Adults may approach Disney’s Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day with understandable reluctance—it’s a feature-length film made out of a 20-page book. And while this isn’t a movie that adults should seek out besides maybe catching it on cable, parents can let down their guard. Alexander is a watchable, affable, pretty good, well-done kids’ movie buoyed by a humorous script and talented cast.
The main problem with Alexander is the sense that the plot has been stretched to its absolute limit, a feeling that persists despite an 81-minute running time. The film’s first act echoes the events in the book, with Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould, an Australian actor ironically playing an Australiaphile) beginning his day by falling on a skateboard, getting gum in his hair, and discovering that the most popular kid in school is throwing a birthday party on the same day he is. Things get worse from there, until Alexander wishes aloud to no one in particular that his seemingly perfect family would have a terrible day as well. Here Alexander goes its own way, and the next morning the Cooper clan wakes up to a series of mishaps emphasizing public humiliation, property damage, and baby pee.
This is where Alexander feels its most shoehorned, as the filmmakers seem to have abandoned logic in favor of giving every Cooper his or her own set of broadly comic high jinks. Start thinking too hard about the logistics of this disastrous day—why would the Coopers schedule Alexander’s birthday party on the same day as his sister’s play and his brother’s prom?—and Alexander begins to crumble. Better to ignore these questions and concentrate on the dialogue, some of which is laugh-out-loud funny (bravo to whoever did punch-up on this script) and will keep adults amused as their children howl with glee at the physical gags.
The fact that the jokes land as well as they do can be attributed to the cast, which is so strong that 12-year-old Oxenbould gets lost in the shuffle. Dylan Minnette, on the other hand, stands out as older brother Anthony, giving a Channing Tatum-esque performance as a confident teenage bro. But the real stars of the film are Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner, both consummate professionals as Alexander’s beleaguered but good-natured parents. The supporting cast, including Megan Mullally as Garner’s taskmaster boss, Donald Glover as the head of a hip video-game company, and Jennifer Coolidge as a sadistic driving-test administrator, further ensures that Alexander’s adult ensemble outshines its juvenile one.
Ultimately, the message of the film—that bad days are a part of life, and can actually help us appreciate the good ones—is a productive one for kids, even if it’s undermined by the relentless, corporate-mandated “happily ever after” optimism that is Disney’s specialty. The Mouse House influence is also felt in director Miguel Arteta’s unobtrusive direction and the film’s perfectly-manicured suburban setting, a place in which no bad day, no matter how catastrophic, can stick.