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Bedtime Stories: Deluxe Edition DVD Review

Bedtime Stories (2008) movie poster Bedtime Stories

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2008 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Adam Shankman / Writers: Matt Lopez (story, screenplay), Tim Herlihy (screenplay)

Cast: Adam Sandler (Skeeter Bronson), Keri Russell (Jill Hastings), Guy Pearce (Kendall Duncan), Russell Brand (Mickey), Richard Griffiths (Barry Nottingham), Teresa Palmer (Violet Nottingham), Lucy Lawless (Aspen), Courteney Cox (Wendy), Jonathan Morgan Heit (Patrick), Laura Ann Kesling (Bobbi), Jonathan Pryce (Marty Bronson), Kathryn Joosten (Mrs. Dixon), Nick Swardson (Engineer), Aisha Tyler (Donna Hynde), Rob Schneider (Chief Running Mouth - uncredited)

Buy Bedtime Stories from Amazon.com: Deluxe Edition DVD with Digital Copy 1-Disc DVD Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo


There is no doubt as to how and why Disney came to make Bedtime Stories. The first news of this project reached Variety seven weeks into the theatrical release of Fox's Night at the Museum. By then, the family-friendly Ben Stiller adventure/comedy was well on its way to earning $250 million domestically and $574 M worldwide. Shortly after Stories attached a director, Adam Sandler signed on to star. With a funnyman renowned for the crowds his PG-13 films draw, a Christmas week opening, and a fantasy-comes-real plot, Disney followed the Museum formula to a T.

The reception was similar, but not nearly as remarkable as its predecessor. Reviews were a little more tepid and, thanks in part to fiercer holiday season and January competition, attendance was quite reduced. Still, Stories became the studio's second biggest live-action release of 2008, earning back its production budget in ten days and becoming one of the top-grossing family films of the year.

The light bulb comes on, my dear, as handyman Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) realizes how the "Bedtime Stories" are coming true. Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) and Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) are a captive, entertained, and influential audience for Skeeter's nightly tales.

The first PG-rated work in Sandler's 15 years as a leading man, Bedtime Stories retains certain familiar elements of the actor's signature comedies. Small parts are saved for friends (including Rob Schneider in now-customary ethnic makeup), there are random acts of silliness (such as a hostile dwarf and a beached fat man), and the soundtrack includes songs that one assumes hold special amusement for the star (from the likes of Journey and Falco).
But the reliably entertaining shtick has been conspicuously toned down. Profanity and sexual banter are entirely absent. Sandler's trademark outbursts hardly turn up; when they do, they're non-violent and exist clearly outside of the film's reality.

Cathartic though they might be, the Sandman's usual beatdowns would be out of character for Skeeter Bronson, a goofy but mild-mannered handyman at a top-notch Los Angeles hotel. Skeeter's life is plagued by untapped potential. As a prologue tells us, his father (narrator and briefly-seen Jonathan Pryce) had to reluctantly abandon his hotelier dreams in the 1970s. He did so with the hopes that one day his lodger/bellhop son could take over the reins. That day has yet to come, a fact underscored when germaphobe owner Barry Nottingham (Harry Potter uncle Richard Griffiths) appoints the shrewd Kendall (Memento's Guy Pearce) as new manager while looking to keep the affluent business ahead of the times.

Skeeter's work woes are somewhat forgotten when his sister Wendy ("Friends" alum Courteney Cox) asks him to spend a week of nights watching her two school-aged children (Jonathan Morgan Heit and Laura Ann Kesling). Uncle Skeeter's relaxed guardianship offers a change of pace for the kids, who are used to Mom's dictatorial, health-obsessed parenting. Without a TV in the house, Skeeter has no choice but to talk to the kids. We see this chiefly in the family's goodnights, which go down with Skeeter telling an impromptu fairy tale with characters resembling the people in his life.

Though they put on smiles and an air of service, hotel help Kendall (Guy Pearce) and Aspen (Lucy Lawless of "Xena: Warrior Princess") would appear to have ulterior motives. As the requisite love interest, schoolteacher Jill Higgins (Keri Russell) takes some time to prove appealing to Skeeter.

When strange elements from the bedtime stories start actually occurring to Skeeter, his first impulse is to imagine wealth and success for himself. Of course, there are limits and complications. We discover both, as our nightly journeys to distant times and places give way to real-life counterparts.

Bedtime Stories has a serviceable premise. It cannot be credited with much originality. Even before Night at the Museum, whose story isn't particularly conjured here, other media explored the imagination-spawned reality motif. Depending on what you've encountered, this film could remind you of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart and its recent adaptation flop, John Candy's Delirious, or just something thematically similar like Jumanji. Stories doesn't bring much inspiration or excitement to this specific subgenre, but it also doesn't squander the entertainment possibilities.

As often is the case when famous actors step into family-friendly waters, commerce seems to be more of a motivation than art here. That this movie makes conscious efforts to earn family film classification is a mild hindrance. Sandler is noticeably restrained and that robs the proceedings of the big laughs his films are known for. And yet, the actor is always comfortable with the material, sympathetic, and diverting. He may not get to yell, punch, hurl dodgeballs, or engage in other antics from his hysterical man-child arsenal. But he does keep the film afloat with far more success than many who have previously tried similar demographic stunts (like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Not the first person you'd expect to see in a Disney film, British comedian Russell Brand scores some laughs as Skeeter's scattered room service waiter pal Mickey, seen here objecting to a story's lack of arc. Hotel heiress Violet Nottingham (Teresa Palmer) -- a gentle send-up of Paris Hilton with her paparazzi-attracting outings -- clutches Bugsy, the kids' bug-eyed guinea pig.

