A Series of Unfortunate Events movie – The tale of the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny is a sad, sombre affair. Learning of their parents’ demise by fire, they are sent to live with their dastardly Uncle Olaf, a man so hell-bent on acquiring the orphans’ sizeable fortune that he will stop at nothing to get it. When his initial plan is thwarted, we wish we could tell you it all ends happily for the Baudelaire’s but this is not that kind of story…

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) – Director: Brad Silberling

Is Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate events appropriate for kids?

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Rating: PG

Running Length: 108 mins

Starring: Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Jim Carrey

Genre: Comedy, Thriller

‘A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS MOVIE’ REVIEW

Based on the wildly popular book series written by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), the movie adaptation of ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’ draws from material from the first three books (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window) and smooshes them together to create a rough around the edges but otherwise faithful tale of misery, woe, and dark comedy fun.

After losing their parents in a mysterious fire, the precociously intelligent but serially unfortunate Baudelaire orphans are left with their ‘closest living relative’ (as in geographically closest, just down the street) – Count Olaf: an actor of questionable talent who is hell-bent on stealing the children’s inheritance fortune. Olaf is played satisfyingly by Jim Carrey, who delivers a well-balanced performance that neither gurns too much nor threatens too little. He pursues the children with scheme after scheme and poor disguise after poor disguise and, whilst the extent of his determined wickedness is not quite covered, Carrey’s fixed glint in the eye is enough to menace even through the occasional bouts of silliness.

Trying to fit three books worth of plotting into one under two-hour film was always going to be a challenge. Inevitably some of the clever linguistic subtly, sub-characters, and intricate scheming has been dropped. However, despite some of the nastiness of the books getting sacrificed, A Series Of Unfortunate Events successfully crafts its narrative into one which gets across the intrinsic unfairness of meddling adults, both those well-meaning and those with hidden agendas.

The supporting cast is hit-and-miss, given that they do not get long enough to really breathe. Billy Connelly as Dr. Montgomery Montgomery provides an extremely warm and heartening turn; Meryl Streep (Aunt Josephine) is amusing as a women terrified of everything; Timothy Spall hasn’t the room to properly portray the officious and inept Mr Poe; and Jude Law as Lemony Snicket himself gets few scenes to revel in the witty narration that is so central to proceedings. The Baudelaires themselves mostly tie in the audience well. Emily Browning as Violet is the perfect blend of insightful, vulnerable, inventive, and protective. The same can’t be said for Liam Aiken as Klaus who struggles to deliver the nuances of the proud but hurting and abandoned middle child Baudelaire. His straight-faced performance is lacking any emotive power, leaving Browning to carry the emotional heart of their predicament.

With so many elements that make the dark comedy that is ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’ so deliciously engaging, making a self-contained movie was always going to be tricky and this is compounded by a rather tacked on ‘and then everything was sort of okay’ ending that doesn’t feel like it can add anything apocryphal and so instead just comes to an unsatisfying stop. However, director Silberling successfully brings the best bits to the big screen and enough of the tangled tales of trickery and woe are preserved to do justice to Lemony Snicket’s weary but dutiful voice. We would advise that you look away from the ever worsening fate of the Baudelaire orphans, but your enjoyment of their expertly told unfortunate predicament is entirely of your own choosing.

IS THE ‘A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS MOVIE’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

The film opens with narration explaining that the Baudelaire childrens’ parents have been killed in a house fire. There are shots of the fire damaged house. This may be upsetting to children who have experienced family loss or fire.

Count Olaf complains that the children are too glum, to which Klaus replies, “our parent’s just died!” in a mutely shocked tone.

One character sits on a chair and acts as it if is an execution chair. They pretend like they are being electrocuted to death. This is a short moment and not believed by anyone but could be surprising and concerning for younger children.

The youngest Baudelaire, Sunny (who is only an infant) is snatched away by Count Olaf. Olaf slaps Klaus hard across the face when he tries to get her back. The Baudelaires are exasperated and upset by this.

After their failed cooking attempt for Olaf and his troupe of actors, Violet and Klaus Baudelaire talk about the loss of their parents and they are both very sad and upset. The tone of this scene is one of grief and the scene lasts a few minutes. The sustained tone and dialogue in this scene may upset younger children sensitive to on-screen sadness and those who can emote with the situation of deceased parents or family members.

Some characters are stuck in a locked car which is parked across train tracks. A train is thundering towards them and they cannot escape. A plan is put into action to get out of the situation. The scene is tense with a ‘will they / won’t they’ approach to survival.

