As a kid, I loved nasty, gory stories. I grew up reading the works of Roald Dahl, and I remember how much I loved the repulsive, vindictive characters and scenarios. He was a children's author who would throw all caution to the wind and give kids exactly what they wanted. By comparison, Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events books feel something of an empty threat. The mournful narrator spends a great deal of the story reiterating how sad or grotesque the tale will be, basically promising readers a particularly unpleasant (thus delightful) story. But that nastiness never quite comes through. There are dark themes and deaths, but they don't resonate as much as the brutal simplicity of child eating giants or worm spagetti. Whereas Dahl takes things familiar to a child like warts, toads and dirt, Snicket relies on less familiar, more adult concepts, such as inheritance and looming threats of rape. The same goes for the clever word play, which again, I feel goes over the kid's heads. I appreciate that this is aimed at a younger teenage (11-14?) market, but I still think much of the implied nastiness is lost on those readers and that Snicket fails to employ enough gratuitous grime. At around that age, I was reading Goosebumps. Though formulaic, Goosebumps books had a far better grasp of the issues that bother kids (annoying brothers, bullies, shoe laces that won't stay tied etc.) Lemony Snicket lacks that crucial familiarity. Which brings me to the movie. To gain more appeal to the family audience, the film tones down the threats of child rape and portrays the villain as far more comical in nature. Funnily enough, I think this works much better. If Snickett's tales fail at being grotesque, they can at least be funny. Jim Carrey certainly succeeds in that regard; I haven't seen him in such a good role since The Grinch. The humour and the well realised visuals save the story and warrant a recommendation. The books, less so. I also highly recommend staying for the ending credits, which are pretty excellent in their own right.
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