Cornwall in the U.K. was the location of several family summer vacations I went on when I was younger, so the setting of the Jacqueline Wilson novel Four Children and It is very familiar. In the movie adaptation, Four Kids and It,the incredible Wicklow coastline in the Republic of Ireland is standing in as the Cornish location. Earlier this year, a few other reporters and I took the one-hour journey from Dublin to the stunning County Wicklow location where the cast — including Matthew Goode and Paula Patton — were shooting interiors for the family adventure film.
Four Kids and It tells the story of a vacation that doubles as an opportunity for new couple Alice (Patton) and David (Goode) to introduce their kids to each other — both have two children from previous relationships. What could go wrong? Bringing two different families together is not a simple task, but when the kids stumble upon a magical Psammead creature called It (voiced by Michael Caine) a bond begins to form.
As with the 1902 E. Nesbitt classic Five Children and It — that Wilson used as inspiration for her 2012 novel — the Psammead grants wishes; however these wishes only last for a day, so they have to pick wisely. Matters are made even more treacherous when their secret is discovered by an eccentric local (played by Russell Brand) who wants to steal the Psammead for his own personal gain.
It is fitting that Four Kids and It is being shot during the summer vacation, as when the Irish weather rapidly switched between pouring rain and beautiful sunshine it gave me flashbacks to my own childhood trips to Cornwall. The Wicklow and Cornwall coastlines are visually similar; producer Anne Brogan explained this doubling was made for as much for logistical and financial reasons. Throughout the afternoon we got to talk with the cast, producers, and director Andy De Emmony as well as watching a scene getting filmed in the gorgeous vacation. If this place was on Airbnb I would be booking it this instant.
Four Kids and It won’t hit theaters for a while, but in the meantime here are some of the things I learned on set about this magical world that De Emmony wants to ground in reality.
- Michael Caine isn’t physically on set, but his presence is very much felt as his dialogue is played through a speaker when the child actors interact with the static Psammead puppet. The kids have yet to meet Caine, but his very famous voice is now incredibly familiar to them even if a lot of his work is not.
- Director Andy De Emmony noted that Caine’s voice is “remarkable” and the dialogue is both mischievous and curmudgeonly. They didn’t want to end up in an overly earnest Enid Blyton version of this film; with Michael Caine, they get a “more oddball grounded character to this creature.”
- Concept designs for the puppet have come from Brian Froud. Froud previously worked with Jim Henson as a conceptual designer on The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Michael Caine has, of course, appeared opposite Muppets in The Muppet Christmas Carol and a fake shark in Jaws: The Revenge.
- This is the first time Michael Caine has done facial capture work of this kind. De Emmony explained that the Oscar-winning actor had close-up shots using head-to-neck mapping, which captures idiosyncratic moments from the actor. This is something that would be lost if they were simply animating the face of the creature. Some of it will be animated, but most of it will come from Caine; the Psammead will be Michael Caine in both voice and facial expressions.
- In the recording of the Psammead, De Emmony described Caine’s performance as “very energetic” and that he was very enthusiastic about the whole process noting which jokes his grandchildren will find very funny. The crew is also laughing along with the words coming out of the rubberized Psammead’s mouth, courtesy of Caine’s dialogue. De Emmony also added that as “generally minimalist actor he really went to town.” Producer Anne Brogan also told us that Michael Caine “completely inhabited” the Psammead.
- This isn’t the first time De Emmony has worked with puppets; one of his first jobs was on iconic ‘80s political satire Spitting Image.
- Michael Caine was the first choice to play the Psammead for as long as De Emmony has been attached.
- Russell Brand is starring as eccentric English villain Tristan; he was also the first choice. He was approached a couple of years ago when 4 Kids and It was first in development, and no other actors were attached. This role is purpose-built for him.
- Tristan doesn’t appear in the Jacqueline Wilson book, but De Emmony said they needed an antagonist for the children in the screen adaptation that goes beyond the obstacles within the original text. They liaised with Wilson throughout the adaptation process.
- Jacqueline Wilson also recently shot a cameo in the film as part of one of the wish sequences.
- Five Children and It has been adapted several times for the screen including the 1991 BBC TV series and the more recent 2004 movie starring Freddie Highmore and Eddie Izzard (as the Psammead).
- De Emmony describes Brand’s performance as playful with a lot of energy; he is very good at riffing on themes and moments, particularly with the children. Teddie Malleson-Allen has Ros so nailed down as a character, De Emmony pointed out that “she can play with Russell in character, really well.