Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Directed by Miguel Arteta, Walt Disney Pictures’ Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is fun for the whole family.

Based on the 1972 book written by Judith Viorst and a screenplay by Rob Lieber, the ensemble cast stars Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Ed Oxenbould, Kerris Dorsey, Megan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, and Bella Thorne.

Alexander experiences the most terrible and horrible day of his young life–one calamity followed by another. He tells his family and does not get any sympathy on their end. Starting to think bad things happen only to him, he makes a birthday wish on a cupcake with the hopes that the rest of his family have a bad day that are just as bad as the one he just experienced.

Soon, Alexander’s mom (Jennifer Garner), dad (Steve Carell), brother (Dylan Minnette) and sister (Kerris Dorsey) start to have their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. This is really where the comedy ensues–including a cameo appearance by Disney’s own Mary Poppins co-star, Dick Van Dyke.

“I was inspired by the films John Hughes made that the whole family can enjoy together,” says Miguel Arteta, director of Alexander and the Terrible. “We wanted to show a family having a truly awful impossible day. All things are going wrong and yet they come together and have each other’s backs. The ability to roll with it and laugh sees them through.

“Of course, the day they have is an extreme one,” Arteta continues, “but the idea of a family supporting each
other is really great—especially when it is not in each of their personal interests to do so. The power of family is
there for you when you least expect it.”

The Hughes inspiration clearly shows on screen. Not only in that regard but when it comes to family entertainment, the film saw a collaboration of some of the best creative minds in the industry today. It brought together Shawn Levy, Lisa Henson, and Dan Levine to produce the film. Philip Steur, a industry veteran, and Jason Lust executive produced the comedy.

If the plan was to hit the sweet spot for family entertainment, Alexander and the Terrible hit its mark with a film that is different, quirky, and idiosyncratic. It’s not a generic family comedy. This is a film about families and not condescending by any means. It’s a movie that the whole family can enjoy, no matter what age.

The original picture book was 32 pages long. Making a film adaptation is not as easy as it appears. With the book, they had enough material to serve as the first act according to producer Lisa Henson.

“How do you take a short picture book and make it into a full feature film?” Henson said. “The idea for the film adaptation was to use the story in the book as the first act of the movie. The second two acts of the film had to be a completely original storyline set during a second day that is even worse than Alexander’s first terrible, horrible, very bad day.”

By having screenwriter Rob Lieber open up the bad day to the rest of the family, the producing crew earned a seal of approval from Viorst.