I saw this under New Releases when I was looking for Planet Earth in the video store yesterday, and wondered what it was about. I associate bedtime stories with younger children who want something familiar and comforting before the lights go out at night (even my 9-year-old isn’t allowed scary stories at night), but I didn’t think that such a movie would attract enough of an audience to justify the expense of a live action movie. So I figured it probably had some scary stuff in it, and I walked past without stopping to look more closely.
Not sure I really wanted to plunk down over $4 for the Planet Earth video without knowing if my son would really want to watch it, I left Blockbuster emptyhanded. At home, I picked up my son, and together we went to Family Video, where new releases don’t cost quite as much (at least not if you get them for one night only). We picked out Volume 2 of Planet Earth, and I offered to get another movie as well. My son chose Bedtime Stories.
He decided that the appropriate time to watch Bedtime Stories was 8 PM, so we started with Planet Earth. Promptly at 8 PM, however, when the lions had finished feasted on freshly killed elephant and the rains were returning to the parched plains, he swapped out the DVDs. He had tried to tell me something about it raining gumballs in the commercial, but only where the man was, and I wondered what sort of strange movie we were going to watch.
It is strange in a way – a strange mixture of very familiar down-to-earth people and situations, and elements of fantasy with unexpected transitions. Of course, since the children help tell the bedtime stories, those unexpected transitions are not so strange. The logic of children is quite different from the logic of adults, I have discovered in my own excursions into imaginary worlds with my son.
The storytelling man in the movie, though, doesn’t have the advantage of experience with children. He is single, underappreciated both by his boss and by women, and has not seen his niece and nephew in four years. Now he is asked (begged, armtwisted, guilted) into staying with them for a few nights while his sister looks for a job in another state. He is dealing with disappointment and crisis at work, and his bedtime stories translate that struggle into a medieval fantasy, a western, and a space-based showdown.
Reality and fantasy keep connecting in strange ways, though, some of which make sense and some are probably to keep the viewer guessing. Or just to illustrate the unusual logic of kids. Or just to be strange. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is a good thing, as it too easily could have.
A too-philosophical scriptwriter could have gotten wrapped up in its semi-serious questions. Do happy endings happen in real life? Is our future controlled by destiny, or can we influence it, and if so how much? Can the poor commoner really capture the heart of the princess, and rule the kingdom instead of the wealthy but selfish (and not very smart) nobleman? Will the children’s daddy ever come back to them?
Some questions get answered. Some don’t. (What’s with the angry dwarf?) But it’s about having fun, not answering questions. I wouldn’t call it a great movie, but it’s a good movie, and it does work as a pretty good bedtime story. Not because it puts anyone to sleep (I never saw that as a function of bedtime stories), but because it will leave you relaxed and happy rather than keyed up, worried, or sad.