Imagine That, a movie review

Imagine That (2009) movie poster

Ouch. One review on Rotten Tomatoes says that “Despite a promising turn by newcomer Yara Shahidi, Imagine That is another pedestrian family comedy that squanders Eddie Murphy’s comedic talents.”

A glance down the list of other reviews chides Imagine That for “an ironic lack of imagination”.

The problem is that Eddie Murphy seems to be stuck in a rut of making films for kids. He’s churning them out at such a rate, there doesn’t seem to be any distinction between them. I’d like to suggest, however, that Imagine That isn’t quite as bad as the critics suggest.

What’s it about though? Well, Murphy plays high-flying divorcee Evan Danielson. He’s engrossed in his work and staring at a major promotion. He ends up looking after his daughter for a week (the estranged father reconnecting with child cliche) just as he faces a challenge from Native American colleague, Johnny Whitefeather, whose Indian schtick has captivated the suits in the office.

However, he discovers that his daughter – via her imaginary friends – has a knack for predicting which companys to invest in and which companies to pull out of. He starts communicating this oddball stock market advice to his clients and making them a fortune. The only thing is…in order to get this advice, he has to enter his daughter’s imaginary world to ask her ‘friends’ for their predictions.

Naturally, you expect to be dragged into a CGI world featuring all kinds of wacky characters, but surprisingly there are no special effects to speak of. You’re literally reliant on your imagination here. Imagine last years Bedtime Stories, but without the F/X budget.

However, as father and daughter bond during their playtime, Murphy’s character relies more and more on the blanket which is the key to the magical world. The story deteriorates into a complete cliche at this point – Murphy must choose between his job and his daughter. I wonder if he’d have left for his daughter’s school concert just as quickly if Johnny Whitefeather had done a better presentation and was still being considered for promotion.

Even at that, the mad rush to be at his daughter’s school concert completely rips off the end of Love, Actually, right down to the choice of song: All You Need Is Love by The Beatles. Ugh. Schmaltzy. And yet, despite myself, I found myself welling up as little Olivia froze up on stage and then laughed as Murphy walked into the hallway dressed in a makeshift king’s costume.

OK, you can criticise. Normally I would, but it’s just a decent feelgood movie made for kids. It’s hard to complain when your normally cynical kids are giggling at Eddie Murphy humiliating himself in public. OK, nobody likes to be the butt of a cliche, and I suspect that overworked execs are a little tired ot their treatment by Hollywood these days – they’re an easy target, aren’t they?

By far, the best thing about this movie was Yara Shahidi, who might actually be the cutest child in a movie, ever. Even when she was butchering The Beatles, it was cute. And you can’t really fault Eddie Murphy’s performance, he’s just doing his usual thing. It’s the same way you can’t fault Jim Carrey for flapping his arms around and acting crazy. Or Ben Stiller for playing uptight guys in wacky situations.

Verdict: A funny, feelgood kids movie which feels slightly cobbled together from the plots of other films. Watch out for the Pete’s Dragon style departure of the imaginary friends at the end…

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