This is a delightfully snips and snails and puppy-dog tails-style movie, with kids who look and act refreshingly like real kids. It’s based on the book by Thomas Rockwell that has delighted and happily grossed out kids since 1973.
A cute credit-sequence cartoon introduces us to Billy (Luke Benward), who has a sensitive stomach, and his little brother Woody, who happily eats everything. They’ve just moved to a new town. Woody has quickly become the toast of the pre-school with his rendition of “Baby Beluga” but finding his way in 5th grade is trickier for Billy.
The kids are not friendly, except for one very tall girl who always seems to be one step ahead and one semi-outcast who warns him that Joe (Adam Hicks), the school bully, has a special ring — if he punches you, you die, but not until 8th grade so he can’t get blamed.
When Joe taunts him, Billy rashly boasts that he can eat 10 fried worms in one day, with the bully selecting the worms to be eaten and the, um, recipes to be used. Joe and his minions do everything they can to win the bet, cooking the worms with the most disgusting ingredients they can think of, from marshmallow to hot peppers. To make things worse, Billy has to take care of his little brother and keep his parents from finding out what is going on.
Kids will enjoy the extravagently and hilariously repulsive items presented to Billy and the spirit and determination he demonstrates in taking them on (and in). The kids in the movie look, talk, and act like real kids, not glamourized sit-com fast-food-commercial Hollywood types. They have a natural but endearing approach to negotiating rules, evaluating their options, and interactiing with each other and the adults. “Ed’s” Thomas Cavanagh and Father of the Bride’s Kimberly Williams-Paisley are sympathetic as Billy’s parents but they don’t try to solve his problems for him. Billy learns the expected lessons, and the ultimate resolution is sweet and very funny.
Parents should know that the concoctions Billy eats are extremely disgusting and may be disturbing to sensitive audience members. Note, though, as the credits make clear, no worms were harmed in the making of the movie. And no children were, either. The kids use some kid-like crude language, in particular a reference to a particular body part.
Families who see this movie should talk about why bullys think it will make them feel strong and important to insult other people and tell them what to do. Why do some of the kids change sides during the course of the bet? What’s the most disgusting thing you ever ate? Why does Billy’s father say he had to eat worms? How are their experiences alike?
Families who enjoy this movie will want to read the book. Author Thomas Rockwell is the son of illustrator Norman Rockwell, whose pictures showed the same appreciation of real kids. Every family should take a look at Rockwell illustrations like “A Day in the Life of a Boy” and “A Day in the Life of a Girl.” Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Because of Winn-Dixie (also featuring Benward), The Sandlot, My Dog Skip, The Best Christmas Pagent Ever, A Christmas Story, and Pollyanna. Families will also enjoy Bill Harley’s hilarious Dinosaurs Never Say Please and his other CDs for families and My Bodyguard, about a middle school boy’s response to a bully.