After Harry Potter transferred his magic from bookstore to box office, it was inevitable that his closest rival would be greenlit for adaptation. Adaptation being, in this case, the successful shoehorning of three of Daniel Handler's kid-friendly volumes into one cracking slice of family adventure.
For while the early Potter pics followed JK Rowling's plots almost literally to the letter, Robert Gordon's script streamlines and combines the first trio of tales in Lemony Snicket's best-selling saga: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window. It's a gameplan that courts risk: some readers may be irked by the re-ordering of a familiar series of events (books two and three are sliced down and sandwiched by a rejigging of book one), while non-initiates will detect a certain episodic quality. But the fact remains: the film works. It absorbs. It amuses. And for a kids' flick, it's also kinda dark.
You can see why DreamWorks gave the gig to Brad Silberling: his body of work (Casper, City Of Angels, bereavement mope Moonlight Mile) is as haunted by death as Mr Snicket's. And here the helmer gets that Lemony flavour just right. While there's plenty of shade (murder, greed, kid-smacking), it's handled with a light touch that'll leave the tots stirred but not shaken. You've also got to hand it to Silberling's collaborators, Tim Burton veterans Emmanuel Lubezki (cinematography), Rick Heinrichs (production design) and Colleen Atwood (costumes), who have created a gorgeously Gothic alt-universe that's very Burtonian but also a marvel in its own right.
But the loudest applause must go to Jim Carrey. Leaner and meaner than ever before, he has such a Peter Sellers-style ball as the dastardly Count Olaf and his various alter-egos that the picture seems flat when he's not around. It's a gap co-stars Meryl Streep (as nervy Aunt Josephine) and a curiously uninspired Billy Connolly (reptile-fancier Uncle Monty) struggle to plug.
And the sprogs? Not bad at all: sweet but not saccharine, assured but not precocious and welcome to a return visit. Return visit meaning, in this case, ""Let's have a sequel right away.""