Evan Danielson (Eddie Murphy) is an investment advisor at a successful stockbrokers firm whose little daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi) inhabits her own private world of make believe. When Olivia scrawls her colourful fairytales all over daddy’s research report, Evan is flabbergasted to discover she has a knack for predicting the wayward twists and turns of the stock market. Eager to impress his influential clients and land a dream promotion, Evan persuades Olivia too draw him into her fantasy world where three magical princesses offer more astoundingly accurate predictions. In doing so, Evan grows closer to his troubled little girl.
Imagine That earned a degree of infamy for becoming the lowest grossing Eddie Murphy movie to date. Which on the one hand, is unfortunate given it is nowhere as nauseating as the many, many awful “comedies” Murphy has cranked out over the past ten dispiriting years. On the other hand, its failure comes as no surprise given this boasts one of the most befuddling concepts for any family film. Honestly, even dressed up with make believe dragons, fairy princesses and an abundant number of Beatles covers, how many children are all that fussed about insider trading, corporate mergers and the stock market? The end result is something like a fairytale for little girls conceived by Gordon Gekko.
The co-authors behind this bizarre concoction all have form: Ed Solomon wrote Men in Black (1997), Chris Matheson penned Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Karey Kirkpatrick wrote family films like The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Charlotte’s Web (2006) and the impressive The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008). Together they seem to be attempting a vague satire of new age philosophies applied in modern business, but this does not sit well within the framework of a supposedly heart-warming family film. If you are going to trot out trite messages about money not being everything, listening to your inner child and spending quality time with your kids, you need a solidly engaging premise. Needless to say, Imagine That has as tenuous a grasp on its target audience as I have on the world of corporate finance.
Kirkpatrick does a poor job of drawing the audience inside Olivia’s fantasy world and wastes the beguilingly natural performance delivered by child actress Yara Shahidi. She belongs in a better movie. We’re left with humourless scenes of Eddie Murphy clowning around his living room, looking as lost as the viewer. Of the supporting turns, Ronny Cox reunites with Murphy twenty-four years on from Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and who would have thought this film would mark a mini West Wing reunion between Martin Sheen and Richard Schiff. Thomas Haden Church bags the award for most surreal supporting character in a family movie as Evan’s faux Native American colleague who consults spirits to discern ideal investments for clients. He’s a whole other kind of funny.