You can't blame Skeeter Bronson. Since his niece and nephew's only storybooks include titles like The Organic Squirrel Gets a Bike Helmet, what's an uncle to do but make up his own tall tales?
Skeeter works at a Los Angeles hotel that his late father, Marty, owned. Marty was a great dad and storyteller, but a bad businessman. Forced to sell the property to hotel baron Barry Nottingham, Marty's one comfort was Nottingham's promise to let Skeeter manage the place if he grows up smart. Twenty-five years later, the Sunny Vista Nottingham is a lavish business that has made Nottingham rich. But Skeeter is still just a gum-scraping handyman.
Dreams of a promotion dissolve when Nottingham announces his next manager will be right-hand man Kendall Duncan, not Skeeter.
Skeet's not the only one with problems. His sister, Wendy, has been laid off as principal of an elementary school. She's forced to go to a job interview in Arizona, and asks Skeeter to take care of her two young kids, Patrick and Bobbi. Wendy's dependable friend Jill will take care of them during the day. Skeeter's got the night shift.
Skeeter agrees. But that's before he discovers Wendy doesn't own a TV and realizes he has to actually interact with somebody under age 20. Compelled to tell the kids stories—and lacking proper books—he begins to rehash his own frustrating world in various genres, including knights and maidens, cowboys and Indians, outer space and Grecian charioteers.
If that wasn't weird enough for Skeeter, Patrick and Bobbi unknowingly have the power to make his stories become real. Bedtime stories told one day come to life the next. But Skeeter's no dummy, and he's quick to capitalize, weaving his yarns in such a way as to win the girl of his dreams and become Sunny Vista's heroic manager.
It's storytelling for profit—with a few twists.
Storytelling is, overall, portrayed as a good way to relax, have fun and be creative as a family. Skeeter's tales may be self-absorbed, but Patrick and Bobbi enjoy them and grow to know their uncle's love and devotion as they spend time with him.
The kids' father has left them, but they learn they can count on Skeeter's support and presence. He says, "I'm never going anywhere, like the stink on your feet. I'll always be around." Wendy also loves the children and does her best to protect and provide for them.
Skeeter's downtrodden life has given him little cause to believe in happy endings. But Wendy and a visitor (of sorts) eventually show him that he can work toward pursuing a positive result instead of giving in to the negative things he assumes will happen.
When Skeeter suggests that chivalry deserves cash kickbacks, the children correct him, noting that true heroism by a gentleman is its own reward.
From beyond the grave, Marty mysteriously speaks to Skeeter in one scene. This little detail—along with the fact that Skeeter's stories magically come to life—beg spiritual explanations ... that are not given.
This is a bedtime story aimed at children, but that doesn't mean star Adam Sandler and director Adam Shankman keep it entirely clean. Mr. Nottingham's oversexed daughter, Violet, asks 6-year-old Patrick how old he was when he first kissed a girl. Patrick hasn't yet, but he does dreamily mention a "hot" 8-year-old girl he knows. Later, this girl (innocently) kisses him on the cheek.
Skeeter implies that Violet is loose, saying he knows her by her "reputation": She's "very hot" and "likes to have a good time." Backpedaling afterward, he says he's never met her but knows that her "temperature is warm."
In real life and his stories, Skeeter tries to kiss several women, and he says he's a great kisser. Eventually, he actually does kiss Jill.
At a luau party, hotel staff, including Skeeter's slightly unhinged friend Mickey, wear coconut bras and hula-type skirts. In several scenes, women wear short dresses, bikinis and cleavage-revealing tops. Kendall flirts with and "growls" at a hotel employee.
Early in the credits, Journey's song "Don't Stop Believin'" boasts the tawdry line, "A singer in a smoky room/A smell of wine and cheap perfume/For a smile they can share the night."
In one of his stories, Skeeter lassos a branch and uses it to knock down several bad guys who are holding a woman hostage. Skeeter's horse disappears from under him in another tale, and he falls to the ground. There's a short gun battle. Somebody gets drop-kicked. A little person (who is called a dwarf) kicks Skeeter's shin in two different scenes. Story characters hit each other with laser-like beams that pinch noses and slap faces. A fireball vaporizes one story character.
Skeeter steals a motorcycle as a means of rushing to the scene of the crime and saving the day. He and Jill ride it through oncoming traffic, narrowly missing a fire truck, a group of bicyclists and several cars. In the ruckus, a billboard falls onto a car, and the two drive up the resulting "ramp," flying into the air and through an open (moving) boxcar.
Similarly, in ancient Greece, Skeeter's chariot is attacked by a rival charioteer, causing it to crash. "Skeeticus" dramatically wrecks part of a stadium to create a ramp from which he launches his chariot over a long line of elephants.
