ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY
**** (out of 5)
October 10, 2014
Steve Carell as BEN COOPER
Jennifer Garner as KELLY COOPER
Ed Oxenbould as ALEXANDER COOPER
Dylan Minnette as ANTHONY COOPER
Kerris Dorsey as EMILY COOPER
Sidney Fullmer as BECKY GIBSON
Bella Thorne as CELIA
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
BY KEVIN CARR
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Adapting picture books to the big screen can be tricky. It can be trickier, in fact, than adapting full-fledged novels because where novels often have to be shortened, picture books must be expanded to fit even the shortest running time.
Judith Viorst’s classic 1972 picture book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is only 32 pages long and has a vocabulary of only a couple hundred words. However, there have been other expanded adaptations, including a TV special and a short stage play. Now, it’s a feature film by Walt Disney, and it’s definitely not terrible or horrible.
The story follows the Cooper family, whose parents Ben (Steve Carell) and Kelly (Jennifer Garner) have to wrangle their four kids on the worst day of their lives. Throughout the film, they have to deal with shenanigans and mishaps in most aspects of their lives, and eventually they must band together to deal with the day as a strong family.
What makes pictures books so difficult to adapt is to keep true to the original intent of the story but adding more character and plot to serve it as well. A great example of where that failed was with “The Polar Express,” which is a brilliant and warm picture book, but the movie spends most of its running time diverting into unnecessary territory to do nothing more than spotlight special effects and action that has no bearing on the outcome of the tale.
One of the ways that “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” gets around this is by expanding the cast. In the book, everything bad happens to Alexander (and, in fact, it’s nothing catastrophic, but rather annoyances for a young boy, like kissing in a movie). However, in the film, Alexander is more of the conduit to the rest of the family. The story bounces around between the parents and the kids, allowing everyone’s life to implode differently and in a relatively safe, PG way.
Like any kids’ movie, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” features plenty of slapstick comedy and a little bit of rude humor. There’s also more modern stresses, like kids at school texting funny pictures of Alexander to everyone and the father being a stay-at-home dad. However, these work to make the film ultimately harmless and fun to watch with the kids.
The breezy running time of 81 minutes also helps things out quite a bit. There’s few things more depressing to a parent than a children’s movie that plods past two hours with no reason. With a movie like this, the premise is straightforward and simple, and the story has its own focus. We get to the end with minimal scars, and it just makes you feel good when it’s over.
The biggest compliment I can give the film is that it is proudly pro-family. The Coopers manage to get through this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day without turning on each other. Sure, there’s bickering, but that’s to be expected. What I thought was brave to do in this film is to resist having the parents taking out their frustrations on the kids, which is a trope I’ve seen in plenty of films over the years.
Instead, the parents deal with their frustrations as adults and don’t blame the children for a situation outside of their control. That’s a good thing to see in a family-focused screwball comedy.
In the end, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is a cute and fun – if not somewhat disposable – film that both kids and parents can enjoy.