Imagine That (PG) ★★★★

scene from Imagine ThatImagine That movie posterscene from Imagine That

Quality Time With Dad 

Hey, I’m with you if you’re questioning the thought of ‘Eddie Murphy’ in a family comedy film? Fortunately, I’m here to tell you that he’s tame in the film and he’s hilarious and amicable. We are also in for a big treat as a newcomer to film is introduced. It’s the delightful and talented child actress, Yara Shahidi, who plays Murphy’s daughter. Yara is a shining light in this film as she’s charming, natural, and ‘cute as a button.’ She was chosen over 3,000 little girls who auditioned for the part. The film also teaches great parenting lessons, and who couldn’t use a few more tips?

Murphy stars as Evan Danielson, a Denver-based financial executive who has more of a relationship with his Blackberry than his 7-year-old daughter, Olivia. He’s estranged from his wife Nicole, Ari Parker, and finds himself caring for Olivia for a few days and doesn’t have the first clue about what to do with her. He decides to ignore her and instead throws himself into his computer and business phone calls. She, on the other hand, pays close attention to everything daddy says and does. Olivia’s trio of imaginary friends, ‘the princesses’, are also steadfast observers, and they start to draw conclusions about what they are seeing in daddy’s work portfolios.

The imaginary world of Olivia becomes entwined with her dad’s world, and the ‘princesses’ actually begin to give advice on the stock market. One princess is ‘always’ right, while the other one is a bit iffy. On the job, dad decides to follow the princesses’ advice, and to his amazement, their suggestions are spot on. Of course, this makes dad a superstar at work. This new status relaxes him a bit, and he learns to spend quality time with his daughter as she gently guides him through her world. Together they find that special place when parent and child bond and have fun with each other and, more importantly, enjoy each other’s company. These scenes are tender and the reason to see the movie.

“Imagine That” is directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, who’s had previous success with the family films “Over the Hedge” and “Chicken Run.” The script is funny and makes good use of Murphy’s talent. I felt like I was watching the Eddie of years ago as in “BowFinger” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” He seemed relaxed in the film and played the dad’s part to a tee. The duo has great chemistry together and keeps you immersed.

Another wacky character is Evan’s competitive co-worker Native American Johnny Whitefeather, a humorously self-centered Thomas Haden Church (Sideways). When he sees the success, Evan is having with a blanket and a little girl he decides to buy an expensive woven blanket and con his son into predicting stocks. These scenes are funny, as well.

Olivia does start to wonder whether her dad is interested in her or only how the princesses’ predictions can help dad at work. Ultimately Evan is forced to choose between an important work meeting and Olivia’s school concert. Audiences can see this scene coming a mile away as it’s quite evident, but that’s ok as most parents do have to make this choice at some time or another.

All in all, a quality family film that teaches parenting skills and says to parents: It’s ok to play make-believe and walk through an imaginary forest and end up in France and then on to the land where princesses make–smart decisions on investments. It’s also ok to do a little dance for these princesses and sing songs. Don’t try to think too deeply about the film as that is not its intention. In “Imagine That,” the ‘old fashion’ notion of one-on-one time is the message here; the film has an entertaining way of showing it.

Sarah Knight Adamson © 2009