Bedtime Stories – Fantasy Film DVD Review

Adam Sandler is no Prnce Charming in this sleep-Inducing tall tale.

Once upon a time a little $80,000,000 Adam Sandler movie called BEDTIME STORIES yanked in a decent $110,000,000 at the domestic box-office and $209,000,000 world wide during the 2008 Christmas season. And in April of 2009 the loveable and cuddly folks at Disney Studios—not to mention Sandler and a few of his producing pals—got the chance to make even more dough with the DVD release of standard, deluxe two-disc, and Blu-ray Combo Pack editions. I’d say there’s a financial happy ending in there for someone. But the poor viewers don’t get much bang for their buck.
I didn’t see this movie during its theatrical release, but I did check out the DVD, so I thought I’d fill you in a bit. You’ve probably already guessed that with a title like BEDTIME STORIES , it has to do with the telling of tales. ‘Tis accurate indeed, dear readers. Now, at the start of the film when our story teller begins a bedtime story for his son, you can tell by the narration that the filmmakers wanted to make a heartfelt tale for children (or perhaps more specifically, their children). It looks as though Sandler’s new status as a father is shining through. There is a bit of charm in the opening, and our narrator (Jonathan Pryce) has a nice storytelling style.
But then the needle on the record suddenly scrapes across the vinyl groves, and the whole lilting sound comes to screeching, abrupt halt. Because once dear ol’ dad starts explaining about his son Skeeter (yes, Sandler) and we move forward in time to the boy as a grown-up the film takes on the more mundane conventions of a typical play-it-by-the-jokes comedy and loses its fairytale sensibility. Watching Sandler trade snarky comments—in front of a guest—with the front desk manager (Lucy Lawless) of the hotel where he works sets the tone for the real-life portion of the movie, and it ain’t exactly lyrical.
But before going on, I suppose I should give you a little background. It turns out that dad tells a pretty good bedtime story, but he’s not much of a businessman because he has to either sell his motel or go bankrupt. He decides to sell after the man interested in buying it, a Mr. Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), sort of promises to let dad’s son stay on and run the place when he gets old enough.
Skeeter winds up staying on for 25 years – as the main maintenance man of what is now a huge hotel. We’re supposed to sympathize with his unjust status in life, but the guy doesn’t do a single thing to show that he deserves the position he wishes. Oh sure, we’re told that the promise Mr. Nottingham made was neglected, but if we actually listen to what he said it seems pretty clear to me that he broke no promise. His exact words were “If your boy works hard and shows some smarts when he grows up, I’ll let him run this place.” Bottom line – the boy-as-man displays nothing in appearance or behavior to suggest that he possesses any ability to run a multi-million dollar hotel, especially the new super hotel in the planning.
Eventually, Mr. Nottingham does give Skeeter his chance by announcing that he’s going pit him against his potential son-in-law to see who can come up with the best promotional theme for the hotel. Now there’s a fairytale in itself. Anyway, what does our hero do to work on developing a plan? Why, in one scene he holds a hotel planning book while talking with some folks. Now that’s a go-getter! But mainly he just tries to use his niece’s and nephew’s storytelling ability to develop the perfect hotel theme while babysitting them for his sister (Courteney Cox). Oh yes, for some reason, when they give their spin on a bedtime story, elements of their versions have the inexplicable ability to come true in one sense or another. Naturally, Skeeter must try to capitalize on this.
Yep, that’s right, folks, the hero of BEDTIME STORIES tries to use his nephew and niece, I guess, because he’s either too dumb or too lazy (or both) to come up with anything on his own. Of course, he also wants the kids to spin the perfect ending for his life. And we’re supposed to think this bozo is somehow worthy of being given the management reigns to that multi-million dollar hotel? What the-…? Am I missing something somewhere? Somebody must be missing something, because this idea, like a few others in the story, just winds up getting dropped after a while without an honest reason or explanation.
I’ll take Michael J. Fox’s turn as a smart, ambitious concierge in FOR LOVE OR MONEY over Sandler’s over-grown kid without much imagination. And Fox learns something about himself and his not-so-positive desire for wealth in MONEY. I’m not sure what Sandler ultimately learns in his tale, except that if people wish hard enough they can get there happy endings. Uh…yeah.
