Evan Danielson is a financial management hotshot. A mover and shaker in the investment biz, this guy can multitask his way through an onslaught of client calls and juggle minute-by-minute market fluctuations without breaking a sweat. But give him a little alone time with his 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, and he's a total wreck.
That sad fact is not lost on Olivia—or Evan's estranged wife, Trish. When he balks at keeping Olivia for a week, Trish asks, "Why did you even tell me that you wanted to have children?"
"'Cause I did," Evan replies. "I just didn't know I'd be so bad at it."
But don't discount the power of a little girl—with a little help from a special blanket—to melt her daddy's heart.
During Mom and Dad's split, we learn that Olivia sought solace in a fanciful story involving an imaginary queen and her princess daughters. Their pretend domain can only be reached via a "magical" and indispensable blankie that the cute tyke has dubbed Goo-Gaa.
All of this make-believe stuff, however, is little more than annoying nonsense to hard-charging Evan. Until, that is, those invisible, supposedly imaginary royals start providing Olivia with some incredible real-world investment advice.
Goo-Gaa's link to uncanny stock market insight could be just the ticket to give Evan an advantage at his investment firm, he reasons. Suddenly, the fun-impaired pop is more than happy to sing silly songs, placate pretend dragons and dance through all the fairy-tale kingdoms his daughter might dream up.
Much to Evan's surprise, though, as he travels these imaginary lands he discovers an unexpected treasure ... a little girl named Olivia.
Evan is self-absorbed and utterly focused on his work when we first meet him, negative character traits that have estranged him from his wife and daughter. (We're told that Evan and Trish are separated.)
But as time goes on, Evan makes choices that reshape those important relationships for the better. He begins to see that Olivia matters more than his career, and he comes to the realization that he doesn't need the help of his daughter's supposedly magical blanket to succeed in his work. Likewise, when Olivia connects emotionally with her dad, she's ready to toss her Goo-Gaa aside and to say good-bye to the imaginary friends she's often depended upon when she felt lonely or afraid.
Evan is willing to sacrifice his job for a healthy relationship with his daughter—a change that takes Trish totally by surprise. Her positive response to Evan's transformation hints at the possibility of a reconciliation between them. His hard-nosed boss also takes note of Evans's priorities and admits that he's made poor choices of his own when it came to balancing career and family. In contrast, a former pro athlete (and friend of Evan's) models patience and love by letting his daughter and Olivia give him a messy makeover, and he's eager to play "princess dress-up" with them.
Evan's primary office competitor, Johnny Whitefeather, peppers his dialogue with tribal bon mots and pseudo-spiritual phrases he's supposedly culled from his Native American heritage. (Whitefeather is eventually exposed as a fraud.) Evan describes it as "Dr. Seuss-meets-Pocahontas stuff."
When Whitefeather finds out about Olivia's Goo-Gaa and the prophetic market predictions it apparently helps her make, he buys a shaman-blessed blanket of his own to get "closer to the Great Spirit." He's told that the blankets work best with children, so he rouses his son for a backyard "vision quest." The highly caffeinated boy is shown running pell-mell around a campfire with the blanket about his shoulders, trying to channel Wall Street wisdom.
The "magical" aspect of Olivia's blanket is mostly depicted as Olivia and her dad pretending to traverse an imaginary world while walking and dancing around. Evan does come to believe, though, that some undefined supernatural phenomenon is at work, a suspicion that's reinforced by a sudden breeze through tree branches as the unseen princesses bid farewell.
Even though Evan can't see these supposedly imaginary beings, at one point he offers a humble apology that almost sounds like a prayer of sorts: "Sorry for just expecting things from you." Earlier in the film, Evan does pray, offering up an absurdly dramatic petition during a meltdown at work. He also invites Olivia to repeat a playful blessing before they dive into a meal of pancakes dripping with all manner of nasty toppings.
Trish wears formfitting tops. Evan goes shirtless at the gym. A conversation references the way kissing leads to marriage.
While trying to get his hands on Goo-Gaa, Evan suffers several pratfall tumbles: tripping over roller skates, falling off a trampoline, etc. Children pelt him—hard—with balls in a play area. Evan sarcastically wonders aloud about the consequences for stabbing a colleague.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters misuse God's name three times and say "h---" twice. Adults repeatedly use the phrases "poop doodoo stinky kaka," "crap" and "big old butt." One man calls another an "idiot."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Whitefeather wakes his son in the middle of the night and attempts to keep him alert by feeding him cans of Red Bull. Whitefeather guzzles the energy drink, too. Similarly, Evan tells a boy that drinking coffee will allow him to play almost nonstop. Evan also appears to drink a beer during one late-night work session.
Other Negative Elements
Evan's estranged wife seems to be dating someone else. Whitefeather is disrespectful of his wife. Evan breaks into his friend's house in pursuit of his daughter's blanket. A couple of times he lies to get out of a jam. Once he steps in manure.
Olivia's Goo-Gaa and the story of Imagine That have something in common.
If you look closely at the youngster's tightly clasped blanket and the movie as a whole, they both appear quite tattered and not particularly magical. The "overworked dad sees the light" plotline feels pretty threadbare and clichéd, to say the least.
If you choose to look past those mild cinematic shortcomings, however, and embrace this movie's sweet charm, you'll be rewarded with a popcorn-muncher that delivers a fair share of family fun. At the center of the movie's feel-good vibe is Yara Shahidi, who is adorably inviting as little Olivia. Co-star Eddie Murphy, who plays Evan, said of her, "Yara Shahidi ... would steal every scene. I'm good, but I'm not as cute."
For his part, Murphy takes several steps back from the toilet humor found in many of his other comedies. Instead, he simply revels in childlike goofiness. Regarding his penchant for moving back and forth between adult-oriented offerings and kids' fare, Murphy recently told Parade magazine, "I'm just trying to do all different types of things. I don't feel like I've made a transition to more family stuff. I feel like I've always, from the beginning, just done different types of things. I jumped over cars and shot my gun, and I cursed, and I did all kinds of stuff. But I like that my kids and families can go see some of my movies, too."
Imagine That lands solidly in the latter category. Despite a handful of language concerns and a few spiritually muddled moments, it mostly pegs the cuteness meter to 100 percent (maybe even 110 percent). Along the way, this lightweight comedy also makes some solid statements about laying aside our security blankets (or securities blanket) and holding fast to our family—a priceless treasure we can easily lose sight of when we get swept into our society's sometimes misguided ideas about what matters most.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Eddie Murphy as Evan Danielson; Thomas Haden Church as Johnny Whitefeather; Yara Shahidi as Olivia Danielson; Nicole Ari Parker as Trish; Ronny Cox as Tom Stevens
Karey Kirkpatrick ( Over the Hedge)
June 12, 2009
October 6, 2009