Like many PG films these days, "Imagine That" isn't really a kid's movie. The message and much of the content will resonate most strongly with adults.
With Eddie Murphy starring, that's a good idea. Despite embracing family film roles, Murphy always maintains his edginess; that bit of sadness and anger exists even when he's at his silliest (as in "Norbit"). That quality works well in this film.
In "Imagine That," Murphy plays Evan, a Denver stock analyst who's very good at his job and thus on the rise. His drive, however, has cost him his family; he's divorced from Trish (Nicole Ari Parker) and distant from 7-year-old daughter Olivia (the ultra-adorable Yara Shahidi). He's basically the character Murphy played in "Daddy Day Care" if that guy hadn't lost his job. And he has the same lesson to learn.
Actually, it's a little more than that. At one point his ex says she wonders if he ever wanted kids in the first place. He says he did, but "I just didn't know I'd be so bad at it."
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It's a powerful admission; most of us, I'd guess, don't think of parenting or loving a child as a learned behavior. We see the little one, we love it and we make the best choices we can.
The way Evan must learn, the movie suggests, is by tapping into his inner child. He starts on that road when the princesses who live in Olivia's imaginary world -- that she enters with the help of her goo-ga (a security blanket) -- start to give him coded messages that lead to excellent stock tips. That puts Evan in an insane and funny competition with Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a colleague who espouses a lot of stereotypical Native American imagery to great effect. There goes that edginess again: the whole Whitefeather schtick is a great comment on how being "exotic" can become a successful brand.
Church goes to town with his part; it was awfully generous of Murphy because he's very close to being upstaged. Indeed, the talent pool is pretty solid in this film: Martin Sheen, Mel Harris, Ronny Cox all have roles.
While there are some new notes in the plot of "Imagine That," the familiar ones are there, too. Yes, there is going to be a moment when Evan has to choose between work and daughter. And the ending lays it on a little thick; it's a cake-and-eat-it-too resolution that's hard to swallow.
In between, though, there are some sweet and nicely played scenes. My favorites are Evan and Olivia playing restaurant, Evan teaching Olivia to sing, and the final scene, which includes Evan's rehabilitation and a chorus of children singing "All You Need Is Love."
Your heart will melt.