The Disney live-action fantasy Bedtime Stories is a strange and a dysfunctional hybrid, attempting to construct a magical Enchanted-like special effects fairytale around a typically ramshackle Adam Sandler comedy. Great expense has been poured into creating a CGI wonderland of storybook castles, Roman coliseums, and space stations, only to have them crushed under the tire treads of a monster truck rally. Though Sandler tones down his act for the kiddies, his infantile, mush-mouthed man-child persona still dominates the proceedings to such an extent that the Disney branding never stands a chance. Sandler’s laziness, sloppiness, and cynical pandering are all over Bedtime Stories, and it turns what’s intended to be a graceful intersection of fairytale whimsy and real-world slapstick into an ugly, head-on collision.
The prologue has Sandler’s father (Jonathan Pryce), the proprietor of a charming family-owned motel, signing over the deed to his failing business to a Howard Hughes type (Richard Griffiths) who promises that the boy will have a chance to run the place one day. Cut to Sandler as an adult, working as a lowly maintenance man at the now-bustling hotel, which is expanding its business to another location and needs a new man at the top. Meanwhile, Sandler’s sister (Courtney Cox) is going out of town and wants him to split babysitting duties for his niece and nephew with her friend and fellow elementary-school teacher Keri Russell. Sandler knows little about taking care of children, but his father taught him the art of storytelling, so he improvises elaborate bedtime stories to keep them entertaining. Here’s the catch: The events in his stories start to figure into his real life, which gives him the idea to manipulate them to get the hotel managing job over arch-rival Guy Pearce.
Absurdly complicated, right? It gets worse. The new hotel is scheduled to break ground on the elementary school, which is due to be demolished, and the zoning commissioner is one of Sandler’s ex-classmates. (You can’t have Disney magic without zoning issues, apparently.) Along with Russell, there’s a second love interest for Sandler in the form of the hotel magnate’s Paris Hilton-like daughter (Teresa Palmer), and a part for Russell Brand, too, as Sandler’s dimwitted sidekick. The overstuffed cast competes to give the most embarrassing performance—Pearce edges out Brand and Russell, but it’s close—but they all have to be there to support a story that keeps expanding like Violet Beauregarde’s blueberry belly. And all for Sandler, who, as usual, looks like he could give a damn.