftermath. An adult strikes a child and there are other assaults and murders and an apparent suicide. There is one scary surprise and several shots of creepy creatures, including rats, bugs, bats, and snakes. Some children will understand that this is intended as macabre humor but others will not, so parents should be particularly cautious about deciding whether the film is appropriate for their kids. Other parental concerns include some very crude language "said" by a baby ("shmuck," "bite me"), and a forced marriage with a 14-year-old (predatory, but only with regard to her money).
What's the story?
LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS begins as a sugary but slightly off animated tale about the littlest elf, but Mr. Snicket soon interrupts, explaining that this will be quite a different kind of story. Violet (Emily Browning), an inventor, Klaus (Liam Akin), who reads everything, and 2-year-old Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), who loves to bite things, are on the beach when Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) from the bank comes to tell them that their house has burned down and their parents have been killed. He drives them to their nearest relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). The Count puts the children to work and tries to kill them, but no one listens when they try to explain what is going on. But they finally get removed from his custody and subsequent guardians include a kindly herpetologist (Billy Connelly) and a multi-phobic grammarian (Meryl Streep). Count Olaf keeps coming back (sometimes in disguise). He wants the Baudelaire fortune and is ready to kill -- or marry -- anyone he has to in order to get it.
Is it any good?
The whole movie is rather macabre. It may surprise some, but the Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket (pseudonym of Daniel Handler) are wildly popular with school-age kids, though they may horrify tender-hearted parents. "These books are among the most unpleasant in the world," Snicket warns crisply on the dust jacket for the first three volumes, the basis for this film, "and if you do not have the stomach for such unpleasantries as a repulsive villain, a deadly serpent, cold cucumber soup, a terrible fire, and a doll named Pretty Penny, I would advise you to read three happy books instead." "Unfortunate events" is an understatement.
Some adults are genuinely horrified by the unabashedly creepy people in these books. It is disturbing to think of any children, even imaginary ones, being subjected to abuse. But Snicket's talent is in understanding his audience better than anyone past the age of 12 usually can. Watch how careful he is to create an atmosphere of menace while leaving what is, if you look for it, a very reassuring zone of protection around the children. Other than one slap, the children are never touched and they never appear to be rattled or upset. The very presence of the narrator itself adds a comfortable distance. And it is always clear that if the solution isn't found in one of Violet's inventions or Klaus' extensive knowledge from books, Sunny's powerful teeth will save the day.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how we learn to respond to the unexpected, and the importance of having a Plan B (and Plans C through Z). Some kids will want to be reassured about who their guardians would be if something happens to their own parents. And families could talk about what messages they would want to read in a letter like the one from the Baudelaire parents and why books with such terrible abuse are so popular with kids.
- In theaters: December 17, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: April 26, 2005
- Cast: Jim Carrey, Jude Law, Meryl Streep
- Director: Brad Silberling
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Book characters
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, scary situations and brief language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.