Movie Reviews

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 8 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Jim Carrey as Count Olaf
Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine
Jude Law as Lemony Snicket (voice)
Emily Browning as Violet Baudelaire
Liam Aiken as Klaus Baudelaire
Kara Hoffman as Sunny
Shelby Hoffman as Sunny
Timothy Spall as Mr. Poe
Billy Connolly as Uncle Monty
Luis Guzmán as Bald Man
Jennifer Coolidge as White Faced Woman #1
Jane Adams as White Faced Woman #2
Craig Ferguson as Person of Indeterminate Gender
Jamie Harris as Hook-Handed Man
Cedric the Entertainer as Detective
Rosemary Garris as Wedding guest
Gilbert Gottfried as AFLAC Duck (voice)
Alan Heitz as Police Photographer
Michael Earl Lane as Ferry Boat Captain
Hannah Lochner as Darcy
Catherine O'Hara as Justice Strauss
Deborah Theaker as Mrs. Poe

Summary:
Fans of the Lemony Snicket books should be pleased with this movie adaptation. Jim Carrey is excellent as Count Olaf and leads the wonderful cast in bringing the beloved books to life. Little kids will probably be scared by this one, though.

Story:
This film is based on the series of books by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. This film covers the first three books in the series – The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window.

After a mysterious fire kills their wealthy parents and destroys their mansion home, the Baudelaire Children suddenly find themselves to be the Baudelaire Orphans. Fourteen-year old Violent is the oldest and is good at inventing things. Her brother Klaus is a reader and exceptionally good at memorizing whatever he reads. Then the youngest of the Baudelaires is Sunny, an infant who loves to bite things. But the death of their parents is only the first in a series of unfortunate events for the children.

The kids are left with their closest living relative, Count Olaf. Olaf is evil in every way imaginable. His home is a disaster area, he forces the kids to do back breaking chores, he beats the children, and he's a bad actor. But worst of all is the fact that Olaf has set his eye upon acquiring the kids' large inheritance. He unfolds a scheme to get rid of the kids and get the money for himself. However, when his plan fails, the children are shipped off to one distant relative after another. All along the way Count Olaf pursues them and tries to bump off the other relatives in order to get the kids' money for himself.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is rated PG for thematic elements, scary situations and brief language.

What Worked:
In order to prepare for seeing this film, I picked up the first three Lemony Snicket novels and began reading them. I have to admit that I wasn't impressed. While I was immediately pulled into the Harry Potter novels, the Lemony Snicket books didn't entertain me much. The formula for the books seemed to be set early on and not deviated from. The material was oddly dark for a children's novel. The adults were frustratingly dumb. In short, I wasn't planning on reading more Lemony Snicket books and I didn't have high hopes for the film. Fortunately, I ended up liking the movie quite a bit. While the film stayed true to the spirit and formula of the books, it expanded on them in ways that made the story much more entertaining.

Fans of the books will be glad to hear that the film stays very much faithful to them. The core stories are here and the cast embodies the characters perfectly. There are some deviations, though. For example, Count Olaf's attempt to marry Violet is taken from the first book and placed at the end of the film (i.e. after the third book). In its place is an attempt by Count Olaf to kill the children by leaving them locked in a car on a train track. While this wasn't in the book series, it's still very much in the spirit of the stories. Another apparent deviation is the fact that the Baudelaire parents, Uncle Monty, and Aunt Josephine are all revealed to be members of a secret society. (Maybe this was revealed in later books in the series, but it wasn't in the first three.) Other changes are made here and there. For example, the kid's don't exploit their peppermint allergy to escape Olaf. Despite the modifications from the book, this was still very much in the spirit of the books and quite a lot of fun.

Jim Carrey is perfect as Count Olaf. He takes the evil character from the novels and expands on him greatly. He primarily gives him a comic edge while still retaining the character's evilness and murderous spirit. I think if Carrey didn't make Olaf as funny as he did then the character would have been a heck of a lot scarier for kids watching the film. Carrey's ability to do different voices and characters comes in especially handy when he plays Captain Sham and Antonio. In short, Jim Carrey deserves a lot of credit for making this film work.

That being said, Sunny also steals almost every scene she's in. Played by Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman, the baby gets some of the best lines in the film. In the books Sunny would babble some baby talk and the narrator would say something like, "What Sunny probably meant to say was……" That is done in the movie through subtitles. The baby would babble something and then a hilarious subtitle would appear at the bottom of the screen. It was a great touch.

The rest of the cast is also excellent. Emily Browning is excellent as Violet Baudelaire. She's a perfect match for the book character. Liam Aiken is also great as Klaus Baudelaire. Meryl Streep looks like she has a lot of fun playing Aunt Josephine while Billy Connolly is a great choice for Uncle Monty. Jude Law also does a good job as Lemony Snicket, the narrator of the story. Also look for small roles by Luis Guzmán, Cedric the Entertainer, Catherine O'Hara, Dustin Hoffman, and even the AFLAC Duck in a cheap product placement cameo.

The opening of the film is absolutely perfect and instantly sets the mood for the story to come. It opens with an ultra-cheesy stop motion film featuring the Happy Elf. It's so sugary sweet you'll get a cavity. The scene then abruptly stops, and Lemony Snicket's droll voice comes in and informs the audience that this isn't the film that they will be watching, but they can leave if they don't want to see the dark, depressing story to follow. It's a very fun way to open the film.

The sets are also incredible. There's a dark, surreal, stylized quality about everything that is perfect for the story. This is well complimented by the makeup and costumes. It all comes together to make a visually stunning film.

I think if you liked the Harry Potter films then you're a perfect candidate to enjoy Lemony Snicket. While the two stories are quite different, they do have a number of similar elements. Both have orphans going through hardships. Both have a large cast of adults that don't listen to kids. Both have dark, dreary settings. Both films require you to leave your adult cynicism at the door.

What Didn't Work:
As enjoyable as the movie is, there are a few problems I had with it. First off, there's Count Olaf's plot of trying to marry the 14-year-old Violet. I didn't like it in the book and I didn't like it in the movie. While it may be in the spirit of the Brothers Grimm or other fairytales, it's just plain creepy in a modern context. Hopefully this doesn't encourage creepy old men to try and marry 14-year-old girls.

This film is also quite intense and will probably scare little kids to death. There are a number of scary moments like Count Olaf slapping Klaus, a swarm of leeches attacking the children, a number of main characters getting killed, etc. Even though this film is rated PG, I'd still not recommend it to children under 7. There are a couple of profanities and phrases that, while mild, I wouldn't want my kid repeating.

Finally, I have to say I wasn't impressed with the cameo by the AFLAC duck. It was a product placement that just didn't fit in the movie and came across as a stunt to make advertising money.

The Bottom Line:
With a wicked sense of humor, a great cast, and wonderful production design, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a fun movie for both kids and adults. It's a great adaptation of the novels, but I recommend younger kids avoid it because it can be scary at times.

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