Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Children and adults should savor two of the best actors in film playfully playing off each other.

Orphans and kids without guidance have long fascinated the American public perhaps because "family" has been an obsession from the Puritans to politicians. Brad Silberling's "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" features three wealthy orphans shunted from relative to relative while the evil Count Olaf connives to gain their fortune by becoming their guardian. Daniel Handler's immensely popular books (think the Harry Potter series without sweetness but with it own modest 19 million copies sold)have been successfully adapted with stunning set design and most importantly the genius of Jim Carrey as the count.

Unlike the magical Potter kids, these pint-sized heroes--Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire (the name being the only sweetly poetic turn in this dark tale)-- have just a few talents to help themselves: Violet an ingenious inventor and Klaus a reader who forgets not a word. Yet they are constantly buffeted by the inept or insane adults who move them around like chess pieces until the kids can take it no more and invoke their special skills.

Again unlike Potter, the story is dominated by the villain, played with enormous energy and wit by Jim Carrey, morphing into different characters who can mug and stretch without anyone using the clich? "over the top" to criticize the excess of the count. When he sidles up to the daft Aunt Josephine, played by an obviously-enjoying-her-own excesses Meryl Streep, the price of admission has been duly rewarded. Children and adults should savor two of the best actors in film playfully playing off each other.

Because "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" is largely about the dark side of survival in a corrupt adult world, the challenge for young moviegoers is to enjoy the irony and sarcasm, or even to recognize it. Narrator Lemony Snicket (voice of Jude Law--now where have we seen him this year?) warns more than once that this is not a traditional feel good movie, but that warning will not help very young children understand the comic subtext of grim events or the Panglossian optimism of everything happening for the best. It's the educated, irony feeding adults who are the winners in this audience.