Kids review `Lemony'

Six Baltimore-area pupils judge the movie on how well it stacks up to the books

Movie Review

December 17, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach and Sam Sessa | Chris Kaltenbach and Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

Too much funny. Not enough scary. But, all things considered, pretty darn cool.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, opening today in theaters nationwide, looks to be a crowd-pleaser, judging by the reactions of a half-dozen area elementary and middle-school pupils.

The six, all fans of the book series on which the movie is based, struck their best movie-critic poses last week at an advance screening of Lemony Snicket. All enjoyed the movie, though with a few reservations.

"I would like it better if the movie had everything that was in the books," said 9-year-old Chandler Surell, a fourth-grader at Timber Grove Elementary in Baltimore County. "They changed the whole story, and if you only saw the movie, you might be confused about what really happened - if you didn't read the books."

For 10-year-old Andrew Walden, a fifth-grader at Broadneck Elementary in Anne Arundel County, the problem was how the movie was presented. Specifically, he was disappointed with the character of Count Olaf, the hammy actor turned fortune-hunting foster parent played by Jim Carrey.

"I thought he would be more a villain than a comedian," said Andrew. "I thought it would be more like the book, but it wasn't."

Still, the let-down proved bearable. Since the film stars Carrey, he suspected it might not prove as sinister as the books. "Jim Carrey's kind of a comedian," he said. "So I kind of expected it."

First published in 1999, the series by Daniel Handler features Count Olaf and the three Baudelaire children - Violet, Klaus and Sunny - who are orphaned by a house fire. The books follow the children as they pass through a succession of foster parents. They've proven especially popular with children raised on the Harry Potter books, thanks to Handler's dark, sinister overtones and sense of near-Gothic melodrama.

"When I was little, I really liked Harry Potter and read all the Harry Potter books," said Andrew. "I was looking for another series of books I could read when I heard about Lemony Snicket. I like them because they have a lot of suspense."

Several youths received an early lesson in the great debate that seems to occur whenever a book is adapted for film: whether characters are transferred faithfully from printed page to silver screen. Klaus, for example, wears glasses in the book, but not the movie.

Colleen Walls, a sage sixth-grader at Bel Air Middle School in Harford County, easily understood the different roles played by the imagination when reading vs. watching a movie. "It's one thing to read it," the 11-year-old said. "But to see it - you have a whole mental picture, and it might be a totally wrong version of it."

Though unexpected, Carrey's over-the-top performance as Count Olaf, during which he wears a succession of disguises, provoked the most comment - much of it enthusiastic.

"Olaf's scary in the books, he's more funny in the movie," said 13-year-old Danielle Smith, an eighth-grader at Baltimore's Lombard Middle School. "I want to know how he got all those different looks."

Said Andrew's 8-year-old brother, Adam, a third-grader at Broadneck: "It sounded like the movie was going to be pretty good, because a lot of movies with Jim Carrey in them are pretty good.

"I really liked how Count Olaf acted in the movie," Adam said when it was over. "I liked his sneakiness."

Joe Durkin, 9, a third-grader at Towson's Immaculate Conception School, was sold on Carrey's Olaf thanks to a scene about a third of the way through the movie. In it, Olaf decides the best way to get rich quick is to get rid of the orphans. Toward that end, he leaves them in a locked car parked on train tracks.

Olaf's "a lot eviler in the movie, because of that train scene," said Joe.

While Olaf may have proven the most memorable character, most of the kids agreed the most likable of the orphans' potential guardians was Meryl Streep's Aunt Josephine, a chronically phobic grammarian.

If forced to identify with one character, "it probably would have been the aunt," said Danielle. "I'm scared of bugs."

While some of the young critics complained that the movie, which is based on Handler's first three Snicket books, raced through things too fast - "They didn't have enough details," said Chandler, "they went through each guardian in like half an hour" - at least one fan wanted to see a movie that was even more encompassing.

"I want to see the entire series," said Colleen. "I wanted a movie where it was the whole thing."

Still, no one was exactly complaining. Said Adam, in words echoed by the entire group, "They did real good."

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