A child with a broken heart longs for it to be unbroken again.
And so it is with two sets of siblings: Smash and Maudi, Ros and Robbie. They don’t know each other … yet. But they share the same heartbreak: the trauma of divorce. All of them—but especially teens Smash and Ros—ache for the parent who’s no longer present. They act out that longing in different ways.
Smash just wants to live with her father, who currently resides in the Seychelles. But that’s not happening. Her mom, Alice, is doing her best to guide her headstrong, angry adolescent. When Alice finds her daughter hanging out with a group of vandals and yanks her away from them, Smash spits bitterly, “Great going, Mom. You ruined my life again,”
Ros, for her part, tucks her wounded emotions deep inside. But her desire for a reunion burns just as deeply. And even though her single dad, David, keeps trying to tell her he’s never getting back together with Ros’ mom, the young teen still hopes for exactly that outcome.
What those two girls (and their younger siblings) don’t know is that Alice and David have been seeing each other. It’s getting serious, and the two adults believe the time has come to begin blending their families—starting with a vacation at a British beach house.
Alice and David yearn for a fresh start—and their constant canoodling tells us they’re eager to take the next step. But Ros and Smash are hardly ready to have their respective parents “replaced.” Nor are they very interested in spending a week with a family they don’t know.
That’s when the children discover a hidden tunnel. And a secret beach. And a peculiar gentleman named Mr. Trent who seems strangely interested in what the children have discovered on said beach: a mystical, magical, bunny-like creature with the power to grant one wish a day. And, boy, do the teens have some wishes stored up for him to grant.
Four Kids and It revolves around the children’s discovery of a genie-like creature whose name is Psammead. Their initial wishes are the kinds of things you’d expect teens and tweens to wish for. Smash wishes for rock star fame and glory. One of the younger children wishes for the ability for all of them to fly for a day. But Ros begins to ponder a deeper, more substantive wish: her desire for things to be just like they were before, to go back to “normal.”
By the time Ros begins to shape her wish, though, the four children have also begun to develop some pretty deep bonds with each other (after a rough, conflict-filled start). Tension builds as we wonder whether, in her desire to undo life’s hurts, Ros will go through with her wish. Or will she embrace the new family that David and Alice are trying to form?
As this story unfolds, viewers see that Four Kids and It is less a fantasy about wish fulfillment, and more of a story about the possibility of a fresh start after the devastation of divorce. But to embrace that new hope, Ros and Smash both have some significant growing up to do.
Various characters throughout the film make selfless decisions for the sake of others, including several of the children being willing to sacrifice their desires for the good of everyone else.
Psammead says he’s part of a race of magical, wish-granting creatures that mostly spend their time buried beneath sandy beaches. He can grant one wish per day; more than that might be the death of him, he suggests. The odd, bunny-like creature also says that he’s lived on the beach for 100 million years, and he talks about his prehistoric experiences with dinosaurs.
Psammead suggests that wishes come with secret costs that can’t always be discerned ahead of time. He fails to tell the children (though they soon figure it out) that their wishes expire each day at sundown. Psammead also is attracted to any knickknacks carelessly left on the sand, which he dubs “offerings.”
In a flashback, a child using wish-granted powers is captured by an inquisitive adult who asks, “What are ya’? A witch? A sorcerer? A necromancer? A leprechaun?”
Alice and David kiss a lot. And hug a lot. And enjoy taking picnics where they spread blankets and lie down with each other—a lot. It’s clear that they can’t get enough of each other’s physical affection. We never see anything onscreen that goes beyond PG hugs and kisses, but it’s certainly implied that more is likely happening offscreen. It’s also clear that the two of them are ready to move in together and begin to blend their families, though we never hear any references to a wedding or marriage.
Alice wears some form-fitting and mildly revealing outfits. Little Maudi says something that’s obviously parroting words her mother has used at some point: “Daddy’s gone to live with a new lady. She reeled him in with her tight, 20-year-old tushi.” Mr. Trent employs henchwomen who wear skin-tight leotards. Mr. Trent says to David and Alice after meeting them the first time, “Four children? You’ve been busy, haven’t you?” He also makes a passing reference to “ethnically insensitive erotica.”
Robbie wishes to become the world’s best climber (after Smash takes his beloved Nintendo Switch and deposits it where he can’t reach it on a cliff face). Robbie marvels at the effortless climbing abilities that Psammead grants him—until the sun sets and the tween finds himself perilously and fearfully stuck on the side of a cliff. (The other children help him climb up, of course.)
A slapstick flashback scene depicts children unleashing superhero-like powers (courtesy of the wishes) on unsuspecting adults. One child shoots lasers from his eyes, which ignites an adult’s backside (which he quickly douses in water). Children also hurl fireworks and trip adults.
Elsewhere, Smash crashes through a greenhouse (on purpose) while flying. Ros confronts her, saying, “You could have killed yourself.” Smash replies flippantly, “So what? Who cares? Even my dad doesn’t want me.”
When they first meet, Ros and Smash get into a scuffle over who’s going to have which bed in the room they’re sharing.
Mr. Trent tells of an ancestor who shot wild animals and, he says, a “peasant.”
[Spoiler Warning] Mr. Trent, of course, has designs on Psammead. He eventually captures the creature and separates him from the sand that nourishes him. Mr. Trent’s mistreatment of Psammead involves putting him in a cage and shocking him electrically. Mr. Trent’s greed backfires, explosively, and the children are able to resuscitate and emancipate the magical creature after he nearly succumbs to Mr. Trent’s abuse.
We hear two uses of “d–n.” Smash, who along with her mom and sister is American, describes England angrily as a “sucky little country.” There’s also one use of, “Oh my gosh!”
During Smash’s rock star-fantasy, the children are flown to an arena concert where she’s performing. In their helicopter is a case of Jameson whiskey (thought the children don’t partake of it).
David and Alice drink wine at a meal.
Smash is quite angry and disrespectful of her mother and other people through much of the film. It’s also implied that she’s hanging out with kids who like to vandalize others’ property.
The children often set out on adventures that take them far from the beach house. (They end up in London at one point and have to stow away on a train to get back to their resort town.) David is concerned that the four kids are spending too much time alone, while Alice laughs it off and says, “They’re up to stuff that they don’t want us to know about. It’s like we’re family already.”
Ros schemes a way to try to outsmart the one-day duration of wishes asked for. Mr. Trent schemes a way to track the children in order to locate Psammead.
A child vomits. Psammead’s granting of wishes makes a noise like passing gas.
On the surface, Four Kids and It is a tale of children who meet a magical, wish-granting creature. But the story goes deeper than that.
Dig down into this movie’s magical sand, and you’ll find a more substantive story about the damage of divorce. Smash is aptly nicknamed. (Her real name, we hear, is Samantha.) She responds to her parents’ split with rage, recklessness and rebellion. She’s determined to live life on her own terms—never mind that she’s no older than 13 or so.
Ros, on the other hand, is in deep denial about her mom abandoning the family. She clings tenaciously to the hope that her mother will return and that her parents will eventually be reunited—an outcome David tries to help her understand will never happen.
Though this isn’t a gritty, R-rated movie about human brokenness, the two girls’ brokenness is very much on display here. These teens intuitively long for wholeness and restoration after the shattering experience of divorce. They long for a father and a mother to love and parent them.
Some hurts can’t be undone, the story suggests. But new hope can be found as two broken families work to build a new beginning together, a message that Four Kids and It delivers with only a few mild missteps along the way.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.