Director Christopher N Rowley
Starring Raffey Cassidy, Dominic Monaghan, Emily Watson, Lesley Manville
Released 2nd December 2016, on DVD 5th December.
Here I go, coming over all nostalgic again. Kids like me, growing up in the 60s and 70s, had their first taste of the magic of the cinema courtesy of the Children’s Film Foundation. It made movies no more than an hour long, starring some well-known faces but always with children as the central characters. And they distributed them to Saturday morning cinema clubs around the country.
Sadly, the CFF is no more, but a smidgeon of its spirit seems to live on in Molly Moon And The Incredible Book Of Hypnotism, released in cinemas this Friday. It’s a story that seems to have been heavily influenced by Roald Dahl – there’s the mandatory unpleasant adults who don’t like children, orphanages out in the countryside and the like – and it also has aspirations in the same direction. There’s hints of the more traditional The Emperor’s New Clothes and it even manages something more contemporary in the shape of celebrity and pop culture, X-Factor style. So if it sounds like a mish-mash, that’s because it is.
The film is based on the first of a series of children’s novels by Georgia Byng, who also had a hand in the screenplay. Molly Moon (Raffey Cassidy) lives in an orphanage, under the fierce regime of Miss Adderstone (Lesley Manville). A regular at the local library, Molly has discovered a book that teaches her to hypnotise people, an ability that takes her all the way to London and makes her an overnight teenage star. But she’s being followed by somebody who wants to get his hands on the book for much more nefarious reasons.
While it’s a film that clearly knows its audience, it doesn’t seem to know how to communicate with them. Most of the adult actors seem to have been encouraged to go right over the top, playing their roles as if they’re in a pantomime. The only one who bucks the trend – and is much more successful – is Emily Watson as the solitary nice adult in the orphanage. She’s much more low-key, gentle and believable. But the likes of Lesley Manville and Celia Imrie lay it on with a trowel and even the youngest members of the audience won’t buy it. There are other familiar British names among the adult cast, with Ben Miller playing, well, Ben Miller and Gary Kemp and his spiky hair looking like Yondu Udonta in Guardians Of The Galaxy. None of them, with the exception of Watson, manage to walk away with even a smidgeon of credit.
The younger members of the cast fare much better, Raffey Cassidy in particular confirms the poise and screen presence that she displayed in Disney’s Tomorrowland. She plays her role with assurance but never overcooks it and the adults could have learned from her.
Interestingly, this gets a limited release in cinemas at the end of the week, as well as being on demand, and then it’s out on DVD the following Monday. Given that Disney’s Moana is released the same day, this will hardly scratch the box office and it’s actually much better suited to the small screen. For one thing, the budget special effects – take a look at the snow towards the end! – won’t quite so obvious.
It’ll make an acceptable stocking filler, but one that could find itself languishing at the bottom of the pile, with its wrapper intact.
Molly Moon And The Incredible Book Of Hypnotism is released in cinemas and on demand on Friday, 2nd December and on DVD on Monday, 5th December. It’s reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 1st December