At a time when most family films are packed with computer trickery, the old-fashioned, live-action Five Children and It comes as a breath of fresh, if somewhat nostalgic, air and is a sweet adventure that should enchant small children while reminding their grown-up companions of the films we used to love as tots, such as The Railway Children and other long-ago delights like Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Based on the much-loved E Nesbit children’s book, the film follows five brothers and sisters as they are evacuated during the First World War, sent to stay with their eccentric Uncle (Kenneth Branagh), his hideous young son Horace (Alexander Pownall) and the dotty housekeeper (Zoe Wanamaker) at their run-down mansion by the sea. It’s there the siblings – led by precocious Robert (Freddie Highmore) – find a secret beach that’s home to a Psammead, an 8000-year-old sand fairy they call ‘It’. ‘It’ (voiced by Eddie Izzard) can grant their wishes, but he’s a pesky creature, so each one tends to backfire before it fizzles out at the end of the day.
With fun cameo performances from John Sessions and Norman Wisdom, this is a cute little traditional film rather than an exciting one packed with lasers and creatures (although there is a CGI dinosaur and, of course, ‘It’ himself). In fact, what special effects there are – the kids wish to fly and sprout angelic wings, for example – are decidedly creaky, but that’s actually part of the movie’s charm. Some of Izzard’s characterisations may seem a bit modern for the historical setting too, but as a Sunday-afternoon diversion that has its heart in the right place, this is just what you and your little ones would wish for.
Is Five Children And It suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
None (though very young viewers would probably find It quite creepy).