Thomas Haden Church
Eddie Murphy returns to our screens this year as Evan Danielson, a successful financial executive. Its a familiar story, hes the hardworking, focused and ambitious businessman who is 200% committed to his job but when it comes to his family, life isnt so slick and efficient. His 7-year-old daughter, Olivia (played by newcomer, Yara Shahidi) will not be separated from her security Blanket the Goo Gaa and she retreats into a world of imaginary princess friends. Evan struggles to communicate with her and he refuses to deal with the fact that her attachment to the Blanket and this fictional world is a sign that she is missing something more fundamental from him in the real world.
At work, Evan increasingly finds himself going head to head with the charismatic, mystically-inspired Johnny Whitefeather (played by the imposing Thomas Haden Church) who never misses a chance to capitalise on his Native American heritage. Having lost key accounts to the Whitefeathers circus act, Evan is determined to win the forthcoming promotion and prove his worth. But he forgets that this is the very week, he has agreed to look after Olivia.
Evan is used to being in complete control but as work and home life clash and things spiral out of control and he find inspiration from the most unlikeliest of sources his own daughters imagination. The three princesses and mighty queen of Olivia fantasy world also happen to be able to make amazing financial predictions. However, the only way Evan can access this winning stock-market tips is by entering into Olivia magical world of dragons through the famous Goo-Gaa blanket. Before, he knows it, Evan is singing, dancing and laughing along with Olivia; and with the help of her magical friends, Evans begins to reap the rewards of their fantastic business insight.
Eddie Murphy finds the right balance between madcap physical comedy and emotional heart so all the silliness should make the little ones giggle without alienating the adults too much. There is a great chemistry between Eddie Murphy and Yara Shahidi, who plays Olivia Danielson. They both have boundless energy and while the film is sweet as cherry-pie its never too sickeningly saccharine, thanks to its two leads. Yara is cute, sparky and has a great line in knowing glances.
Thomas Haden Church (of Sideways fame) is great foil to Eddie childlike energy; his physical presence fills the screen and your eye is naturally drawn to him. He is perfect as Evans Native American archrival and plays the role with a very centred and mature focus which makes his character such a great threat to Evan. As well as being a dark menace Haden Church has a natural instinct for comedy and there is much fun to be had from his ever more ridiculous rituals. There are also some lovely cameo-esque appearances from West Wing stalwarts Martin Sheen and Richard Schiff and the rest of the supporting cast keep the film bubbling along.
The film is classified by the BBFC as a PG but does carry a warning over mild language, mostly along the lines of cut the crap and load of crap. But more worrying from a thematic perspective was the blatant child-exploitation inherent in the plot. Evan relentless and selfish use of Olivias imagination as a source of financial insight is slightly disturbing.
It is mediated by his ultimate come-uppance and it is clear by the end of the film that Evan has learnt his lesson and grown as a parent and an individual as a result of his experiences. Nonetheless, such casual reference to child neglect and exploitation is a concerning trend in family films.
However, this is very slight objection and far more significant is the films basic lack of imagination. The film bounces along, hitting all the right emotional notes and at all the rights moment but fails to really take-off. Children will be pleasantly diverted for an hour a bit and parents will feel safe in the knowledge that there is nothing offensive in this film. But essentially, adults might have the odd chuckle but most will leave the cinema basically indifferent to antics on screen. It is a shame that such a sweet film should fail to emotionally engage the adults in the same way as it will the children.