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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

It is, of course, a serious understatement to say that Alexander Cooper is not having a great day.

Getting out of bed the day before his 12th birthday, Alexander slips on a skateboard. Then gets gum in his hair. Then face-plants in the grass. A friend takes a picture of him and then uses a new app he's found to fuse Alexander's head onto the bodies of bikini girls—images that go viral all over school. In chemistry, he sets lab partner (and not-so-secret crush) Becky Gibson's notebook on fire … then just about burns down the whole classroom.

And if all of that wasn't undignified enough, no one's coming to his 12th birthday party the next day because a more popular classmate is having a blowout bash at the same time.

To add odious insult to the injury, everyone else in his family is on top of the world! Older sister Emily, an eighth-grader, is about to enjoy her theatrical debut as Peter Pan. Big brother Anthony is getting his driver's license and has a gorgeous girlfriend named Celia. In fact, rumor has it they're going to be the duke and duchess at prom. Meanwhile, Mom is on the verge of being promoted to VP at the children's book publisher where she works. And Dad, well, even though he's been unemployed for seven months, he's got a promising interview with a video game company looking for an engineer. Meanwhile, baby Trevor is the apple of Mom's eye, the icing on the bitter cake of neglect that Alexander feels like he's forced to eat all the time.

That adds up to one gigantic pity party for our poor pal Alexander.

And so, sitting in his room all alone at 12:01 a.m. the morning of his birthday, Alexander lights a candle on a cupcake and makes a meanspirited wish: "I just wish that they knew what it felt like to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!"


Positive Elements

The main takeaway in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has to do with adopting a new perspective. At the beginning, for example, Alexander says, "My parents say there's no such thing as a bad day, that it's all how you look at it." Alexander doesn't buy it. He thinks his parents aren't dealing with reality, and that everyone would be as miserable as he is if their circumstances were just as bad. He feels that so deeply, in fact, that he wishes a bad day upon them.

When it begins to dawn on Alexander that his wish has been granted, though, he feels badly about cursing his family. As they eventually pull together to help one another through their comedic catastrophes, Alexander realizes that strong relationships are what matter most. With them, you can get through anything. "After today," he says at the end, "I knew that even terrible days aren't so bad when you're surrounded by the ones you love." And so Alexander admits that maybe his parents were closer to being right than he was willing to accept at first.

At the same time, it could also be said that Alexander's more willing to tell the truth about how things really are than some other people in his family. Dad, for instance, insists on being upbeat and optimistic at all times, no matter how bad things get. When it looks as if he's not going to get the video game engineering job after all, Alexander wisely tells his father that it's OK to be disappointed—counsel Dad's finally willing to embrace even as he confesses how hard he works as a father to put a brave face on his struggles.

Both of Alexander's parents have some self-absorbed moments, but it's clear they love their children deeply. Indeed, at the very moment Alexander is bemoaning his birthday-party-free day, they're secretly planning a massive, Australia-themed blowout for him.

Anthony's girlfriend is a first-class narcissist who constantly nitpicks his imperfections. Eventually, he makes the mature decision not to go to prom with her, choosing to go to his brother's birthday party instead because he realizes spending time with his family is more important than spending prom with a bossy, self-absorbed girlfriend.

Spiritual Content

Call it a wish, call it a curse, call it a silly Disney movie contrivance if you want, but when really bad things begin happening to everyone in Alexander's family the morning after he says his "prayers," he realizes that something supernatural is transpiring.

Sexual Content

Mom walks in on a naked Anthony as he's getting ready in the morning. He screams, she screams (but we don't see anything.) Then, to the whole family in the van on the way to school, Mom says, "It's not the first time I've seen your penis, Anthony. I've seen your penis too, Alexander. I've seen the penis of every person in this car." As mentioned, we see pictures of Alexander's head fused to images of women wearing bikinis. A classmate quips, "Nice boobs, Anthony!" Becky describes the pictures as "gross" and "sexist."

Alexander says Anthony's "been waiting all year to make out with [Celia] in the back of the van." On the phone with Celia, Anthony says, "Don't get me started on that cute little butt of yours." Alexander's party includes three "Australian cowboys." What his parents don't realize is that the muscle-rippling men are strippers. They begin their routine and are obviously about to start disrobing (much to the wide-eyed wonder of one of Alexander's female classmates) before Mom and Dad hastily tell them to keep their clothes on!

