Paramount // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 11th, 2009
What if your daughter's imagination...was the secret to your success?
It's amazing to think about, but if 20 years ago anyone had said that Eddie Murphy -- a comic then known for his adult material and near-constant use of profanity -- would be a leading man in a number of family oriented films, they'd have been looked at as crazy. Surprisingly, though, that's the case today, and perhaps only Ice-Cube's rise as a family man is more shocking. Murphy has now appeared in a number of these films with general success, including the Shrek franchise and Daddy Day Care. Now we can add Imagine That to the list. While it doesn't break any new comedic ground, the film provides a decent amount of family entertainment with enough Eddie Murphy insanity to please his fans.
Evan Danielson (Eddie Murphy, Norbit) is a high-powered investor who's up for a serious promotion. His only competition is Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Hayden Church, Sideways), a Native American who uses his tribal wisdom to win over customers. Unfortunately, things aren't looking to good at home -- Evan is divorced, and his young daughter (Yara Shahidi in her film debut) won't give up her blanket, which she uses to talk to a collection of princesses in a magical realm. One day, her princesses give Evan some advice on investing, and when their cryptic pronouncements come true, he's on top of the world. With this new found access to imaginary information, Evan hopes to prevail over Johnny Whitefeather while helping his daughter out with her school recital.
Imagine That is another in a long line of films that illustrate how successful businessmen must stop and appreciate their kids/family in order to feel better about themselves. On that front, Imagine That has nothing really new to offer. Evan is a jerk at the film's opening, gradually grows closer to his daughter (thanks to the blanket), and finally learns that family is more important than his job by the time the closing credits appear.
Most people aren't going to be watching the film for it's message. This is an Eddie Murphy vehicle through and through, and he's what makes it watchable. In fact, it's a great role for him, as he can easily play the part of the serious investor with dramatic dignity, but is equally comfortable ranting about a "goo-gah" (the pet name for the blanket) and dancing like an idiot to please the imaginary princesses. His shtick occasionally borders on the trite (we've seen this from him before), but Murphy is good enough to keep his wackiness fresh and dramatic work believable.
The other reason to watch Imagine That is Thomas Hayden Church. I'm not usually a fan of his work, but his somewhat stilted line-readings mesh perfectly with this character. Initially, Whitefeather is a rather annoying person, with his pseudo-Native American blathering, but Hayden Church takes it so far that it eventually becomes both absurd and funny. It's impressive how far he's is willing to go with this performance, at one point cawing like a crow in Martin Sheen's face.
The rest of the cast (including the aforementioned Sheen) do a fine job with the material, but don't have much to do. The humor rests solely on the two leads, and the success of the film depends entirely on your appreciation of their talents.
For reasons I'm not privy to, Imagine That did almost nothing at either the domestic or international box office, which is a bit of a shame. Hopefully, it will find life on home video, especially since this is a pretty good hi-def package. It starts with a strong MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p transfer of a bright and clean source. Detail is sharp throughout, and blacks are at appropriate levels with just a hint of grain. The dialogue-heavy TrueHD audio track is solid, with no dynamics issues or noise to distract.
Extras are predictably light and generally family (or I should say kid) oriented. There's a commentary track with director Karey Kirkpatrick and star Yara Shahidi that will appeal to youngsters more than your typical commentaries. It's mostly a conversation between the two, with very little production information. Shahidi is also the star of several featurettes, including an on-set visit, a collection of her outtakes with Eddie Murphy, as well footage from her audition. For behind-the-scenes info we get featurettes on the Native American influence (which is tenuous, at best), as well as a collection of the film's background news scenes. There's also a featurette focused on Murphy and Kirkpatrick, as well as a series of interviews about the role imagination played in the lives of the cast and crew. Finally, there are some outtakes with Thomas Hayden Church, plus a collection of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending.
As I said, your enjoyment of Imagine That is going to come down to your appreciation of Eddie Murphy and Thomas Hayden Church. Fans of Eddie Murphy's earlier work, or his more adult material will probably want to give this one a wide berth, as he's completely in kid-friendly-crazy mode here.
Imagine That steadfastly refuses to do anything new with it's tale of emotionally-distant fathers and magical realms. But, if you can stomach the message there are a few decent performances to be found from both Eddie Murhpy and Thomas Hayden Church. Although some of the scatological stuff might be a bit much for the young ones, this is a pretty decent flick to gather the family around. This Blu-ray release features a strong audiovisual presentation, but the supplements are mostly fluff. A rental is probably the best bet for most consumers.
If I use my star-blanket, I can see that Imagine That is not
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes