Movie reviewers can be a jaded and cynical bunch, especially when it comes to Adam Sandler, family movies, or romantic comedies--which explains why so many of them came down a little hard on "Bedtime Stories." It's a Sandler film that rather sneakily combines the family movie and romantic comedy genres. Maybe a few of those grumpy critics were thinking that since this was a Happy Madison Production it would have a little more raunchiness and language than it does--which is zero. With its PG rating, "Bedtime Stories" is uncharacteristically wholesome for an Adam Sandler comedy, and not as laugh-out-loud. He even has to compete with a CGI guinea pig for laughs in this Adam Shankman ("Hairspray") directed picture. But apart from an ending that feels tacked-on rather than organic, "Bedtime Stories" is still a winning comedy that gives adults the romance and kids the laughs, making it one perfect family movie night feature.
It all begins with a voiceover by Marty Bronson (Jonathan Pryce), the proprietor of the Sunny Vista Motel who talks about what a fun place it was for his son, Skeeter (Adam Sandler, as an adult), though the boy's sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) was a little more sourpussed about their circumstances. Needless to say, Wendy grows up to be a serious-minded school principal who's losing her job because her school is being torn down, and Skeeter grows up to be the handyman at the Sunny Vista Nottingham Hotel, a gigantic luxury hotel that sprung up after bankrupt Marty sold out to developer Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths). The thing is, part of the deal--albeit verbal--was that Nottingham was supposed to turn the manager's job over to Skeeter once he was old enough, but of course that never happened. And the other thing of it is, the new land where Nottingham plans to build a mega-hotel is located (yep, it's not hard to guess) right smack dab where that school is. But aside from that predictability and the inevitable happy ending, the script from Matt Lopez ("The Wild," "Race to Witch Mountain") and Sandler good-luck charm Tim Herlihy ("Billy Madison," "Happy Gilmore," "The Wedding Singer," yadda yadda yadda) is really pretty believably slick--full of strong dialogue and amusing lines.
Wendy wants to go on a trip to scout out a new place to live, and she leaves the kids in the care of best-friend Jill (Keri Russell) during the day and asks her reluctant brother, who just dropped in to see what condition his condition was in, to take over during the evenings when Jill has another commitment. Much of the humor derives from the ways in which Skeeter's laid-back manner conflicts with his sister's orderly and utterly wholesome household. When, for example, he goes to read them a bedtime story, he pulls out books that have titles like "The Organic Squirrel Gets a Bike Helmet" and all but gags over the oppressive didacticism. Couldn't he just make up a story, the way his dad used to for him and Wendy? At first the kids are reluctant, but soon they begin to connect with their uncle through fantasies that are so thinly disguised even the two kids know they're based on Skeeter's own situation at the hotel--and of course we SEE the characters in these fantasies.
His first story deals with a "Mr. Underappreciated" who becomes Sir Fixalot in this courtly tale of a king and two "knights" who compete with their ideas to see who gets to run the whole show. Of course, that's exactly what's going on by day, with Sir Buttkiss really a Johnny-come-lately ladder-climber named Kendall (Guy Pearce) who was given the job of managing the new mega-hotel because he was dating Nottingham's daughter, Violet (Teresa Palmer). Nottingham apparently forgot all about his promise to give Skeeter a chance, but rather than sputter or stew, Skeeter just accepts his fate. But when the children help him tell the story and it involves raining gumballs at the end-a strange thing that really happens the next day--a plot is hatched and Skeeter is given the chance to present his own vision for the new hotel and perhaps get the nod to manage after all.
Griffiths is fun to watch as the slightly daft hotel magnate, hamming it up almost as much as he did as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films. So, in fact, is Pearce, but neither is so over-the-top as to be auditioning for dinner theater any time soon. The tone of this film is really remarkable, considering that Sandler movies seem to vacillate between all-out silliness and madness and a controlled humor that's so subtle you wonder if it's even a comedy. "Bedtime Stories" falls somewhere in the middle, and it's a comfortable place for Sandler. It's his kind of film, really, a warm and funny family vehicle that gives him a chance to be Adam Sandler without spazzing out or playing it too straight. He has a nice rapport with Russell, too. You can't really call it "chemistry," since the bulk of the film keeps them apart. But when they're on-camera together they obviously click. Russell Brand is a delight as Skeeter's best friend, Mickey, while the kids--Jonathan Morgan Heit and Laura Ann Kesling--also do a nice job. Or maybe it's Shankman who deserves credit for directing them to be like the rest of this film--warm and engaging without going too dimple-cheeked or over-the-top. This is a Shirley Temple-free zone, in other words, with Shankman resisting any impulse to use the kids to go for cheap laughs or "aw" cutesiness. Nor are they wise beyond their years, delivering adult lines. They're co-equals in a comedy that really succeeds as a film that the whole family ought to enjoy, especially with special effects that make the fantasy sequences seem (add as it sounds) halfway realistic.
Sporting an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, "Bedtime Stories" looks fantastic in 1080p, with pleasantly natural-looking skintones and bright, highly saturated colors that pop out at you, especially in certain scenes--as when the red Ferrari or horse are intended to be iconic images. Overall there's a nice sheen to the picture with an equally nice sense of 3-dimensionality, especially in the fantasy or bright-color scenes. And the level of detail? It's not quite wow, but darned good. "Bedtime Stories" is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is a solid English DTS-HD 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit), with additional soundtrack options in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The featured soundtrack is lively enough, and the rear effects speakers really kick in during the fantasy sequences. The sound editors who mixed this did a good job. Sounds come from different speakers without drawing attention to those speakers. The room pleasantly fills with a rich-enough bass and bright-enough treble. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Fox pioneered the digital copy, and Disney came up with the strategy of including a DVD so people who are wanting to move toward Blu-ray but might not have the player yet can buy the package and watch the DVD in the meantime. But it's frankly nice to have a DVD for the bonus features, given the interminably long load-times for Blu-ray features. I personally won't use the digital copy, but then a lot of people aren't going to use the DVD. So is Disney clogging landfills by producing products that people don't want or need? Well, I'd rather have them produce one package than three, and besides--unless you get rid of your collection, the landfills are safe.
The only Blu-ray exclusive is BD-Live, which Disney is touting as a way to connect with family and friends. Otherwise, the features are brief. There's a blooper reel, 11 deleted scenes, and a couple of very short features: "Get to Know Bugsy the Big-Eyed Guinea Pig," and "A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Special Effects." For a title like this, the bonus features are a bit of a disappointment. No guinea pig game for the kids? No commentary track?
"Bedtime Stories" is a better movie than "Click." The fantasy is more palatable, and the tone is a 180 from the downer remote control stuff. In a way, it's "50 First Dates" with kids and storytelling, over and over until it all comes out right. It's a sweet romantic comedy that has enough humor to keep kids entertained as well--and without having to resort to a lot of belching or farting jokes.