It’s never easy to turn a thin, meditative children’s book into a full-fledged feature, capturing the oblique magic that comes on the page while still filling 90 or 100 minutes of big-screen action.
Disney’s approach with Judith Viorst’s 1972 classic “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” — apart from the virtually unTwitter-able title — is to expand the bad day well beyond Alexander.
The book, with memorable illustrations by Ray Cruz, focuses on Alexander’s mundane issues that of course to him seem very large — gum in his hair, lima beans for dinner, teachers who don’t understand him, friends who frustrate him — as it serves as a kind of primer of disappointment and how to handle it.
Not so in the film. In fact, judging by the trailer for the Miguel Arteta family film — due in theaters Oct. 10 — nearly everyone else is having a bad day but Alexander. The titular boy, played by newcomer Ed Oxenbould, has a bad day pretty much every day, and on the day in question doesn’t seem to be doing that poorly by comparison with his brother (spectacularly flunking his driving test), his father (Steve Carell, spectacularly flubbing a job interview), or baby sib (possibly swallowing toxic ink).
If anything, Alexander becomes a kind of guru to the rest, a master of misery, offering them advice like “You just gotta have the bad days so you can love the good days even more.”
The trailer (you can watch it above) goes for big pratfalls (there is a kangaroo) and the kind of "Malcolm in the Middle"-esque live-action cartoon when bad things happens to adults from a child’s perspective (in contrast, it should be noted, to an HBO 30-minute animated featurette circa 1990 that had the luxury of staying much closer to the text).
“Alexander” migrated from a Lisa Cholodenko project at Fox to an Arteta one at Disney a couple years ago. Few studios can tap into those ineffable feelings of childhood as well as Disney. The big question is whether the film can blow out the action and still say true to that spirit. Past experiments of this kind (e.g., “Where the Wild Things Are”) don’t bode so well. But one hopes for better days.