The life Molly Moon (Raffey Cassidy) and her fellow orphans endure is one of fish head soup, extreme curfews, and attempts to sneakily find moments of joy. Headmistress Miss Adderstone (Lesley Manville) is into bossing others around, fashion, and bossing others around. She also has a sneaky enjoyment of causing other people to suffer: she causes live-in nanny Mrs. Trinklebury (Emily Watson) to take a nasty fall after Adderstone pushes her off the stairwell while changing a light. Adderstone also enjoys finding any reason to get on Molly, causing her to spend much of her free time at the library or hiding in the laundry room reading books. While at the library one day, Molly comes across a book on hypnotism that is also wanted by Nockman (Dominic Mongahan), a bumbling crook that would fit right in as a member of the Wet Bandits from Home Alone and is constantly upstaged by his mom (Joan Collins).
Molly attempts to hypnotize a dog named Petula first, and when that is successful, goes about setting to correct the wrongs at the orphanage—starting with the food. After Adderstone is reduced by Moon’s neon green eyes to desiring stuffed dolls, a potential foster family selection goes awry and sets in motion a journey to bring her best friend Rocky (Jadon Carnelly-Morris) back. Molly becomes quite good at getting what she wants, hypnotizing people into giving her a bus ride to London, a penthouse suite in a swanky building, and an acting role in a major production on the West End (pushing out a teenage diva in the process). However, it’s plainly evident that Molly has had an attitude change, has no acting or singing skills, and is about to ruin her life in front of millions of people. But her greatest attempt at hypnotism is yet to come . . .
Will she find Rocky in the massive metropolis of London? Will Rocky even want to come back? Will Nockman get the book of hypnotism and make his mom proud? Is being a celebrity all that it’s cracked up to be?
With the star power, I was hoping the film would stay faithful to the children’s book by Georgia Byng yet provide the magic of films such as Annie, Matilda, and the Harry Potter series. Sadly, those hopes were dashed. Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism has a few good moments, but they’re sparse in a dark, drab film that’s mostly bereft of humor, includes a number of glaring plot holes (how does the librarian and concierge fit into all of this?), has lackluster music (especially in the West End sequence), and wastes the talent given to director Christopher Rowley. When Molly arrives in London, the film manages to finally get going, but it takes forty minutes for that to happen.
Even though I wish the film was better than it turned out to be, there’s still some truth to be found. At its heart, Molly Moon is a modified parable of the prodigal son told in Luke 15:11-32. Molly didn’t want to be at the orphanage due to losing Rocky, so she took all she had and headed into the big town. Once there, she found fame and success, but circumstances eventually brought her to her senses where she said (in essence), “Hypnotizing my way to the top isn’t the life for me. I know what I’ll do: I’ll return to the orphanage.” When she did, everyone accepted her back.
Fame is fleeting and can be quite deceiving (just ask Andy Warhol)—it makes us look to ourselves and abilities instead of God, the One who provided the talents and opportunities in the first place. As a result, sometimes a person or situation has to knock us back to reality. But when we come to our senses, we have the opportunity to become more like Jesus through the whole experience. Is it time to go home again? God’s at the front door, just waiting for you to arrive.
And you don’t need to be hypnotized in order to see that.