One character threatens the children by menacingly saying, “I’m going to get you no matter where you are, no matter what you do: you are so deceased”.

When in the Reptile Room, the Incredibly Deadly Viper is described by Uncle Monty (Dr. Montgomery Montgomery). The snake breaks loose from its cage and lunges at the children, causing a sharp ‘jump scare’ moment.

Uncle Monty has a heartfelt moment when talking to the children where he confides that his wife and children were also killed in a mysterious file. He is downcast about this although he is opening up to the children and so the tone of the scene is not too sad.

There is reference to a character who has mysteriously disappeared. A quick cutaway shot shows this (previously not introduced) character strapped to the front of a train. The train comes straight towards the screen and the character is screaming in fear. The moment is short and treated more like a punch line than actual threat.

One character is talking to themself, unaware that they are in danger. Another character is sneaking up on them in the background and is illuminated by dramatic lightning flashes. Shortly after it is clear that character has been killed. There are shots of a graveyard, but also shots shown from the back of a swivel chair where a dead hand is seen from behind, resting on the arm rest. The full ‘body’ is never seen although it is clear who has been killed.

Aunt Josephine is afraid of virtually everything. She gives the children lots of warnings of ‘dangers’, such as that they could ‘trip over the welcome mat and decapitate yourself’. She also warns them about the danger of being crushed to death by a falling fridge, having shards of exploding doorknobs getting lodged in their eyes, and catching fire by standing near to the kitchen stove. Children who get such images stuck in their head may be affected and find their own home scary! Later there is a hurricane which batters the home and many of the previously ridiculously described dangers are shown to have some merit.

There are several references to swarms of leeches that are attracted to the smell of food. If someone who has eaten recently gets too close to them then they will attack and it is implied that they will eat through the person to get to the food. One character is described as having been killed by the leeches and the character talking about this is upset when telling the story. Later, the Baudelaire orphans and company are attacked by the leeches when in wooden rowing boat. The leeches are very aggressive and attack in a large group. They ‘drill’ through the boat and burst through into the inside, scaring the characters. The leeches also ‘screech’ very loudly.  This threat lasts a few minutes and is quite intense. It is implied that they ‘get’ one character, who is not seen again.

Sunny, the infant Baudelaire, is held prisoner in a cage which is suspended at a great height. Violent and Klaus are very upset and worried about this although Sunny herself appears unconcerned (and Sunny has been shown repeatedly throughout to be very intelligent and understanding of her surroundings).

There is a montage near the end of the film where one character has various unpleasant scenarios inflicted on them, reverting back to the leeches and the car stuck on the train tracks. These are quick and the character is shown to survive each encounter.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT – IS THE ‘A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS MOVIE’ SUITABLE FOR KIDS?

The original tales of Lemony Snicket revelled in their ever-increasing unfortunate events and throw some pretty depressing and nasty situations at the Baudelaire children. A more faithful approach to this was delivered by the recent Netflix serialisation, obviously due to the much longer run time available. Within the confines of a standalone big screen release, the A Series Of Unfortunate Events movie shaves off some of the more unpleasant elements and provides a slightly sanitised but still enjoyably dark version. So, whilst the inherent subject matter taken on face value could be seen as unsuitable for children, in terms of actual content shown there is little to be overly concerned about. A child who is sensitive to bad things happening to people may not enjoy this movie, but for the most part things are kept darkly comical enough to be a hoot for children and parents alike.

  • Violence: 2/5 (a child is slapped across the face. There is murder ‘off camera’)
  • Emotional Distress: 3/5 (the Baudelaire children are upset by the death of their parents. Mostly this is a resigned sadness but in one scene the various emotions of grief are raw and present. They are also upset at the demise of other characters. Whenever the infant Sunny is threatened the older children are distraught – although Sunny herself is often unphased)
  • Fear Factor: 3/5 (Count Olaf is not particularly frightening although his intentions are plainly unpleasant. The leeches scene is particularly scary given that they have been described as attacking to get at the food inside people)
  • Sexual Content: 0/5
  • Bad Language: 0/5
  • Dialogue: 3/5 (many verbal threats and descriptions of death)
  • Other Notes: Deals with themes of death, death of family, betrayal of adults, greed, incompetence, indifference, intrinsic unfairness, protecting those you love, intelligence triumphing, and having to learn how to survive on your own.

Words by Michael Record

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