The Baudelaire Children, Violet, Klaus and little baby Sunny, live happily with their parents while pursuing their various interests. Violet (Emily Browning), is the oldest and she likes to invent. Klaus (Liam Aiken) loves to read. Sunny (Shelby & Kara Hoffman) simply loves to bite. It should come as no surprise to anyone who loves children’s books that each of these attributes will become very handy during the course of the story. Their happy lives are turned asunder when a mysterious fire burns down their happy home and kills their parents. The executor (Timothy Spall) of their parent’s estate, leaves them in the care of Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), perhaps a relative, they aren’t quite sure. Olaf is a wannabee actor with his own troop of followers and he desperately wants to get his hands on the children’s money. He becomes a male Wicked Stepmother and insists that they do everything that comes into his mind. When he realizes he won’t get to their money that easily, he sets about trying to figure out other methods. During the course of events, the children are briefly in the care of the eccentric Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), a scientist ready to lead a new expedition to Peru in search of snakes and Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), an eccentric widower convinced that everything in her rickety house can kill.
‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is based on the first three books of the enormously successful children’s series. Brad Silberling (probably most famous for the movie version of ‘Casper’ starring Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman and an animated friendly ghost) hits just the right tones. The story is dark, much like Roald Dahl’s children’s stories. The film starts with the death of the children’s parents, not exactly happy stuff. Even as the children are dealing with these circumstances, we don’t feel necessarily depressed. The children are smart and seem to be able to take care of themselves. Their independence seems to propel the story.
The sets and style of the film seems to borrow heavily from Edward Gorey and Charles Addams cartoons. Everything is gray and dirty and dusty. The film’s visual look is simply stunning. The gargantuan amount of detail in the three houses the children visit promise a lot of eye candy. If we were to revisit some of these homes (in a possible sequel? Who am I kidding?), we would find new and exciting surprises. There are many exterior scenes which are treated with the same attention to detail. All of this leads to a richly observed fantasy world that has been created for us, the viewer. The richer the details, the more real it seems.
Jim Carrey seems to have found the perfect vehicle for his over the top acting style. His character, an actor, has portraits of himself lining every wall of the house. All of the portraits depict Olaf in a particular ‘important’ role, as say Hamlet. Olaf has formed his own acting troupe and the desperate souls cling to him because they sense that he has something that will help them. Of course, this only serves to feed his ego as well. His acting proves useful when he feels that he must use a new disguise to try to fool the children or the adults. These disguises prove a useful vehicle for Carrey and his comic persona.
Billy Connolly brings just the right levity to the situation as Uncle Monty. He is the type of adult that actually enjoys the company of children and therefore doesn’t talk down to them. He treats them as equals and immediately suggests they go on an adventure. Violet and Klaus immediately feel as though they have found their new home with their eccentric Uncle. What kid wouldn’t love an adult like that? Unfortunately, Olaf won’t let the money get away from him that easily. Soon, they are deposited in the care of widowed Aunt Josephine. Meryl Streep is one of my favorite actresses and she seems to relish the character of Aunt Josephine. Completely on edge, her character is afraid of everything and this brings no small amount of terror into the children’s lives. At the same time, we like her character, because she seems to care for the children.
‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is a great film for the holidays. It may seem a bit dark during the beginning but this only forces the three children to bond together and create their own family. After these adventures, the children receive a bit of a hopeful message, without leaving a strong taste of saccharin in your mouth.