Speaking of clothes, women at a yoga class wear formfitting workout gear. Celia's got a penchant for plunging necklines. Alexander and Anthony are shown shirtless, Dad in only boxers and a business shirt.

Violent Content

Alexander falls hard on his face. And he accidentally sets fire to several things in his chemistry class. Likewise, his dad ignites his shirt cuffs at a Japanese restaurant, frantically extinguishing them in a fish tank. Later, Dad gets kicked to the ground by a kangaroo. Another crazy mishap has Anthony pulling down two huge trophy cases at school.

Anthony crashes while taking his driver's test, mowing down parking meters. When he tries to get out of the van after it finally comes to a halt, another driver sheers the vehicle's door off (which, it should be mentioned, doesn't stop the family from driving the van home later on). Before Anthony's accident, Mom drives recklessly in an attempt to get to a meeting on time. She crashes while on a bicycle.

Dad angrily kicks over a garbage can. The rest of the family follows suit.

Crude or Profane Language

Two or three uses of "oh my god" and one abbreviated "OMG." Mom bangs into a door and gasps, "Oh, mother …!" We hear exclamations of "idiot" "sucks" and "crap."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Emily comes down with a cold the day of her Peter Pan debut. To compensate, she overdoses on extra-strength cold medicine, which makes her loopy, resulting in her crashing into props and other actors all over the stage. (Dad repeatedly says that people should only take as much medicine as is prescribed.) Emily also drinks coffee, despite the fact that her mother says she's too young. Someone says there's going to be an "energy drink bar" at the party of Alexander's classmate.

Dad drinks beer with the twentysomething video game designers he's hoping to work with. At one point he slams back a drink as they chant his name. Passing reference is made to students seeing a "pharmacologist" to get ADHD drugs.

Other Negative Elements

Baby Trevor urinates on the floor and oven. Emily vomits on her dad and in the bushes. A typo in the book Mom has been shepherding to publication (called Who Is Ready to Jump on the Potty) replaces jump with dump. So at a public reading of the misprinted story, guest Dick Van Dyke repeatedly says the phrase "take a dump." Parents are horrified, but video of the event goes viral and leads to massive sales. A company honcho says, "I'm going to need you to make an incredible effort on the potty tomorrow." One of Alexander's friends gets chicken pox, with a classmate exclaiming in shocked delight, "They're even in his butt-crack!"


In many ways, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is exactly the kind of family movie Disney has built its brand upon for decades. Based on Judith Viorst's classic 1972 children's book, it's silly, slapsticky and sweet in equal measure. Dick Van Dyke's cameo appearance makes me think about the best parts of Disney's family-friendly legacy. And, indeed, Steve Carell seems to nimbly stumble into the same kind of physical comedy (like getting kicked by a runaway kangaroo) that Van Dyke used to masterfully make so many people laugh for so many years.

Add to that upbeat messages about dealing well with adversity, skipping past the pity party (and replacing it with a birthday party!), and relishing your family's love and care for you.

But subtract the baggage this 21st-century take comes with that would have seemed shocking just a few short decades ago. Comments about penises and "boobs," junior-size winks at both bullying and sexting, and the ha-ha-not-funny-at-all appearance of male strippers at a 12-year-old's birthday party.

Would Walt Disney himself have thought that was all oh-so-precious-and-family-funny for the kiddos? Or would it have led to a really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the Mouse House?

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Discussion Topics

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Episode Reviews

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Readability Age Range



Steve Carell as Ben Cooper; Jennifer Garner as Kelly Cooper; Ed Oxenbould as Alexander Cooper; Dylan Minnette as Anthony Cooper; Kerris Dorsey as Emily Cooper; Elise and Zoey Vargas as Baby Trevor; Sidney Fullmer as Becky Gibson; Bella Thorne as Celia; Megan Mullally as Nina


Miguel Arteta ( Youth in Revolt)


Walt Disney



Record Label



In Theaters

October 10, 2014

On Video

February 10, 2015

Year Published



Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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