It’s official. I’ve just totally given up on Adam Sandler. Honestly, I haven’t laughed at anything he’s done since the music video for The Lonesome Kicker. How many times can the same absurdity and Romper Room antics work on a film audience? Even in a Walt Disney film that required Sandler to clean up his act a bit, the same sophomoric humor was showing through the threadbare shtick. You just knew there were times he wanted to let loose with some off color remark or obscene gesture. While I was pleased that he gave it the effort, it’s like asking a mute man to talk after you just tied up his hands. There are some moments of genuine warmth with the kids. The guy’s probably a very nice and likable guy, it’s not personal. I’m just tired of the same Happy Gilmore character, just stuck in different situations. Think about it, aren’t they all the same person: Zohan, Gilmore, Little Nicky… The list goes on ad nauseum. A shame, really, because this thing might have had legs with another lead in the role.
Once upon a time in a small hotel, Marty Bronson (Pryce) was trying to run his small family business. Unfortunately, while Marty might have been a great guy, he didn’t have a head for business. He’s forced to sell out to a large hotel chain, owned by Barry Nottingham (Griffiths). The thing that put the deal over the top was Nottingham’s promise to let his son Skeeter (Sandler) run the hotel when he was older. Alas, as I always told my law students in my teaching days: Get it in writing or the promise isn’t worth the paper it’s not printed on. Nottingham does keep Skeeter around, however, as a handyman. Unfortunately he’s treated as a nobody by the entire staff, accept Mickey (Brand). Skeeter’s life is about to change. First, he is given charge of his niece, Bobby (Kesling) and nephew, Patrick (Heit) while his sister, Wendy (Cox) is out of town looking for a job. She’s the local elementary school principal. She’s also a crazy control freak liberal who feeds her kids cakes made out of sawgrass and prohibits such wasteful activities as television watching. Of course, brother Skeeter is going to change all of that. Wendy leaves her friend, Jill (Russell) to help out with the kids and take the “day shift” since she’s also a teacher at their school. But Skeeter’s life might change for the better when he’s given an opportunity to run the new and improved Nottingham Hotel that will replace the current one. If he can come up with a better theme than Nottingham’s future son-in-law and all around kiss up, Kendall (Pearce), he’ll be allowed to finally run the hotel. It doesn’t hurt that he discovers magic in his niece and nephew. It seems that when the three of them engage in some ad lib storytelling (the kids’ books all look like they were written by Captain Al Gore) the stories begin to come true. If he can only manipulate what the kids come up with in his favor, he might just get the big chance he’s been waiting for and even win the girl of his dreams, which he thinks is Nottingham’s Paris Hilton knock-off daughter, Violet (Palmer). Needless to say, it won’t be easy, but Skeeter finds a way to become the hero. Oh, and there’s one of the worst CG creations since Lucas unleashed Jar Jar on an unsuspecting Star Wars fan base. In this case it’s a CG enhanced guinea pig named Bugsy, because of his obnoxiously large eyeballs.
If that sounds like a lot to remember, it is. The story is far too complicated and nuanced to really work on the target kiddie audience. There are plenty of nods to the adults, but in traditional Sandler fashion, there’s nothing subtle about them. I suspect you’ll find your kids scratching their heads a bit in this one. Even in the rather long synopsis I gave there are several vital elements left out. How can you cram all of that into a film for an age group with an attention span often measured in handfuls of minutes? You can’t. The result is a film with some very nice moments: The stories are often engaging when they’re not over the top. But you saw all of those better moments in the trailer. Now there’s an idea. Settle for the 2 minute version. You can catch it on the net for free. Otherwise, this is strictly a rental.
Where the film actually shines is the supporting cast around Adam Sandler. He might be the star, but I enjoyed pretty much everyone else more. The Time Machine’s Guy Pearce makes for a pretty good bad guy. He manages to counter Sandler’s over the top acting with a rather subdued take on the villain. Of course, his part in the stories is far more outrageous. Fan favorite Lucy Loveless turns in an additional small but nuanced performance as Kendall’s girl Friday, Aspen. Yeah, I know I told you he was engaged to the Nottingham girl. That’s just another one of those multiple story arcs that overcomplicate the entire works. Speaking of the Nottingham girl, Teresa Palmer acting out in a full on Paris Hilton spoiled brat persona. Barry Nottingham, the head of the chain, is played by that lovable Uncle Dursley from the Harry Potter films, Richard Griffiths. Russell Brand is the lightest character in the film, and while I did find him to be quite funny, it was often more a distraction to the story than anything else. The tale is narrated by the voice of Jonathan Pryce, who also plays Skeeter’s father. You’ll likely recognize him as Governor Swann from the Pirates Of The Caribbean films. He has a wonderful voice for fairy tales. He’d be perfect to do fairy tales on tape, or CD, as the case may be. He’ll be next seen in the new G.I. Joe film as the President of the United States. Finally you have to give some props to the wonderful job the two children did. Jonathan Morgan Heit and Laura Ann Kesling do their part to bring the real charm and magic to these Bedtime Stories.
Bedtime Stories is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. You’ll get a very strong 1080p image brought to you by the almost standard AVC/MPEG-4 codec. If I wasn’t very impressed with the film, I must admit that the transfer here on Blu-ray is quite good looking. Detail gives an added sense of enchantment during the story sequences. Colors are often dazzling, and black levels are impressive. There’s a horse named Ferrari, who is painted red, and that bright, albeit unnatural color really stands out. There are no print defects or serious compression issues to deal with in this presentation. There’s tons of eye candy, and this release gives you the level of detail to fully appreciate it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track does a great job here of helping you to distinguish between reality and the story sequences. The real world is a rather simple mix, while the fantastic elements bring the surrounds alive with not only new and imaginative ambient sounds, but a livelier score with much more dimension to the whole affair. Someone was thinking on this one. Dialog is sharp as can be except where Sandler has to bring out his trademark mumbling routine. I was impressed with the overall range of sound from quite distinct highs without a hint of distortion or splatter, to rather engaging lows that allow your sub to get some quality time in the film.
All but one of these features is in HD.:
Deleted Scenes: There are 12 in all, and they last about 10 minutes. All are very short and mostly merely scene extensions. A little more background on the film can be gained here. Definitely worth the quick viewing.
Until Gravity Do Us Part: Visit the “Big Blue Room” where most of the space story was filmed. You get a good look at the wire stunts and f/x pre-visuals for the elaborate scene. It runs a short 4 minutes.
To All The Little People: This piece focuses on the two kids in the film. It’s kind of cute listening to them talk about their experiences on the set. There’s some good behind the scenes stuff here, and the rest of the cast and crew offer up a lot of praise for the kids.
It’s Bugsy: In case you didn’t get enough of the bug-eyed guinea pig, here’s your chance for just under 4 minutes more.
Outtakes: There’s almost 7 minutes of romping around here.
Other features include: BD-Live content, a DVD copy of the film, and a digital copy.
I’ve come to expect great things from Disney, but this one just doesn’t come up to par. It’s a good enough escape. There are some rather enchanting moments, but it never came together for me. It was Adam Sandler that too often stood out like a sore thumb. He tried to tone it down, but when Sandler’s in a film he can’t help but attempt to get all of the attention. There were too many other nice touches here to have had a scene stealing narcissist as the lead character. We really needed a more subtle performer here. And with that somewhat barbed observation, “Our tale is at an end”.