In 2004, movie adaptations of popular fantasy novel series were hugely popular at the cinema (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter etc), and one film normally meant two or three or seven. Even Eragon had a go.
However, a big-screen version of Lemony Snicket’s (the pen name of American novelist Daniel Handler) A Series of Unfortunate Events didn’t exactly catch on. Despite generally positive reviews and the presence of Jim Carrey, it only broke even at the box office, so the 13 other books stayed on the shelf.
But in 2017, TV has proved that movies aren’t always the best way to bring books to life. Just look at Game of Thrones. And thankfully, Netflix has brought back the dark children’s stories, and they have plenty of time to tell them properly.
Just like the original books, the Netflix series goes out of its way – ironically, not really – to put you off watching it in the first place, as Patrick Warburton’s narrator Lemony Snicket appears throughout scenes warning everyone to leave it alone.
And, like the books, Lemony Snicket (we can’t be arsed to type out A Series of Unfortunate Events each time, sorry) is bonkers but brilliant. The tone of this particular version isn’t too dissimilar from the 2004 movie. It has elements of both Wes Anderson’s hipster style and Tim Burton’s gothic comedy. It’s beautiful to look at (though it’s hard not to notice all the green screen going on, but when is that not the case?), and it manages to perfectly marry genuine horridness and laugh-out-loud comedy.
In case you didn’t know, Lemony Snicket follows the three Baudelaire children, genius orphans who will inherit a huge fortune when the eldest Violet (Malina Weissman) turns 18. But in the four years before then, they have to survive being looked after by their nearest relative, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), who attempts to imprison them, kill the baby Sunny (Presley Smith), marry Violet and generally try to make their lives miserable. You can see where Despicable Me got a lot of its ideas from.
So yeah, on paper, it doesn’t exactly sound like the nicest programme out there. It’s pretty damned dark considering it’s about three young children suffering. But compared to the likes of American Horror Story or The Walking Dead, it’s like a nice, warm hug from your mum.
The series captures the charm of the original stories while also keeping the message of how these three young and innocent children have to deal with the childish and selfish actions of their elders. Because of this, the first few episodes can be difficult to watch at times, but as they grow tougher and come to realise they can’t trust anyone over the age of 14, it’s far more pleasant.
Lemony Snicket has pulled off the tricky task of casting three excellent actors as the children. Even the baby is amazing, trust us. And although Neil Patrick Harris isn’t exactly playing against type, he’s the perfect choice as the evil yet accidentally hilarious Count Olaf. When you’ve got someone with his talent on the roster, anything can happen.
This first season (surely there’ll be more to come?) follows the first four books, so that each volume gets around two episodes to play out. This allows the series to move along quickly enough without glossing over too many elements of the story, and without getting too depressing or grim.
January is perhaps an odd time of year for Netflix to release Lemony Snicket. Around Halloween would have been a better bet. But this is a rare project that can be enjoyed by both older children and their parents at the same time.
Kids don’t have many genuinely scary yet fun shows or films aimed at them nowadays. In the 1980s they were spoiled, but today they tend to be either patronising or too adult. We’re hoping this – and Netflix’s previous hit Stranger Things – can help bring back the kind of dark adventure that kids of the ’80s and ’90s loved so much.
The article first appeared in digitalspy.com