Four Kids and It review – good-natured family fantasy

There’s some gentle and good-natured fun in this family fantasy adventure, based on Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 novel, which was itself an updating of E Nesbit’s classic Five Children and It, bringing that Edwardian tale into a new reality of divorce, step-families and step-siblings.

Matthew Goode and Paula Patton play David and Alice, two people who have split from their partners and are now dating. They have brought their respective pairs of kids on holiday to the seaside, with the tricky task of breaking it to them that they are now together and should accept this new reality.

Alice’s daughters are the rebellious, troubled Smash (Ashley Aufderheide) and her sister Maudie (Ellie-Mae Siame) and David’s children are Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) and Robbie (Billy Jenkins). They’re all very grumpy with each other at first, but on this unpromising British beach they make an amazing discovery: Psammead the sand creature, a digital figure not unlike a sort of wizened, plump ET, gamely voiced by Michael Caine.

Psammead has the power to grant them a wish – one a day, anything they want, but lasting only until sunset. The fly in this supernatural ointment is the sinister Lord Tristan, the lord of the manor played by Russell Brand, with one or two amusing lines I suspect he improvised himself.

There are some entertainingly surreal episodes, especially when Smash decides she wants to be a global pop star and sells out the O2 Arena – only for the sun to dip below the horizon in the middle of her triumphant concert.

It’s like a children’s film from the 60s, in many ways, despite the modernity. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a silly baddie get the seat of his trousers set on fire, run around squawking, and then sit down in a water trough with an ecstatic sigh.

• Four Kids and It is available on Sky Cinema from 3 April.