Let’s hope New York’s renowned hotel isn’t docked a star or two for “Eloise at the Plaza,” a grating original based on the series of Kay Thompson books. Nice to look at but extremely irritating thanks in large part to a brat with no calm-down switch, ABC’s latest Wonderful World of Disney entry fails to uphold a major edict of quality family entertainment — broad appeal. Project, which falls somewhere between the saccharine shenanigans of the Olsen twins and the overall weirdness of Pippi Longstocking, is just barely tolerable even for die-hard fans of the curious lass.
Newcomer Sofia Vassilieva is given too great a burden for any child actor to handle. Thompson’s Eloise embodies so many fanciful ideals including freedom from school and parental supervision and escape from the confines of a traditional environment. Eloise is the equivalent of an elementary school id set loose in a posh hotel, and it’s hard to think of any young actor that could turn Thompson’s imaginative escapism into anything less than annoying behavior.
Writer Janet Brownell tries to temper Eloise’s more exasperating antics with various feel-good subplots about how Eloise’s intrusive behavior ultimately transforms those around her. Among her victims/friends is a shy debutante trying to break free of her overbearing mother’s grasp and a prince who has been estranged from his father ever since his mother’s death two years ago.
These sentimental plot devices, predictable and trite as they are, are a welcome relief from the movie’s main character. Director Kevin Lima, who helmed previous kid movies “102 Dalmatians” and “Tarzan,” does as much as possible visually with the pic. One highlight includes a cameo by original Eloise illustrator Hilary Knight as a street artist who provides the young troublemaker and the prince with several caricatures. Although enjoyable, his montage of Eloise images is glaring reminder why some books are better left on the printed page.
All of the supporting actors presented here are either exploited or wasted, with Jeffrey Tambor a good example of the latter as put-upon hotel manager Mr. Salomone. Tambor has made a career out of playing the bombastic type, but his Salomone is too powerless against the larger-than-life Eloise. When playing against such an over-the-top character, you don’t want to go for nuance.
Julie Andrews as Nanny is a prime example of the exploited. Andrews, looking weary and bored, offers a by-the-book representation of yet another British nanny. Although heavily billed in the promos, Christine Baranski only appears in the closing moments as Salomone’s new assistant, Prunella Sticker. Her introduction near the end of the film leaves viewers with the uneasy idea that someone at ABC is thinking of an Eloise sequel or even a possible franchise.