2015 / Director. Dearbhla Walsh.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Roald Dahl passed away shortly after his children’s novel ESIOT TROT was published. At a very short length of 62 illustrated pages, it is perhaps his shortest “novel”. It is also his most sentimental and loveliest of stories, boasting more of an appeal to adult readers than it does for children.
It tells the story of Mr Hoppy, a shy and reclusive old man who is in love with his neighbour, Mrs Silver. They live on separate floors of an apartment complex and he looks down upon her with adoring eyes. They share the elevator from time to time and chat to each other from their respective balconies most afternoons. When Mrs Silver proclaims that nothing would make her happier than for her beloved tortoise, Alfie, to grow, Mr Hoppy seizes the opportunity to make her happy. He devises a cunning plan to gradually switch Alfie every day with ever-so-slightly larger tortoises in hopes that her wish being granted would win her heart forever.
Being such a simple and minimalist type of story it was difficult to visualise a live action retelling. I imagined that stretching it to a feature-length running time would be a laborious and monotonous affair. But it was with with absolute delight and a softened heart that I discovered this new film to be a wonderful and fitting adaptation. Roald Dahl's gorgeous story leaps off the screen, bursting with charisma, charm and romance.
Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench have been perfectly cast as the two elderly neighbours whose destiny begs them to seize every opportunity. Both of them have stepped into these roles with a full understanding of the fantastical nature of the story and their performances are backed up with absolute conviction. They light up the screen and their passion for life is infectious. Their magnified performances are grounded with a gorgeous set design, which in turn lifts the story into a theatrical sphere, almost pantomime in its quirkiness. British actor James Corden steps in as the on-screen narrator, filling the position held by Dahl in the book. He is also delightful and brings an understated comedic nuance that translates from page to screen very nicely.
Aside from a few modern pop-cultural references that momentarily break the ageless timeframe of the story, ESIO TROT is one of the most endearing and enchanting family films I have seen in a long time.