The clunky screenplay and bland direction could both use some improvement The former was penned by novice Matt Lopez (who Disney has lined up for future tentpoles, like Jerry Bruckheimer's live-action Sorcerer's Apprentice) and enlivened by longtime Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy.

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In the helm, Adam Shankman hides the pizzazz he brought to Hairspray. On the plus side, he has much more to work with here than on his profitable two past comedies for the company (The Pacifier, Bringing Down the House).

There's the strange blend of both too much and too little figuring into the film, as the main concept repeated in various contexts competes with an assortment of predictable real world subplots. These include the requisite romance (with a fine Keri Russell), workplace redemption, an ineptly-contrived conflict, and an unneeded uptempo climax. Throughout, one keeps hoping for some big gut-busters to move this thing from amiable to uplifting, but we don't get those so much as reticence to offend and misplaced faith in a CGI guinea pig with oversized eyes.

Bedtime Stories is quite the international production. In addition to aforementioned Griffiths, Pearce and Pryce, the cast includes British controversy magnet Russell Brand as Skeeter's scatterbrained room service waiter chum, photogenic Aussie Teresa Palmer as a benign Paris Hilton heiress send-up, and New Zealand's Lucy Lawless (who you won't recognize as TV's "Xena: Warrior Princess") as a spiteful concierge.

Buy Bedtime Stories: Deluxe Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Two single-sided discs (1 DVD-9 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $32.99
Also available in 1-Disc DVD and in Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo

VIDEO and AUDIO

Bedtime Stories appears only in its 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, enhanced for 16:9 displays. No surprise for a modern major film budgeted at $80 million, it looks and sounds terrific. There are no complaints to lodge over the crisp, clean imagery. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack doesn't provide too active an experience, but it appropriately comes to life for the fantasy action sequences.

As "Until Gravity Do Us Part" shows us, Guy Pearce and Adam Sandler do battle with the help of blue screen, blue men, and cranes. Dressed up like a satyr for the Ancient Rome sequence, Russell Brand goofs around with child actors Jonathan Morgan Heit and Laura Ann Kesling in "To All the Little People." "It's Bugsy", thinks Adam Sandler while holding the guinea pig at the center of the featurette.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras begin with "Until Gravity Do Us Part", a 4-minute featurette taking us behind the scenes of the outer space sequence involving wire stunts and lots of blue screen.

"To All the Little People" (5:23) focuses mostly on the film's child stars Jonathan Morgan Heit and Laura Ann Kesling, who get to talk about their experiences and be extolled by their adult castmates.

"It's Bugsy" (3:40) turns our attention to the liberally used CG-aided guinea pig, as the actors speak briefly about working with the critters who played him.

Rob Schneider thinks on his feet in the outtakes reel "Laughter is Contagious." For their no-longer regular TV mom Kim Rhodes, Dylan and Cole Sprouse demonstrate that "Blu-ray is Suite" in this goofy Disney infomercial. Bugsy dances on the relatively boring Bedtime Stories DVD main menu. He must have gotten high marks from test audiences.

"Laughter is Contagious" (6:47) is a little more entertaining than your typical outtakes reel. In part, that's because Adam Sandler is funny even when forgetting his lines.
Also, it adds some amusing hijinks and tongue-in-cheek interviews to more usual goofs.

The longest listing is the "Cutting Room Floor", which serves up 12 deleted scenes (10:48 overall). Most of these are short enough to call "deleted lines." There are some unused bits of random humor including more from the Medieval and space settings, a cameo by director Adam Shankman, and another Kathryn Joosten sighting. The most substantial inclusion is an extended cut of Guy Pearce's Broadway musical theme proposal performance.

Last but not necessarily least is "Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite!" (5:55). Adam Sandler's Big Daddy co-stars and their "Suite Life of Zack & Cody" mom Kim Rhodes give us a quick rundown of what makes the high-definition format so superior to DVD. It's entertaining on two levels, both in that Disney has gone to the extreme of using recognizable actors for a short infomercial and that the Sprouse twins try hard to be witty in it. They fail to mention that the only place to see this wonderful extra is on standard DVD.

As usual, Disc 2's only feature is the digital copy of the film, which you can unlock in either iTunes or Windows Media format. Or not, and when it expires in April 2010, you'll have a worthless plastic platter that was factored into the premium price.

Enhanced with FastPlay, the disc loads with promos for Disney, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, G-Force, Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray, Disney Blu-ray, and Disney Movie Rewards. The Sneak Peeks menus add spots for Hatching Pete/Dadnapped, Disney XD, Morning Light, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, and Princess Protection Program.

After a brief intro through the clouds, the menus show little imagination, letting Bugsy dance or float in front of static art.

Disney sent out the Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo, which houses its slim, tray-wielding, clear blue plastic case in an embossed foil slipcover. Inserts include a booklet promoting Blu-ray, another holding your DisneyFile digital copy/Disney Movie Rewards activation code, and a sheet advocating taco nights and Disney Parks vacations.

Skeeter (Adam Sandler) wields an umbrella for the unusual raining of gumballs foretold the night before. In the second of the film's numerous fantasy sequences, Jeremiah Skeets saves a damsel in distress (Teresa Palmer).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it doesn't rank among Adam Sandler's best movies and certainly not among his funniest, Bedtime Stories still stands as one of the most diverting and fun family films of last year. Disney's Deluxe Edition DVD is kind of pitiful as far as bonus features are concerned, and yet the alternative has none at all. So while you should check out the film, I can't strongly recommend buying either of its releases.

Buy Bedtime Stories from Amazon.com:
Standard 1-Disc DVD / Deluxe Edition DVD with Digital Copy / Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo

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The Cast of Bedtime Stories:
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Reviewed March 28, 2009.