Anyway, Skeeter eventually makes his pitch around the thought of how kids see hotel experiences, but he never ties it into any kind of real structured plan. His thoughts are proclaimed as ingenious anyway, and he gets “the keys to the kingdom.”
Ah, but BEDTIME STORIES doesn’t end there. Skeeter has to get fired for something else so we can have story arcs. Yet, one has to have an eventual happy ending, after all, and so it goes on. If you care enough to go out and get the movie, I’ll let you discover that happy ending for yourself.
Now, if you’re an Adam Sandler fan, maybe you’ll get some fun out of this thing. After all, it does have an enjoyable moment or two. And I suppose our star is toned down a bit in BEDTIME STORIES, but if you’re on the fence about the guy, or don’t like him, I highly recommend giving this film a wide birth. And I’m sorry to step on the toes of his fans out there, but in a lot of ways watching Sandler is a bit like watching the class clown stick gum up his nose, and then blow a bubble with it. ‘Course, I realize there are folks out there that could find that amusing, but I ain’t one of ‘em.
I think I did have a favorite moment, though. I’d say it was when the kids—who turn out to be rather charming—were in their bathroom pretending to shave, and Skeeter’s niece, Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling), tries to make shaving cream buns on each side of her little head, then turns and says, “I’m princess Leia.” All right, I chuckled at that one. And any adult should get a smile out of such a cute, genuine child-like moment. Russell Brand’s character, however, simply treats Bobbi as if she were…well, from another planet – yet another possible moment of charming observation thrown out the window.
And yes, Sci-Fi fans, there was a bedtime story takeoff on STAR WARS and the like, but it comes off  as uninspired. The visuals were handled well, however. In fact the effects in the film were consistently sturdy, as they were mainly provided by Tippet Studios. It’s just too bad that our storytellers weren’t as interested in spinning an equally sturdy yarn. This thing’s just a discombobulated disappointment. Any beloved fairytale has a strong narrative that adheres to the environment it sets up. BEDTIME STORIES does whatever it feels like doing and ties things together with a mighty clichéd piece of thread.
Heaven knows I’m no grown-up who’s forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. In fact, I can’t seem to completely grow out of that phase. Still, even as a wee one I could usually recognize a solid story when I read or heard it. My advice to you is to skip this bedtime story and watch, oh say, FINDING NEVERLAND or either one of the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA films or ENCHANTED instead. All of those stories better displayed the charm and thought behind tales well told.
The DVD of BEDTIME STORIES I was able to watch didn’t include any special features other than a few trailers (which actually looked more fun than the main feature). And a note of interest for me was how the music in the trailer for the latest release of SNOW WHITE was heavily influenced by the late Jerry Goldsmith’s score for RUDY – and I do mean heavily influenced. At any rate, the two-disc version does offer some bloopers and deleted scenes, as well a ‘get to know’ Bugsy segment. Bugsy is the big, bug-eyed pet guinea pig of the kids, who was featured so prominently in the coming attractions trailers. There is also a Disney infomercial extolling the virtues of Blu-ray, hosted by Dylan and Cole Sprouse from Disney Channel’s Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Gotta love those sales pitches!
In addition to the aforementioned infomercial and “Bugsy” segment, the Blu-ray pack includes “Cutting Room Floor” (deleted scenes) and “Laughter Is Contagious” (outtakes), as well as the featurettes “Until Gravity Do Us Part,” (which is surely a piece on one of the visual effects scenes) and “To All the Little People” (presumably a tribute to kids or ‘Little People,’ both of whom are in BEDTIME STORIES ). All-in-all, I’d say not worth the price charged.
BEDTIME STORIES (Walt Disney Pictures, 2008; 99 min.) Directed by Adam Shankman. Screenplay by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy. Produced by Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo and Andrew Gunn. Executive produced by Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot, Garrett Grant and Ann Marie Sanderlin. Cinematography by Michael Barrett. Production Design by Linda Descenna. Costumes by Rita Ryack. Special Effects Supervision by John Andrew Berton Jr. Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Edited By Tom Costain and Michael Tronick. Cast: Adam Sandler, Guy Pierce, Keri Russell, Richard Griffiths, Courteney Cox, Lucy Lawless, Teresa Palmer, Russell Brand and Jonathan Pryce. MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor and mild language.

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