In a tense, realistic-feeling scene, Wendy frantically searches for Patrick and Bobbi, who are in a building that's about to be demolished. Skeeter swings from a tetherball pole, kicking Kendall in the face and knocking him out.
Crude or Profane Language
God's name is interjected a handful of times. "Bloody" is said once. Name-calling includes "stupid" and "weird." In one of his thinly veiled revenge fantasies, Skeeter dubs Kendall "Sir Butt Kiss," gleefully repeating that name and other backside-related phrases.
Drug and Alcohol Content
It's supposed to be funny when an older hotel guest blames leprechauns for the booze going missing from her room's minibar. Skeeter suggests getting a drink to Jill and also to several characters in his stories. Violet, a Paris Hilton-esque hotel heiress known for drinking at clubs, asks Skeeter to drink champagne and sit in a hot tub with her. He does so.
Other Negative Elements
Violet lies to Kendall. Skeeter lies to Wendy. He defies her wishes when he's watching her kids. And he asks Jill to pretend she's his girlfriend.
Skeeter (jokingly) suggests TP-ing the neighbors' trees and playing poker as possible baby-sitting activities. There's an "I see London, I see France" joke about Skeeter being able to see his own underpants when he's upside down. Skeeter jokes about donkeys and manure. Cleaning up after a guinea pig that has eaten a marshmallow is implied to be very messy. Animals and people pass gas. Mickey picks his nose. A "booger monster" attacks story characters, covering them with green slime.
One character patronizingly stereotypes Native Americans and calls Skeeter "white bread." A little person yells, "Big people stink!" Casual fun is made of people who obsessively try to avoid germs, people who have panic attacks, heavyset people ... and people who eat wheat germ. Both in a story and for "real," Skeeter stomps on an obese man's stomach to dislodge a fish from his throat.
As a boy, Skeeter hides in an ice machine. As an adult, he adds quantities of toothpaste to a sandwich before eating part of it. He accidentally sprays Christmas tree fireproofing spray into a store clerk's face. It hurts the man so badly that in compensation of sorts, Skeeter sprays it into his own eyes. Both men yell and flail as the chemicals burn.
Before the advance Bedtime Stories screening began, I enjoyed watching a theater full of squirming kids in their pajamas and slippers. Adults guided their eager charges to the front of the room, where a movie representative read Goodnight Moon. Add popcorn, sugary soda and half-a-dozen trips to the bathroom, and it looked like a great night to be a kid.
But there was a snag in this dreamy PJ'd event. The perfect children's movie we had waited for never really showed up. Instead, we saw a somewhat toned-down Adam Sandler comedy—not as raunchy as his usual fare, but still with its problems.
As I watched, I thought about how much Disney movies have changed since I grew up. I also remembered books my uncle read to me when I was a child. One of them was Winnie the Pooh, a character Disney first claimed as its own about 40 years ago.
Maybe it's unfair to compare and contrast Pooh and Adam Sandler, but it is instructive, so, um, bear with me for a moment: While the Pooh books and movies highlight virtues such as friendship, courage, selflessness, patience and forgiveness, Bedtime Stories primarily highlights Skeeter's greed. He doesn't tell stories to inspire or instruct. He tells stories to get what he wants: a Ferrari, $100 million, a new job and a really "hot" woman. Yes, getting to know his sister's kids happens to be a byproduct, but he isn't putting their needs first.
One of the fundamental reasons for telling bedtime stories is—or at least used to be—to spur not only imagination but also character in kids. So I've recorded some of Stories' "character" lessons:
1) Lying is a great trick to get out of trouble or make you look better. 2) Ignoring household rules is OK. 3) Children who grab food from adults and then run away are funny. 4) It's cute and normal for a 6-year-old boy to call an 8-year-old girl "hot." Indeed, 6-year-old boys should be kissing girls. 5) Being responsible is for the birds. It's cooler to be laid-back, and even a little negligent, like Skeeter. 6) It's a crack-up for men to ridicule women they don't like. 7) Road rage and street racing are justified if someone insults you. 8) Stealing someone's ride is fine and dandy if it helps you perform a heroic deed.
Sandler seems to think these kinds of lessons are right up there with Chicken Soup for the Soul. When asked about the film, he said, "I wanted to make sure I made one movie in my career that mothers hug me for. This could be it. ... I am so happy to hear kids laugh and so happy it gives parents somewhere to take their kids."
Suddenly, I'm thankful that my uncle never rehashed tales of his hard times at the engineering firm. I'm thankful he hadn't been thinking of himself when we shared story time. I am glad Sandler is thinking of his own young daughters and taking a step in the right direction by toning things down a bit. But with all due respect, most of the moms I know won't be giving him hugs anytime soon.